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For La Morenita, a business built on relationships

La Morenita, owned by Olivia and Carlos Figueroa, recently moved to the corner of Oxford Street and Milton Avenue. (Photo by Alyson Buschena/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON -- Since opening its doors 10 years ago, La Morenita has changed location, owners and the products it sells, but the commitment to building relationships with customers has remained strong.

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The business was opened by Olivia and Pastor Hurtado in 2003 and is now owned by their daughter, Olivia Figueroa and her husband, Carlos.

"The store was the idea of my parents, my aunt and I to open the grocery store," Olivia Figueroa recalled.

Olivia's mother had always wanted to own a restaurant, but Olivia, a high schooler at the time, remembered telling her mother that she didn't want to be tied down to a family business after school each day.

A compromise was reached, and the family opened a small grocery store next to Bahr's Small Engine on Oxford Street, offering a wide variety of goods and groceries.

"When we started, it was groceries -- vegetables, mexican cream cheese tortillas -- and pinatas and things like that," Olivia said.

She moved to Worthington in 1996 from San Francisco, Calif.

"It was a big change coming here," she said with a laugh.

When she arrived in Minnesota, Olivia missed the life she left in San Francisco, but today, after living in southwest Minnesota for more than 15 years, she now calls Worthington home.

"I love it," she said. "I wouldn't change it for anything. I love it."

In February, Olivia and Carlos bought the business from the Hurtados and now manage the business themselves -- though Olivia was quick to add that her mother still stops by often to lend a hand.

At the same time they assumed ownership of La Morenita, the Figueroas also decided it was time for a change and moved the business to the corner of Oxford Street and Milton Avenue. They decreased their inventory and stopped carrying many of the food items they used to sell.

"We had more variety before," Olivia said. "Since we moved to this place, we have a little bit of groceries yet. We have mexican bread. We have mexican ice cream."

Customers can also do money transfers and buy pre-paid phone cards at La Morenita.

After five months at the new location, Olivia said the change has been positive for their business.

"I think we've been doing good since we've been here," she said.

Olivia admitted that she initially wasn't sure if the new location would draw as many customers, but now, there are often days when she helps customers from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

"There are days, especially Fridays and Saturdays, that my dad drives by and asks if we're giving out things because we have so many customers," Olivia said with a laugh.

In the process of building their business, the Figueroas have also built a faithful community of customers and friends.

"I always try to help our customers in every way that I can," Olivia said. "Sometimes they bring a letter they need translated, and I will help them with that."

Olivia's Goddaughter, Sophia Gutierrez, often helps at the store and said that it is Olivia's personality that draws customers and keeps them coming back.

"The way she treats people -- people will stay here because of how open (Olivia) is," Gutierrez said.

In addition to owning La Morenita, Olivia also works part-time at the Avera Clinic as an interpreter, and both Olivia and Carlos are involved in the community, recently accompanying the group that went to Guatemala with Abuelos y Nietos Juntos for 10 days.

While Olivia and Carlos were gone, customers frequently asked where Olivia was. When the customers found out she was gone, they would said they would come back to the store when Olivia returned.

"When I got back on Saturday, a lot of those people came to see how I was doing," she said with a smile. "It felt so nice to come back home, and all those people care about me and come over to make sure I got back OK."

Developing a strong relationship with the customers has been a key component to La Morenita's success, and Olivia plans to continue putting her customers first.

"I feel good that even if people don't buy anything, they stop by to say hi and see how I'm doing," Olivia said. "I think I like the way they are with me because they care about me, and I care about my customers.

"If they come to buy, good, but I'm always here to say hi," she added.

Alyson Buschena
Alyson joined the Daily Globe newsroom staff after spending a year in Latin America. A native of Fulda and graduate of the University of Northwestern, she has a bachelor's degree in English with a dual concentration in Literature and Writing and a minor in Spanish. At the Daily Globe, Alyson covers the crime beat as well as Pipestone and Murray counties, community news and feature stories. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, reading, and cooking. More of Alyson's writing can be found at
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