The express lane is the linea rapida. Coke comes in glass bottles. Jalapeños are 99 cents a can and green chilies are on special up front for 79 cents a pound.
The Food City on Broadway Road near Country Club Drive in Mesa is a larger version of many grocery stores in Mexico. The chain has grown from its original Phoenix store acquired in 1993 to 62 stores in Arizona. And another is on the way, says Diana Bejarano-Medina, a spokeswoman for Bashas’, which owns Food City and AJ’s grocery stores.
"To me that speaks to the growth of the Hispanic population," she says. "We have in some neighborhoods chosen to even convert some stores to Food City when the neighborhood changes. We try to serve each of the neighborhoods neighborhood by neighborhood. If it needs an AJ’s, we put in an AJ’s, if it needs a Bashas’, we put in a Bashas’, if it needs a Food City, we put in a Food City."
Bashas’ is the mainstream market, AJ’s is the upscale version.
In Mesa, there are nine Bashas’, five Food Citys and one AJ’s.
Some of the products in Food City are specialty items from Mexico, Bejarano-Medina notes.
The songs heard overhead are in Spanish and there are fancy sombreros decorating the walls. The bakery, called the "panaderia," sells duros — fried pinwheel snacks. The deli offers menudo and chili verde, which can be washed down with guava nectar.
Eggs come in five-dozen cartons, there are several varieties of chilies, and beans and rice are sold in tubs the size of kids’ plastic play pools. Hot sauce bottles sit on dining tables next to the deli. Chickens are being grilled out front.
Spanish is the spoken language, mostly, except when it comes to the intercom. "Mario to the deli," a manager calls out on a recent weekday.
Caroline Novak, manager of the Thrift Town thrift store next door to Food City, sends husbands to the deli for Mexican pastries while their wives shop.
At her store, the songs overhead are in English but the sale signs are bilingual. Thrift Town has been on the corner for four years and Novak has been there for three. About 80 percent of her customers are Hispanic, she says.
"We welcome the culture," says Novak, who was born and raised in Arizona and spent 14 years in Tucson. "They feel flattered when I speak their language."
She speaks enough Spanish that she’s able to converse with a man who is looking for the key to the locked restroom. But sometimes her employees have to translate. Her job has forced her to become bilingual, Novak says.
She says many Hispanics purchase cut-rate shoes and clothes to resell them in Mexico.
Other customers include Japanese who are interested in Western wear and vintage clothes for resale in Japan.
While the store has always been busy, Novak says a recent advertising push has helped increase traffic.
"You’ve got the barrios right over there," she says motioning across Country Club. "That’s what you see is Hispanic."
She said many of her Hispanic customers are surprised when they get to the United States.
"I think they get exploited," Novak says.
"A lot of them come over here thinking there’s jobs and there’s not that many jobs."