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Mariam Maldonado

Mariam Maldonado is opening Luna's Groceries in the Allied Drive-Dunn's Marsh neighborhood.

After running up against several hurdles, Mariam Maldonado is looking to open the doors of Luna’s Groceries in the Allied Drive Neighborhood Dec. 10.

Maldonado is currently renovating a former payday loan shop at 2010 Red Arrow Trail in the Allied Dunn’s Marsh Neighborhood, which lacks an accessible grocery store since the closure of a Cub Food in 2009.

The full-service grocery store, named after Maldonado’s grandfather, aims to stock food that caters to the cultural diversity of the neighborhood and bring job opportunities into Allied Drive.

Since Maldonado and her husband, Joe, bought the store, they have had to mitigate asbestos, fix broken windows and recover from storm damage. They are looking to raise $50,000 before Luna’s opens in December. 

As of Nov. 1, the Maldonados have received nearly $25,000 in an online fundraising campaign.

What brought you to Madison?

I grew up in the Dominican Republic. I moved to Madison at the age of 20. My uncle went to the university here, and we first came to Rhode Island, but my mom didn’t like the state for us. She communicated that to my uncle and she was like, "Oh, Wisconsin is beautiful. They have good schools. It’s a nice place to live." And we moved to Wisconsin.

When I came, I was in college for structural engineering in Santiago. We move here, and none of my credits were transferable, and I was 20 already, and I didn’t speak English. My first job was at Copp’s on Verona Road. I started as a bagger and as soon as I said, "How can I help you?" They bumped me up to a cashier. And then I stayed there for about two years. I went to work for Goodwill. They have a department where they process old stuff that people donated. I worked there and that was where I learned English. As I started communicating, I went for customer service jobs. And then I came to the top of customer service. I did sales, I did collections, and I was like, I want something real.

I started college at Edgewood. I graduated for business administration with a concentration in accounting. After graduation, it was like, whoa, what are we doing now? Are we going to do an MBA? Are we going to start the business that we always said we were going to do?

The opportunity opened up, and we went for Luna’s.

Where did this idea come from?

I come from a family of grocers, and we wanted a grocery store for a very long time. I told my husband, "I want a store in this neighborhood because we have this big apartment complex that doesn’t have access to food."

What have been some of the challenges in opening Luna’s Groceries?

When we first got the building, the first challenge was it had asbestos. We had to pay more money to clean up the carpet and clean the floors.

We fixed that and then the windows were broken. I think it was kids from the neighborhood. There was nothing there to steal. The windows, everything cost about $2,000 between the buildings, and we had to replace the locks. And then after that we got flooding. We got water through the sides. We had to replace about six feet of the lining of the building.

What does the success of the campaign say to you?

That Dane County, Madison is an amazing community. People that don't know me come to me and congratulate me. People who probably aren’t in the best economic status say, "I took $25 to put at Luna’s because it means something." I shake every time that I talk about it because you don’t think about those things when you’re going into a business that is for profit. You think that it is my responsibility to keep it going, but then the community support for me is amazing.

You and your family have lived in the Allied Drive neighborhood since 2011, and now you’re bringing a needed business to the area. Why are you so invested in your neighborhood?

We just live in utopia. Now that we have the grocery store, we’ll be complete. It’s very diverse, which brings a lot of richness to it. You see people outside in the summer just talking to each other. You don't get that in a lot of places. My neighbors care about me. If I have the garage door open, they will be texting me. We have this group text that if we need something like eggs, or sugar or cilantro, we will be texting each other.

We have the Boys and Girls Club there too. They do so many things for the community. The (Allied Dunn’s Marsh Neighborhood Association) is amazing too with their neighbors and advocating to make sure that the neighborhood comes on top.

What do you hope that Luna’s will bring to the Allied Drive neighborhood?

For me, I will go to buy my plantains on the east side in a Spanish store just because they have the best plantains. That’s what I want: People come to Luna’s because Luna’s provides the best customer service, because Luna’s takes care for them … I want a place that people come and feel welcome.

Not only are you opening a grocery store, you are also an employment training supervisor at the Urban League. What is that work like?  

I’m talking with employers and understanding their needs and what are some of the challenges they have in the community, but I’m also working with members making sure how they are presenting themselves to their employers is a way they can make a connection. It happens quite often that minority job seekers don't know how to connect with the workforce in Madison, so the job I do is trying to develop strategies so they get a job and also keep the job.

This story has been updated to reflect current fundraising numbers and a an opening date of Dec. 10. Maldonado said the date was moved back due to a setback in electrical work. 

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Abigail Becker joined The Capital Times in 2016, where she primarily covers city and county government. She previously worked for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism and the Wisconsin State Journal.

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