The Plaza San Jeronimo Deli, a tiny store on a busy strip of Port Richmond, is filled Mexican spices, ingredients and prepared foods — a space its owner wants to be a home away from home for the Mexican immigrants in the neighborhood.
Sarahi Marquez is the store owner.
"This place is a sense of community,” said Marquez. “We all know each other. They know the cooks and people feel comfortable coming here and watching TV and feeling like it’s an oasis away from their problems, from their home. They come here, they eat, they have a good time.”
Marquez was seven when she came to the U.S from Mexico. She is allowed to live and work without fear of deportation because of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), which grants protected status to undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.
She and her dad opened the deli six years ago and employ nine people — all immigrants from Mexico or Guatemala.
The store closed for two weeks in March when one of its cooks fell ill with COVID-19, but staying shut was not an option.
"We are fully dependent on this store in order to provide the paychecks for our employees,” Marquez told NY1. “And also without health insurance, it was all a big risk. It was either you risk your health, or you risk not having income to pay the rent, or to pay for essential food. So it was a balancing act."
Rather than let any employees go, Marquez reduced staff hours significantly.
She said the shop took a tremendous hit, losing about $70,000 since the pandemic began.
Adding to that, she and her dad have spent two years trying to open a restaurant down the block. The've sunk $25,000 into the project and are waiting on a food permit.
Marquez said she's not concerned about making ends during the outdoor dining season, but is nervous about what happens after that.
"Without the ability for indoor dining and for individuals to get back on their feet, we are unable to grow any further. And so we do have a lot of bills rent utilities and all of that. So it’s a lot of responsibility to try to ensure all of our employees stay employed," she explained.
With nine people depending on her business for income, it's a responsibility Marquez said she will keep fighting for.