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Springfield, MO

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Business Spotlight

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by Steven Nix-Ennen

SBJ Contributing Writer

For small-business owner Mahmoud Salem, the greatest challenges of starting a business in Springfield were not finding customers, nor obtaining permits, nor choosing a location. All of that came rather easily.

For Salem, the challenge is bringing his menu of esoteric wares to this small Midwestern city.

"In the Midwest, it can be hard to find what my customers need," Salem said.

Salem owns and operates the Latino Market, specializing in products from Mexico, Central and South America and the Middle East.

A native of Cairo, Egypt, Salem is in constant search of the goods and products not commonly found in Springfield stores. The 40-year-old entrepreneur came to Springfield with his wife Magnolia, a native of Columbia (not Mizzou), and their two daughters a year ago.

Upon their arrival, they found it difficult to locate their traditional foods in local stores. After more than a decade in New York City, the pair had become accustomed to finding the staples from their homelands on a regular basis.

"I decided to open a business because it was very hard to find any Spanish or Arabic products here," he said.

"I started from the beginning. I asked (potential) customers what they liked and started to bring it here."

Salem first arrived in New York as a 29-year-old graduate student in accounting. He soon switched to work as a medical technician, an occupation that led to him to meet the woman who would become his wife.

After visiting friends in the Midwest on vacation last year, they decided the Ozarks offered a better homestead that the streets of New York.

"We really liked it here," said Salem. "It is peaceful, less violent, less traffic. It is a good place to raise children."

April 12, 1997, Salem opened his business at 1665 E. St. Louis St. with as many of the traditional South American, Mexican and Arabic products he could find.

Through the suggestions and requests of his customers, he continually expands the items on his shelves.

Now consumers can find tropical

vegetables, Arabic bread and dishes,

pure Spanish saffron, exotic herbs and spices.

There are tropical juices, sodas from Brazil, and even the Coca-Cola comes from Mexico.

Salem is constantly working to increase his inventory. Customers can also place special orders, which Salem will search the world to fill. His business motto is one of the oldest: "The customer is always right."

Many of those who have found his

store are Hispanic, and they come from as far away as Joplin to find their native foods.

"I have a greater number of Mexican customer because the Mexican population is large here. Many others have lived in large cities before and are used to having things," Salem said. "I have to find them what they need."

Salem can also supply local

restaurants with

unconventional foods.

Not too slowly the word is being spread that the Latino Market is a haven for special tastes.

"I have found good support from customers," Salem said. "I usually see a new customer every day. Many of them find out about (this store) from friends."

Salem's immediate goals are to continue expanding his selection. In just a year of business, he has acquired quite a variety, but he sees, every day, new requests. Salem mans the store himself, while Magnolia remains in the health care field. When he does have the time, he enjoys golf, tennis and keeping in touch with the global community through the Internet.

LATINO MARKET:

1665 E. St. Louis Street

Founded 1997 by Mahmoud Salem

Hours: Tuesday-Friday

9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Saturday and Sunday

11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

831-4227

PHOTO CAPTION:

Bringing international flavor to the local business mix, Mahmoud Salem searches the world to satisfy his customers' exotic tastes. See the story on page 10.[[In-content Ad]]

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