Aixa Ramirez of the Carolina Convenience Store in Methuen, MA is a classic “people person.” She’d be the first to admit it. You can tell the way she interacts with her customers. She attends to everyone promptly, jokes with them, and even shares opinions with them. In return, they not only converse with her, they even bring her homemade food, like for one Thanksgiving a few years ago. During our interview with her, she kept showing customers the picture I’d taken of her bodega at twilight. A man wearing a Santa Claus hat enters and she exclaims, “Here is our Santa!” She thrives on their reactions.
For several years before buying the store, she worked at a job where her only contact was with tiny fiber-optic cables. “Those things,” she said, grabbing a strand of hair, “are tough. They’re only about this big. I couldn’t relate to them.”
But working as co-manager of the store (with her husband), the hours are longer. When I asked her if she lived nearby, she replied, “This is my home,” pointing to the small area behind the counter. “My home is back here.” This may sound like she’s complaining, but no. The personal contact she gets seems to make up for the long hours and constant details. For example, she deals with primarily a Latin American clientele who expect their fifty pound bags of rice, which she imports from the Dominican Republic. She doesn’t disappoint them, even though all is not well in the DR; the export tax has just gone up considerably, making such products more expensive.
She made two things clear: she doesn’t sell alcohol and she has no family members coming in to help, like other bodega owners. In fact, she has no children; after years of hearing friends complain about parental difficulties, she and her husband decided “no way.”
The Santa Claus man reenters and says “Me olvidé de algo.” “Forget something?” she says. “I thought Santa Claus never forgets!”