The first question that may occur to you as you enter Leo’s Grocery is: who’s Leo? “Leo is the friend of my father, Marcelino Moreno,” said his son Marvin. “He sold the store to go back to the Dominican Republic, and my father saw an opportunity and went for it. They’d been friends for fifteen years.”
Marcelino had always worked in bodegas, even as a child in Baní, an hour’s drive west of Santo Domingo. When he came to the United States, he worked at the Hines Auditorium, setting up shows and cleaning up afterwards. He finally saved up enough for the store.
“Even now, at 53, he works all the time. He wakes up at 7 and retires at 12 midnight. Wherever he is, whatever he does, it’s got to do with the business. Whether he’s in the store or not. Seven days a week. We have to force him to take a vacation. You can’t work 365 days a year. It weighs on your body sooner or later.”
Marvin said his father likes his job and genuinely gets along with his customers. “Regardless of what people say, it’s a real neighborhood. Unless you disrespect someone, people are going to be friendly toward you.”
Who did the paintings on the store walls, the lions, the flowers, the king and queen, making it the most colorful bodega in the neighborhood? “Those were from a City Year initiative about a decade ago,” said Marvin. “No idea who the painter was.”
And who is the young man in front of the building in the top picture? No idea. He posed briefly and moved on before I could ask his name.