Rural Prosperity Nebraska program helps market become reality

by Russell Shaffer | Rural Prosperity Nebraska

Amparito’s Market. 648 N. 27th in Lincoln, opened in May, following extensive assistance from Rural Prosperity Nebraska’s Latino Small Business Program.
Image Credit: 
Craig Chandler | University Communication and Marketing
Amparito’s Market, at 648 N. 27th in Lincoln, opened in May, following extensive assistance from Rural Prosperity Nebraska’s Latino Small Business Program.
July 18, 2023

It’s an uncommon experience to walk into a grocery store and feel at home. But that’s exactly the atmosphere Amparito’s Market in Lincoln is striving for. On the outside, the market looks like any other grocery store. But when you walk down the aisles, you notice that few of the products originate in the United States.

“Amparito’s Market is something that we wanted to bring into Lincoln to provide connection,” said Raul Sarmiento Jr., son of owner Raul Sarmiento. “A connection, because customers can find here what they can find in their home countries.”

The import store opened in May, following extensive assistance from Rural Prosperity Nebraska’s Latino Small Business Program. The store is stocked with products from Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico and other Central and South American countries, the labels written in Spanish first, then English.

“We want people to feel welcome, like they’re walking into their country somehow,” Raul Jr. said.

The Sarmientos emigrated from Bucaramanga, Colombia, to Lincoln in 2016 with only the luggage they could carry. While they found work relatively quickly, they struggled to acclimate to their new surroundings and culture, an experience not lost on Raul Sr. when he decided to open his store. When he created his business plan, family was central. Not only is the market named after his wife, Amparo, but his brother-in-law is the butcher; his daughter and nephew run the counter; and Raul Jr., who works full time at Union Bank and Trust as the multicultural banking officer, handles public relations for the store.

In addition, Amparito’s houses a monetary wiring office, where customers can transfer money to their families in their home countries — just another way to help people feel connected, Raul Jr. said.

“It’s really hard sometimes to get acclimated, to find that trust in somebody to guide you in your first steps,” he said. “We want to be that for the community.”

Headway for the store began in August 2022 when Raul Sr. and Amparo met with Sandra Barrera, the Rural Prosperity Nebraska Extension educator who oversees the Latino Small Business Program. Barrera helped the Sarmientos not only with their business plan, but with filing paperwork with the IRS, arranging inspections, ordering supplies and even securing a location.

“When we started, she gave us a little map — this is where you start, this is where you finish,” Raul Jr. said. “That was one of the moments when it was kind of eye-opening, because you go anywhere to register your business, and they charge you like $1,000 or something. Sandra does it for free. And not only that, but she provides education and resources for your business to be successful.”

The Latino Small Business Program provides business development guidance to immigrant entrepreneurs looking to create their own businesses in Nebraska. From drafting proposals to cutting the red ribbon, Barrera offers expert advice and connects business owners with local city governments, for free and in Spanish. In 2023 alone, Barrera has helped 145 entrepreneurs start their businesses and 354 already-existing businesses secure LLC status. For those looking to create their own food-centered business, Barrera also hosts monthly food safety courses in Spanish.

The Sarmientos embraced Barrera’s council, not only securing pre-packaged products through distributors, but including a fresh butcher, and dairy and bread products from other immigrant-owned businesses in southeast Nebraska.

Barrera said: “When we were talking about the business plan, I said, ‘You have to offer the five food groups.’ So now when I go there, I’m able to find everything — proteins, fruits, vegetables, milk and grains. They offer everything in one place.”

For Raul Jr. and his family, they see that “one place” not so much as a grocery store, but a cultural center for the community. Part of the reason for founding the store was not only to provide immigrants with products from their own countries, but share what is special to them with Nebraskans.

“I would like to take the opportunity here to invite everyone to come share a little of our culture,” Raul Jr. said. “We want to be a community resource. If you just got here, or you’ve been here, and you feel like you need help with something, come here. We’ll help you.”

After visiting the store for the first time, Barrera emphasized that feeling of collaboration and connection the Sarmientos are striving for.

“I feel at home when I am there,” she said.

Amparito’s Market, 648 N. 27th St. in Lincoln, is open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays.

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