by McKenna Ross, Las Vegas Review-Journal, March 5, 2022
A grocer in Las Vegas’ Historic Westside wants to use $1 million of American Rescue Plan Act funds to expand its footprint and food offerings in the neighborhood with few grocery options.
Mario’s Westside Market, an independent grocer that’s been on the corner of West Lake Mead and North Martin Luther King Jr. boulevards since 1997, received initial approval for its grant from the city of Las Vegas. Owner Mario Berlanga wants to use it to buy a new building and expand the business.
“What we want to do is make it a nice, big supermarket with produce and five times what we have now,” Berlanga said.
Berlanga is eyeing a building in the same parking lot that used to be a CVS. Such a building could house up to 6,000 more square feet of sales floor space, he said. That’s crucial to his expansion plans, which include a bakery and more produce options at more affordable prices.
Mario’s currently doesn’t have enough space for displays for advertisements. Being a part of an ad group that gives display space to products can let the grocer buy and sell the food at a lower price, Berlanga said.
“There’s a big gap between us now,” he said. “If I have more space and I get an ad price, then I’m closer to what the big boxes are.”
The $1 million grant received approval at a City Council meeting in February as one of dozens of businesses, nonprofits and other agencies that applied for assistance from the city’s American Rescue Plan Act fund of about $131 million. Twenty percent of what was awarded went to business assistance proposals, including Berlanga’s expansion idea.
The city received 577 applications for the ARPA funds, totaling $2.25 billion in requests, spokesman Jace Radke said in an email. Mario’s Westside Market requested $4.5 million for its expansion, according to city records.
“Based on the reviews of these applications, the committee made recommendations on projects that provide the most positive impact on the community,” he said.
Berlanga said he thinks an expanded grocery would benefit the neighborhood by providing more jobs and better food options. A larger space would create 10 to 15 more jobs through its bakery department and other expanded departments. And more fresh produce would give shoppers more nutritious options — something particularly valuable as few large grocery chains are in the Historic Westside.
“Over here in this neighborhood, (if) we want to get a birthday cake for a family member or a special occasion, we don’t have a place over here to do it,” he said. “They have to go outside of the community to do it. There’ll be a place now.”
Other business assistance grants approved by the Las Vegas City Council focused on workforce development, small business incubation and small business support. A full list of entities awarded funding from the city is available online.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto applauded the way the city used its APRA funding to support businesses with community-focused ideas.
“The grant that Mario’s Westside Market received is a great example of how cities across the state are using these funds to bolster small businesses and help Nevada workers continue to recover from the pandemic,” Cortez Masto said in a statement to the Review-Journal. “I’ll keep working in the Senate on action to uplift Nevada’s small businesses, from bolstering the supply chain to strengthening workforce development projects.”
McKenna Ross is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Contact her at [email protected] Follow @mckenna_ross_ on Twitter.