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Businesses feel financial impact of returning workers

Businesses within walking distance of the Lakeside Foods migrant camp see some economic impact from the temporary residents.

"Not all the money goes to Mexico," said Alfonso Portillo, migrant camp leader at Lakeside. "We're part of the economy. We're spending a lot of money here."

Portillo buys much of the food required to stock the migrant camp dining hall from local stores. He makes his almost-daily trips to keep fresh ingredients on hand.

At EconoFoods in New Richmond, many more Hispanic customers shop in the store during the canning season, according to Assistant Manager Gary Tipton.

"We stock more Mexican foods and ethnic foods because of it," Tipton said. "We keep a close watch on what things we move. We've had to expand our Mexican foods section because of that."

The upswing in demand for ethnic foods isn't completely related to the migrant workers, Tipton pointed out. Other customers also are eating more ethnic foods.

"People tend to migrate from one food to another," he said.

A block away, Family Dollar appreciates the extra business that the migrant workers bring to town.

While the store doesn't stock any different merchandise to cater to their customers from Poland, Jamaica, Texas or Mexico, manager Frank Halterman said they do notice higher demand for certain products during the canning season.

Among the more popular items are 2-for a dollar Havana sausages, noodles and soups.

"Anything that's quick and easy to eat," he said. "Certain things sell a lot better when the migrant workers are around."

The Heritage Center is perhaps the biggest benefactor of the migrant workers' economic punch.

At the organization's weekend flea market, large numbers of migrant workers often show up to browse through the sale items.

"They're there at 7:30 a.m. waiting for us to open up on Saturdays," said Mary Sather, who helps coordinate the flea market fund raiser. "It's kind of a social thing for them to do."

Sather adds that the flea market is a gathering place for all walks of life, not just the migrant workers.

"It's a place to get together, to visit and socialize," she said.

According to Sather, the workers buy a lot of clothing, bedding, shoes, jewelry and cookware at the flea market. Families who rent housing in the community also purchase some furniture and other household items.

"They've been very good customers," she said. "It's good for us and it works well for them."

The one cultural barrier flea market workers face is the migrant workers' tendency to haggle over price.

"That's part of their culture," she said. "But we don't do that. They've all pretty much learned that by now."

Sather said flea market volunteers look forward to the return of migrant workers each summer.

"It's kind of like having the snowbirds come back after the winter," she said. "Many have been coming back to New Richmond for years. We've gotten fond of many of them."