In a neighborhood with diverse “flavors,” it only makes sense to have a grocery store that celebrates what the area’s residents bring to the table.

That’s the way Luna’s Groceries owner Mariam Maldonado put it when describing why she opened the first grocery store in the Allied Drive/Dunn’s Marsh neighborhood since the 2009 closing of Cub Foods.

Since opening in January, customers have been able to credit Maldonado’s 2,240-square-foot store – located at 2010 Red Arrow Trail just across the Fitchburg boundary in Madison – for turning what might be a long walk for fresh food into mere minutes. The shelves are restocked every Thursday with an abundant supply of fruits and vegetables for customers to choose from seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Maldonado told the Star.

It took years of saving, help from government grants and loans and weathering some unexpected storms at the start, but Maldonado and her partner Joe – both longtime residents of the Allied Drive/Dunn’s Marsh neighborhood – are providing specialty items and standard convenience-store options to an area that has been lacking for a long time.

Allied Drive/Dunn’s Marsh neighborhood resident Marlien Arguela said she enjoyed shopping at the store.

“It’s very convenient, and I find everything I’m looking for,” she told the Star.

Another customer, Madison resident Jeff Mack, said he believes in the grocery store’s cause and always enjoys shopping local when he can.

“What the owners did here is something not a lot of people are encouraged to do,” he told the Star. “The selection resonates with the community.”

‘Your corner store’

As customers walk into what’s billed as the “Your corner store,” they’re greeted with a rainbow of produce. There’s orange and yellow peppers, rich, dark green and spicy poblano peppers, avocados and plantains, just to name a few.

There’s also a mix of origins, too – tastes from Honduras, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic, where Maldonado grew up in a family of grocers, she said.

The store was named after Maldonado’s grandfather who died last year.

“He was the one who brought us to the United States (from the Dominican Republic),” Maldonado said.

Venture into the store to the left, and customers will observe a fully stocked meat counter with all the fixings for Central American favorites – chicken for fajitas, chorizo beef, sausages and pork.

The shelves are stacked with sauces from mild to hot, rice, beans, bread and canned goods.

There are also different types of candy, and if you’re making a quick stop, you can pick up your weekly portions of milk and eggs toward the back of the store in refrigerator.

“The Latin community shops for food every day – so not having to go to a big department store to just grab small things is just huge for them,” Maldonado said.

Opening challenges

Opening Luna’s Groceries happened gradually for the Maldonados. They spent years planning opening the store.

And then just weeks before opening, they dealt with flood damage and vandalism.

So the initial round of funding left them with a budget hole that they had to fix through crowdsourcing.

The couple had $43,000 in savings and took out a Small Business Administration loan of around $200,000 and got the City of Madison to provide $157,735 in funding through its Healthy Retail Access Program.

With that money, Maldonado said she and Joe were able to purchase the building for $320,000.

But when rain had caused flooding and vandals broke some windows, all those plans still left them in $50,000 budget hole, because the SBA loan didn’t cover building repairs or renovations.

“We found asbestos in the floor, got (flooded) and we had to replace the lining of the building,” Maldonado said.

A GoFundMe page helped the store raise $35,900, covering enough of the expenses to get the store open as long as there were not more weather problems.

Three months later, Maldonado said she was happy to see as many people supporting her as they did on the first day of opening.

The first day she saw them browsing Luna’s Groceries, she felt satisfied and proud to be a part of her neighborhood.

“(The Allied Drive/Dunn’s Marsh neighborhood) is amazing with all its flavors and colors, which you don’t get anywhere (else) in Madison,” Maldonado said.

Email Emilie Heidemann at emilie.heidemann@wcinet.com or follow her on Twitter at @HeidemannEmilie.