Updated October 31, 2023 - 7:05 pm
The new, expanded and modern Mario’s Westside Market is officially open for business.
Members of the Historic Westside community showed up in the dozens to celebrate its debut Monday afternoon.
Flanked by local, state and federal officials, store namesake Mario Berlanga spoke about the nearly two-year process of repurposing a shuttered pharmacy next to the original store.
“Someone told me to build a store that we would be proud of to put anywhere in town,” he said during a ribbon-cutting ceremony. “Well, I’m here to tell you, this is it.”
“Everything is newer, bigger, better,” he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “We’re going to expand on a lot of products, so it is just great.”
Mario’s is not only a staple in its predominantly Black community but also sits in a “food desert,” where there’s a shortage of nutritious and affordable food for lower-income residents.
“When other big grocery chains closed down and moved out, Mario’s Westside Market was here,” Congressman Steven Horsford, D-Nev., said in remarks Monday. “When other people didn’t want to invest in our community, Mario was here.”
Using federal pandemic-recovery dollars, the city of Las Vegas and Clark County each contributed $1 million toward the $8 million project.
One by one, officials praised the shy-demeanor Berlanga and the store he co-owns and has operated since 1997.
Metropolitan Police Department Sheriff Kevin McMahill praised Berlanga’s dedication to youth sports and the increase of food options the new store will provide.
“When we have happy, healthy communities that are eating well, the communities are safer,” the sheriff added.
Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman called Monday a “great day in our community.”
“Each one of us here every day gets up and says, ‘How can I make this community better?’ And all of us need food, and there is no better place to get food than with Mario,” she said.
The inauguration and ribbon cutting was paired with a “trunk or treat” for the children, most of whom showed up in Halloween costumes. There was also music, a maze and a petting zoo.
‘We knew that he was going to do something great’
Lt. Gov. Stavros Anthony, who voted for the funds while he was a Las Vegas councilman, said he couldn’t picture at the time what the store would become.
“But we knew that he was going to do something great,” he said. “We knew that we had faith in him and he has built the crown jewel of the historic west Las Vegas.”
Berlanga has said that he hopes the culture of the original store would transfer into the larger space, which includes longer shelves, a bigger kitchen, a bakery and a deli counter.
As it stands, Mario’s is a tight-knit business with a family-like atmosphere, where Berlanga can regularly be seen interacting with shoppers. The store is perhaps best known for its legendary fried catfish.
But Mario’s is also known for allowing other businesses to promote on its bulletin board, and where an informal ledger system exists for seniors who can’t immediately afford to pay for their groceries.
“I remember that we have been trying to find, for decades, a quality grocer to come into our community,” Councilman Cedric Crear said. “You name them, I’ve spoken to them.
“The only one that has been consistent through this whole thing is Mario’s,” the mayoral candidate said.
Commissioner William McCurdy II calls Mario’s an institution.
“Everybody who’s here, you all need to buy something,” he said. “Because Mario is going to need us now more than ever to be intentional with our spending.”
It wasn’t long before a red ribbon was nipped and shoppers waiting in a long line made their way inside to check out the store for the first time.
Contact Ricardo Torres-Cortez at email@example.com. Follow @rickytwrites on X.