“People keep asking me why I'm not retired, and the answer is, because I love doing this,” said Marsha Fabbro, who opened the store in 1973 with her business partner Shirley Vincent.
“It's about putting your heart and soul into it, really. And my partner is very good with numbers. That's the key. You have to choose the partner you go into business with very carefully.”
Vincent said the business started almost by accident, when Fabbro's passion for Mexico got the better of her during a trip south of the U.S. Border.
“She went there on holiday, came back with a bunch of merchandise and forgot she had to pay freight and duty,” Vincent said. “So she called me and said, 'Do you want to be a partner in a business?' And the rest is history.”
An initial investment of $5,000 paid off with the success of El Mercado, she said. And while passion played a big role, discipline is equally important.
“We've never really been in debt,” Vincent said.
The closest they came was in 1980, back in the days when they were still trucking imports into Canada directly from Mexico. They brought ceramics and pottery, but disaster struck when they tried bringing in brass and glass products. Product arrived broken or damaged, leaving them with a $30,000 line of credit to repay and no merchandise to show for it.
“And that was when interest rates were at 20 per cent,” Vincent said. “Not fun. It took three years to get out of that hole, but was the last time we made that mistake.”
Today, they get their merchandise at trade shows and leave the risks of importing products to somebody else.
Ward 8 Coun. Fabio Belli was on hand Saturday, presenting Fabbro and Vincent with a certificate formally congratulating them on behalf of the city, as was Maureen Luoma, executive director of Downtown Sudbury.
It's rare for a small business to last so long, but El Mercado, which has moved locations a few times before moving into its Durham Street location about a decade ago, has changed with the times. They employ about 10 staff in their Sudbury and Chelmsford locations, and Fabbro said their employees are more like members of the family – another factor vital to their success.
“They were ones who decided we were going to celebrate,” she said, while she and Vincent would have been happy to just let the anniversary pass by.
“And really, the most important reason we've lasted so long is because we listen to the customer,” Fabbro said. “When a customer wants something and we don't have it, we'll get it.”
El Mercado is located at 88 Durham St., as well as Place Bonaventure Mall in Chelmsford. They can be found online www.elmercado.ca.