Bushwick Shop Slings Tacos Alongside Clothes to Survive

By Meredith Hoffman on December 19, 2013 7:27am 

BUSHWICK — When records, DVDs, soccer jerseys and jeans stopped drawing enough customers to Carlos Torres' Knickerbocker Avenue shop, the longtime Bushwick resident refused to close his doors.

Instead, he transformed Leo's Clothing store into Leo's Deli overnight, hoping to draw a broader clientele on the swiftly changing street by selling tacos alongside his racks of clothes and shoes.

Several new bars, including the popular new night spot The Three Diamond Door, have recently opened where Torres said his fellow Latino business owners have struggled to stay afloat.

"Everybody has to eat," the 32-year-old said in Spanish of his store's makeover, noting that he sold a mix of merchandise at the former shop to cater to the area's pre-gentrification population. "The Latinos who used to shop here had to move out of the neighborhood...but everybody likes tacos."

Torres' 7-year-old family business changed names a month ago to sell tacos for $1 and $2, along with a spread of inexpensive salads and grocery items.

But Leo's Deli still has some of its former merchandise at the front of the shop, luring shoppers who end up walking out with a new pair of shoes and a fresh Mexican dish in their bellies, he said.

"People will try on a pair of boots and then see tacos in the back and get hungry," Torres said. "Or they'll come in for a taco and then decide to buy boots."

Now that the shop is officially a deli, all of the apparel is marked half price. The leather cowboy boots that previously cost $300 are now $150, and the Puma sneakers that went for $50 are now only $25, he said.

While the majority of Torres's DVDs and records are in storage, the shop owner said he plans to put those items for sale on the sidewalk when summer hits.

"This is what we had to do to survive," he said.

For Candace Smith, who wandered in Wednesday to buy tortilla chips but started eyeing boots, the store provided the ideal fusion of goods.

"It's inspiring," said Smith, an independent fashion designer who recently moved to the neighborhood. "Everybody needs a little sustenance while they shop."

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