TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY NATHAN CHESKY
During a visit to Smiley’s Flea Market, definitely do not skip the indoor restaurants and markets found on the far side of the open-air market, away from the road. Stepping into these alleyways feels like wandering into a whole new country. Just 15 minutes south of Asheville, you can lose yourself in a Latin American market full of Spanish-speaking vendors and customers. Visitors can mingle with Hispanic families from across Western North Carolina and beyond, who come here to buy anything from mattresses and car tires to warm cups of “street corn” topped with mayo, Parmesan cheese and cayenne pepper.
One of these businesses is operated by Laura Marcos and her family. Even on a rainy Sunday morning, the colorful vegetables and bustle of activity lend the indoor produce market a sense of warmth and vibrancy.
Chesky would like to thank Andrew Crosson, of Asheville, for translating the following interview from Spanish to English.
Question: How long have you been operating this store?
Answer: More than 10 years. It’s been so long that we don’t exactly remember. We started out selling clothes, kitchen stuff, and now produce because it’s better to sell. It’s easier. People come more often. People have to eat!
Q: Where do the products come from?
A: From Mexico.
Q: Are there many customers from North Carolina, or are they mostly Latin Americans?
A: We have had some before, but mostly it is people who like food from their home region. They like the taste of home.
Q: What is the best-selling product?
A: Nopales (cactus). It is a vegetable. You can cook it, fry it, eat it raw with some salt, put it on the grill, whatever. It tastes just like okra. They are always in season in Mexico, and it is always the most popular product here. It also has a red fruit that is good too. It is the Hispanic people who come to buy it, because they don’t sell it in places like Ingles or BiLo. They don’t know about it. They could get it if they wanted, but they don’t know it. It’s better for us, though, because they would steal our business. People come here for the specific products they can’t get other places. They can get an onion anywhere. Other special products people come here for are papayas, guavas.
Q: Is your shop here at Smiley’s a family business?
A: Yes, there are two people in the family who work here. Others work in a restaurant in Asheville. Other employees here are family friends.
Q: During your decade of operating here, what have you noticed about this market?
A: Before, there used to be more Hispanos, but with the changes in the laws the people have started moving to other states. Before we sold more, but the levels have gone down. There are fewer customers.
Q: Has it harmed the business?
A: Yes, some. We just don’t sell as much, so we have to order less product, because it is food and we can’t let it go to waste. In fact, we have started to buy more products from around here.