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Snoqualmie's "hidden treasure" offers an authentic Mexican market

Just passing by, you might miss it if you didn't know it was there.

Tucked away in a small space along Railroad Avenue in Snoqualmie, the only indication of its presence is the colorful lettering painted on its window: "La Chicanita" (In English, The Little Girl).

Crack the door, though, and it's like walking into a Mexican tiendita (a little convenience store).

From the setting (small convenience stores in Mexico often seem as though they are hidden away from obvious access) to the hodge-podge selection of supplies, La Chicanita is part of a culture that exists not only south of the boarder, but in the Valley's own backyard.

The store offers a variety of goods and food products including international phone cards, fresh Mexican pastries (pan dulces) and edible cacti, salsa, cotija (an aged, semi-soft Mexican cheese), medicine and toiletries, Mexican candies, music, piñatas and more.

There's a lot of merchandise to be found for such a small space, said owner Maria Aguilar of Bellevue.

This is the only authentic Spanish market in the area, she said. La Chicanita specializes in products native to Mexico, though it has other Spanish-themed items.

Aguilar - who grew up in Tijuana, Mexico - said her goal is to provide people of Latin decent and those from Spanish-speaking areas who are new to the United States and/or the Valley with a reminder of home, both through the design of the store and through the products it carries.

"We need one [a market for the Hispanic community]," she said in fluent - though accented - English. "We have some Hispanic people here [in the Valley]. I think it's a good thing to have here."

She noted that most of her customers are Hispanic and most speak only Spanish to her, so she is unsure of how many also have English-language capabilities. However, she has noticed an increase in her customer base, with many people originating from California or Mexico, since she first took over ownership of the store four years ago. The latest U.S. Census taken in 2000 reported that Snoqualmie's Hispanic population was about 5 percent of the total city population which was about 1,630 at the time.

"They feel better when they come to a place where you speak their language," she said.

Living on the California/Mexico border, Aguilar was often exposed to a blend of Mexican and American cultures. Moving to the United States about 10 years ago, she worked at UPS.

In 2002, she and her husband came across the store in Snoqualmie, which was already operating under a different owner and was for sale at the time.

The couple purchased the store, adding video rentals (which was discontinued due to theft issues) and more products. She and her sister-in-law run the store.

Now she spends her time tending to customers, ordering products and watching Telemundo (a Spanish-speaking television network) on the rare occasions when the store is empty.

Eventually, she would like to open up a taqueria (taco stand) to operate in conjunction with her Mexican convenience store.

The store is located at 8052 Railroad Ave. S.E., Snoqualmie. For more information about the store, call (425) 888-2411.

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