FLINT, Michigan -- On any given day at A&G Market, you’ll see a multigenerational trio of women, Lilia Alberto and her daughters Addis and Sheri Meltzer, working their tails off with one goal in mind: keeping the business their Honduran immigrant parents/grandparents opened in 1980 going above and beyond for their customers, just as they always did.
A&G Market is tucked away in the middle of one of Flint’s oldest neighborhoods on the corner of Winona and Dartmouth. It has been a family-owned party store for 40 years, and their tacos are among Flint’s best kept secrets. The tacos at A&G are an old family recipe and make up roughly 90 percent of the store's business. The ingredients aren’t fancy, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t special.
Their menu consists of only beef tacos and nachos with the chips and shells fried daily. If you’re really lucky, you’ll show up on burrito day, which comes without rhyme or reason, when Lilia has time in between her other full-time job for the day-long process it takes to make them. Then you’ll discover what a real burrito is actually supposed to taste like.
Longtime customers span generations and are treated as old friends. When Sheri asks how your day is, she has genuine interest in the details. The customers know everyone who works at the store by name and ask about their kids -- the store’s fourth generation, who are usually running around A&G at some point most days. Which is exactly what their parents were doing before them.
Regulars short on change are forgiven and waved away without a second thought, knowing they’ll make it right when they can. This entire atmosphere was learned and inherited from Mom and Pops.
Something for the family
After leaving Honduras in 1963 and making a brief stop in New York, Abraham and Guadalupe Alberto, who most of the neighborhood knows as Mom and Pops, planted roots in Flint in 1965. They both had good jobs working in the auto industry, but they wanted more. Especially Guadalupe.
Addis Meltzer’s daughter Alexis Portillo and Sheri Meltzer’s daughter Maricela Gurrola, fourth generation, looking at the first that started it all.“Even though she had a good job and was busy raising a family at home, my mom wanted something that was hers, for her family,” Alberto said. “She loved interacting with the community and talking to people, the store was almost like a hobby for her, she loved it.”
The store was, and still is, rooted in family. Lilia worked alongside her parents and brother in the store either full- or part-time since it opened and passed that same tradition down to her own kids.
“We grew up here,” Addis said. “We all grew up here. The store was always full of family, aunts and uncles helping out, cousins running around together when we were little then actually working here after school when we were old enough.”
A survival story
The store has also survived turbulent times in every era of its existence, from the gang and drug epidemics in the 1980s through today’s COVID-19 pandemic, A&G has weathered everything from theft to vandalism to near bankruptcy to tragedy and death.
After Alberto lost her mother in 2008, her brother in 2010, and her father in 2012, she was forced to take a hard look at the Market. After years of not making enough to even cover the bills, both she and the business were hanging by a thread. The store when appraised was worthless, as in literally zero, but at the same time she didn’t want to let go or give up on something her parents had worked so hard to build.
When she finally sat down with Sheri and Addis to tell them they had to let it go, they wouldn’t accept it. Not yet anyway.
“I just couldn’t let it go, in some ways this place is more home to me than anywhere else,” Sheri said. “I wanted to really give it my full attention and see what I could do, if anything, to save the store. I had to try.”
Sheri took over full-time at the store, bringing her young daughter Maricela with her every day, just as her own mother had. She started social media accounts, pushed word of mouth, and reworked the store to focus on what was most important -- their loyal customers and what they really loved: the tacos, of course. It worked.
“When I was ready to close and I had a for sale sign out front, people from the neighborhood started coming in and asking what they could do to help, to save the store,” Alberto said. “It was really a beautiful thing, but not at all surprising.”
The exterior of A&G Market recently got a facelift
“This neighborhood, we're all family here”
The store isn’t located in the path of Flint’s downtown and pristine new developments. It’s in a neighborhood that people don’t often venture into. But to the residents, the store -- and the family -- are vital parts of the neighborhood.
“They (the residents) don’t let anyone treat us disrespectfully or argue with us or cause any type of problems, they look out for us.” Sheri said. “This neighborhood, we're all family here.”
With business on the upswing, they decided to reinvest in the store by giving it a desperately needed makeover.
Sheri Meltzer with one of her favorites, Terrell Brooks, a professional bowler.“The store was rundown,” admitted Addis. “After my grandma passed, my grandpa’s heart just wasn’t in it the same as before. He’d always been cheap, coming from poorer conditions than you can probably imagine, but now especially, if something broke it stayed broke. Plus it had been years since we had any vandalism issues and it was just time.”
During the pandemic, they had to close for three months, but they made the absolute most of the shutdown. Without the help of any grants or emergency pandemic loans or any other financial assistance, they took on the remodel themselves -- with some help from the community of course.
“We were all out there with paintbrushes and rollers painting the building when one of our regulars stopped and offered us his practically new paint sprayer, even offering us a quick lesson on how to use it,” Alberto said. “That alone saved us countless hours of time and all he asked for in return was to let him know if we needed anything else.”
Today, the store is unrecognizable compared to what it looked like just a few months ago. And, with the help of the Flint Public Art Project and its director Joe Schipani, the exterior now includes a mural by local artist Krystal Cooke that beautifully honors Mom and Pops.
Inside, the customers have their own tribute wall -- a spot for a “social media moment.” Customers are encouraged to pose for photos by a taco backdrop, and pictures are posted on A&G’s social media and in the store.
All the women have said it’s been nothing but love and praise and thankfulness since they began working on the store. Customers have come in and told them they were uplifting the neighborhood and let them know how happy and proud they are of their little neighborhood store.
Al, a neighborhood regular, walked in just after the renovations and proudly proclaimed, “Oh man, the store looks great!”
“I’ve been coming here since the beginning, since Mom and Pops started this, since 1981, Pops would’ve got a kick out of this,” Al said.
Stories of Mom and Pops can be heard regularly at A&G -- how Mom had homeopathic advice for a sick customer or how funny Pops was, always able to make anyone laugh. The store is a neighborhood treasure, among the last of a bygone generation of neighborhood businesses, not in a commercial location but centrally located inside a neighborhood.
The answer, if you ask any of the women running the store, to what has kept it going is simple: family. They rely on each other, and on the family history that was created in the store and with the neighborhood to keep going. The store, located at 2012 W. Dartmouth, is open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-through Friday.
But the customers will say something else has been a factor -- the tacos CANNOT be duplicated.
“They just aren’t the same. My brother has tried, my son-in-law, even with the recipe in hand they do not taste the same. Maybe it’s the building, it’s aura that makes them what they are or maybe it’s Charlie.” Lilia jokes, referring to the friendly ghost who’s taken residence there since the store's inception. “Whatever it is you can only get them here.”