Eagle Grocery and Market has been serving the rural Eagle Pass community since 1939. Founded by brothers José and Gilberto Rodriguez, it has entrenched itself in the Texas border town.
“It was serving the ranchers in Texas and in Mexico because it was as if we were one city and crossing the border was not the problem that it is now,” said Angie Rodriguez, current owner and José’s daughter.
The store still has the original flooring from 1939, as well as deer heads from throughout Maverick County. The store’s history is extensive, including a bond with the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas. During the 1930s and ’40s, the tribe lived in teepees under the bridge that connected Eagle Pass, Texas, to Piedras Niegras, Coahuila, Mexico.
“We still have relationships with the old tribal members and the old families that would come in. Some of their children still come into the store every now and then, and we’re still talking about some of the stories of those families,” said Jaime Rodriguez, general manager and son of Angie.
Bennie Rodgriguez, Angie’s husband, got involved with the family grocery store in 1979. Bennie was working for a utility company and teaching, while Angie was a registered nurse for the school system.
“My brother-in-law asked me to come in one summer to help them out and I enjoyed it,” Bennie said.
The couple took over ownership in 1984, according to Jaime, who is store manager. His son also is getting involved in the business.
Although there are other independent grocers and corporate chains around, Jaime referred to them as partners. “We work hand in hand with the grocery retailers that come here, it’s a small community,” he said.
With its store about 1,000 feet away from the U.S.-Mexico border, the grocer has been a part of both communities.
“We’ve always put service first, above and beyond anything else. And we’ve tried to partner with the community as much as we can,” Jaime said. “We’ve done a lot of support for all the local clubs and local youth. We’ve been able to employ several thousand residents of Eagle Pass over the last 85 years.”
Tough times then and now
Since its beginnings, the grocer has endured throughout much adversity.
Mexico experienced the first devaluation of its currency in the late 1970s, Jaime recalled. At that time, Eagle Grocery’s customer base was about 70 percent Mexican.
“The Mexican shopper lost 50 percent of their money overnight,” Jaime said. “That meant that we lost 50 percent of our deposits that we sold over the weekend. Devaluation then happened again in the early ’80s and also the early ’90s.
The Mexican shopper base was declining for the grocer, but the family remained committed to the community.
“My mother at that point – even though our sales had dropped by 30-40 percent – said she was not going to let go of any of their employees because she had committed to give them a job. And it wasn’t their fault the Mexican currency devalued overnight,” Jaime said.
Perhaps it’s no surprise then that Eagle has strong workforce loyalty – 50 percent of employees have worked there more than 20 years.
COVID-19 closes border
Recently, another wave of adversity arrived via the COVID-19 pandemic. The border was shuttered and Mexican nationals could not enter.
“With our business being supported by Mexico, we as a border community and border business lobbied our federal government to open the borders…all of the border towns suffered tremendously…in 2020 and 2021, we saw a decrease of probably 35 percent of foot traffic,” Jamie said.
Although the border eventually reopened, other factors – including Mexican citizens no longer being allowed to cross to donate plasma – contributed to reduced foot traffic.
“With our proximity to downtown, we would see maybe 400 [donors] a day come in to shop…the federal government has now deemed that donating plasma is considered working inside the U.S., which is a violation of their visas,” Jaime said.
Although these have been challenging times, business is going well for Eagle Grocery. The store is continuing to reinvent itself to target a different customer base. These days, that’s the local shopper.
“Through all the trials and tribulations, we’re still here, we’re still part of the community, we’re still going strong,” Jaime said.
He added that all of the grocers offer the same products, but service sets Eagle apart.
“We’ve been able to provide a service and get to know our customers on a daily basis,” Jaime said. “I think the one thing that makes it different from everybody else is being able to recognize our customers and adjust to their needs…my dad greets almost everyone at the door.”
For more information, visit the grocer’s Facebook page here.
Article written by Eric Pereira / content creator