Speeches and Mariachi music flavored the opening of the Pro's Ranch Market Wednesday in Mesa, with long lines forming outside the Hispanic grocery and cars overflowing onto neighborhood side streets.
Inside, customers packed the aisles and picked through piles of fresh fruit and vegetables in the produce departments.
"It's a nice, big store, and clean, with lots of employees," said Maria Mirramontes, one of the early customers. "I hope it stays this way."
The much-anticipated upscale market, which cost about $7 million to develop and employs about 450 people, features bilingual signs; brands imported from Mexico, Central America and South America; and special departments designed to appeal to Hispanic customers such as a tortilleria.
It is located at the Mesa Ranch Plaza shopping center at the northwest corner of Southern Avenue and Stapley Drive.
But despite attempts by the family-owned chain to appeal to a crossover audience, the vast majority of its first-day customers appeared to be Hispanic.
Several shoppers interviewed by the Tribune said they already knew what to expect because they previously shopped at Pro's Ranch Markets in Phoenix. They welcomed the company's first Mesa store because it will eliminate a long drive.
"I don't have to hike to 16th Street anymore," said Almeda Davis, a Tempe resident who was familiar with Pro's Ranch stores in California, where the chain is based. "This store is a little bigger than what they had in California. They've learned some different things over time."
Mike Hink, who drove from Scottsdale to the grand opening, said, "they have a lot of the Mexican things we like, and they have good variety all around,"
"I saw the sign up (about the store's grand opening) and said I would come back," said his wife, Pat. "It's good to know it's here."
Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, who spoke at the ribbon-cutting ceremony prior to the opening Wednesday, said he was impressed by the size of Pro's investment in Mesa.
"What strikes you first is you can see the quality of the architecture and the construction," he said. "This is not a cheap place."
Chief Executive Mike Provenzano Sr. said the company could build more stores in the East Valley when the economy recovers.
"As we find locations, we will add more," he said.