After 20 years in business, Harold "Lefty" Encarnacion is ready to close up shop.
The owner of Millie's International Food Market said his health is declining and he can no longer manage the grocery store and restaurant at 2035 S. Lumpkin Road.
"I've already started reducing my stock, and I'm hoping somebody will make an offer and buy me out," Encarnacion said recently. "I can't take care of my health standing here seven days a week. I'm just having health issues."
Over the years, Millie's has not only been a vital business in south Columbus, but it has also been a community center for the city's Hispanic community, providing space for the area's annual Tri-cities Latino Festival planning committee and its only Hispanic radio station, UNIDOS 107.7 FM.
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The radio station closed in December due to the lack of community support, said Jim Martin, who owned it. At the time, Encarnacion, who managed the station, said he had overextended himself serving as chairman of the annual festival held in October. He said sales at his business had also dropped by 30 percent to 40 percent.
In January, Encarnacion entered into a business partnership with Luis Berrios and Christopher Osorio, with hopes that the two men would manage the restaurant while Encarnacion focused on the grocery store. But Encarnacion said the arrangement put him further in debt, and the partnership ended in March.
"That was one of the biggest mistakes I ever made being 20 years in business," he said. " When they left, I ended up in the hole for almost $4,000."
Since then, Encarnacion said, doctors have diagnosed him with heart and liver problems. He's had to close the store frequently for medical tests and is struggling with medical bills and other debt.
"The situation I got now requires a doctor's attention and that means it's time for me, as they say, to hang up the hat," he said. "The only reason I've been here this long is because I have a 12-year-old son. Other than that, I would have put a padlock on the door and left a long time ago."
Encarnacion and his wife, Millie, opened the store after moving to Columbus 30 years ago and having to send money to New York for ethnic foods and seasonings. The purpose of the grocery store was to serve the growing Hispanic population in 1986.
"The day I opened the market is the day I realized how many Hispanics there actually were in Columbus because they were all spread out," Encarnacion said last year in an interview. "When we opened the store, we did a grand opening and it attracted all kinds of Latinos, the majority being Mexicans."
This week, Encarnacion said business traffic has slowed down at the strip mall and people are choosing to shop at bigger supermarkets. He said there are hardly cars in the parking lot these days.
Still, he believes Millie's can be viable once again.
"This can be made back to the business it was, no question about it," he said. "I just don't have that energy anymore."