Five months ago, the 71-year-old Holland American Market closed its doors. Hundreds of customers mourned the loss of the last Dutch store in L.A., which was for many the sole source of the speculaas and black licorice of home.
But now there's reason to celebrate, because Bellflower's famous Dutch Store is back — and it's better than ever.
When the store closed in late June, we spoke to Maria Cervantes, who had worked at Holland American for the past 17 years. The normally cheery cashier was somber but hopeful as she admitted that she planned to reopen the Dutch Store in a new location. Opening a new business can take years, but Cervantes managed to get the new Dutch Store up and running in just a few months.
Cervantes made clever use of social media to bring together L.A.'s Dutch community. On June 10, she posted on the store's Facebook a crying emoticon in response to the news that the store would be closing. But the next update, on July 25, announced a new location and name: Holland American would become Holland International Market, and the store would move to a smaller but more pedestrian-friendly location, still in Bellflower. In the following months, Cervantes kept customers updated with photos of the store remodel. By Oct. 28, she was cutting the ribbon to her new store.
The new Holland International Market features two checkout counters equipped with iPad registers, a deli case full of specialty meats and cheeses, and aisles of Dutch and Indonesian food. The smaller location still manages to stock the same foods as the old Holland American, but it now looks bright and cheery, rather than dusty and bare.
Not everything is new, though – Cervantes saved the old store's iconic wooden Dutch man and kept the tiny shopping carts. There's a photo wall with pictures of the old store, and she even hired back old employees. Watching them learn to use new iPad registers as Cervantes happily bustled about felt like the perfect rebirth of the Dutch Store, a mix of old traditions and new energy. "It's my dream come true," Cervantes beamed.
Above all, what Cervantes has created is a space for community – a place for immigrants and their children to find the flavors of home. With her enthusiasm and business savvy, Cervantes has ushered in a new era for Dutch food lovers. At the grand opening, the store was packed with happy customers hugging and congratulating Cervantes. "They say I'm Mexican, but I'm really Dutch," she laughed.
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The store is stocked with chocolate letters, pepernoten, marshmallows, and other Sinterklaas essentials for the December 5 holiday.
Holland International Market, 9835 Belmont St., Bellflower. Weekdays 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. (562) 925-9444, firstname.lastname@example.org, facebook.com/hollandinternationalmarket.