Flanked by fabric shops and stores displaying elaborate quinceañera dresses, a tiendita on the humble corner of 12th and Wall streets was engulfed by a joyous — and curious — frenzy Thursday morning.
Here in the heart of downtown Los Angeles — in the shadow of poverty and despair of Skid Row — someone had just won $1 billion.
As word spread across the majority of immigrant-run shops in the Fashion District, it thrilled that someone in their neighborhood could suddenly become so rich, there was a giddy excitement in the air.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Rosemary Guerra, 21, who works at a nearby ice cream shop. “It’s shocking that it could be someone who was working one day and … hustling trying to make it work in life, and then this happens.”
TV news cameras surrounded Las Palmitas Mini Market as manager Nabor Herrera arrived for work. He didn’t immediately understand what was happening.
Reporters explained to him that the store sold the Powerball ticket that won a $1.08-billion jackpot in Wednesday night’s drawing. Herrera sheepishly smiled as he unloaded cases of water and milk from the trunk of his car.
“I’m very happy,” Herrera, 52, said in Spanish as the cameras and microphones surrounded him. “I think the person who won is Latino. I don’t know who it was, but that’s mainly who our clients are. Latinos working in the city.”
Read more: $1-billion Powerball ticket sold in downtown Los Angeles
The sidewalks outside Las Palmitas are lined with mannequins and street vendors hawking bottles of water, flavored ice and candy. A few blocks away from the tiendita, or little shop, where someone scored a $1-billion payday lie the homeless encampments of Skid Row.
Maria Leticia Menjivar, 50, opened the business in 2017, and Herrera, her husband, works as the market’s manager. Menjivar politely sidestepped requests for interviews as reporters pushed their way into her modest shop, which provided money order services and sold canned food, pan dulce, cold drinks and other household items.
Menjivar’s daughter, Angelica Menjivar, 35, couldn’t believe the news at first. At home early Thursday, she looked at the store’s security camera feed from her phone and saw TV cameras setting up outside the business.
“We started to get calls at 5 am We thought it was a spam caller,” Angelica Menjivar said.
After the family immigrated to California from El Salvador several years ago, Angelica Menjivar explained to her mother that if they wanted to succeed, they would need to open a business.
“Start with just one,” she said. “We’re immigrants, and our family has made the business a success, and we have made this our dream. We show that it’s possible for anyone to make it.”
The store will receive a $1-million bonus for selling the winning ticket, according to the California State Lottery.
The bonus money is likely to be put away in a savings account to make sure that Maria Leticia Menjivar’s grandchildren can go to college, the family said.
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“Some people are coming up to us saying, ‘Why aren’t you more excited?’ But I don’t really know how to feel,” Menjivar’s granddaughter Sarai Palacios said inside her family’s store as TV news cameras pointed at her mother and grandmother.
The jackpot winner has not been identified by the California State Lottery. Officials said it could take months to verify the winner and release the name to the public.
Josefina Luis, who has worked at the shop for several years, said a steady stream of business owners, workers in the Fashion District and homeless people frequent the business.
“It could be anyone,” Luis said.
Around 9 am, a woman wearing a baseball cap approached the market, repeating to herself, “I think I’m going to cry.”
She walked into the market and shouted, “Where is the owner? I just won a billion dollars.”
She dropped to her knees as cameras and phones pointed at her.
Luis walked over from behind the counter and hugged the woman. She burst into tears as she pushed through the crowd of reporters peppering her with questions.
“I’m so scared right now. God bless. I can’t talk,” the woman said as she ran down Wall Street.
Luis didn’t know the woman’s name but said she had been in the store before.
“That raises the possibility that she is the person” who bought the ticket, Luis said in Spanish.
Carolyn Becker, California State Lottery spokesperson, said the winner had not come forward yet. It was still too early to tell whether the person who purchased the ticket even knew they’d won, Becker said.
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Lottery staff arrived early Thursday at Las Palmitas with promotional materials to designate the mini market as the site where the winning ticket was purchased — tacking a B onto their signs that read “Millionaire Made Here” to change them to “Billionaire Made Here,” as they had the first time the California lottery minted a billionaire last year.
In November, a $2-billion winning Powerball ticket was sold to Edwin Castro at Joe’s Mobile Service in Altadena. Joseph Chahayed said lottery sales tripled at his shop after he sold the winning ticket. The same will probably happen at Las Palmitas, lottery officials said.
A few doors down at Be Accessories, Brandon Vasquez, 14, and his cousin Lucia Garcia, 9, watched the crowd from inside their family’s store that sells plush dolls, phone accessories, backpacks and toys.
“It’s so exciting,” said Brandon’s mother, Griselda Tax.
The news about the winning lottery ticket being sold down the street from their shop makes the family giddy. To have it be so close and within their community makes him feel like it’s possible for anyone to find a fortune.
“Like, once in a while, when you hear it’s Latinos, you feel amazed. You feel a part of something,” Brandon said.
Read more: California Powerball winner buys 2nd multimillion-dollar home — this one in Altadena
Across the street, Roberto, 29, narrated into his phone as he livestreamed back to his hometown in El Salvador. He wanted to show his family that someone became a billionaire.
“They don’t believe me,” Roberto said as he aimed his phone at the store.
Several other men who work in the Fashion District did the same as they streamed video back to their home countries, daydreaming on the street corner about an amount of money that almost seems inconceivable.
“I’d buy all my family clothes, jewelry, take them to college,” said Roberto, who works in a fabric shop moving heavy crates and items all day. He did not give his last name.
Lucy Jamil has worked in the Fashion District for more than 30 years. Her shop, New Fashion, sells backpacks, makeup and other goods. She wanted to see what was happening at Las Palmitas and to congratulate her family for selling the winning ticket.
“This is history in LA. This is a big, big, big thing,” Jamil said.
She had heard Wednesday night that someone had bought the ticket in the Fashion District, and it was at the mini market around the corner from her job.
“I woke up this morning praying to God that it was one of the employees at the shop or one of the guys selling fruit on the street or selling candies,” Jamil said.
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This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.