She’d been working as an office assistant in several local doctors’ offices when Sandy Rodriguez had “the crazy idea” to open her own retail store.
“I wanted to do something to help our local Latin community,” she recounted.
With her store open barely a year, Sandy was one of the first advertisers in The Weekly Newspapers, and as we celebrate our Sixth Anniversary, we sat down with her to reflect on the changes she’s witnesses over the years in the Middle Keys community.
Born in Miami, Sandy moved to Marathon with her family when she was just 15 years old. More than two decades later, Sandy’s a prominent figure in the local business and Latin communities. She is the owner and operator of Sandy’s Dollar and Up located in the Marathon Exchange Building. From economy sized soap and toilet paper to Mylar balloons and sodas, this variety store stocks various affordable necessities. But, Sandy admits her biggest business is coordinating wire transfers and selling phone cards for immigrant workers from Mexico and Central America.
As rounds of customers drop in her store between their morning and evening jobs, they hand over neatly folded bills. A quick exchange and a brush of keystrokes, and a couple hundred American dollars is sent home to help support relatives.
Sandy and her husband Jesus, the chef and owner of Lencho’s Restaurant, is also the area representative for Medrano Express, a New York-based company that helps Mexican and Central American immigrants send packages home to their families. Sandy said she often ships packages stocked with clothing and shoes or televisions and electronics. Unfortunately, one of her customers, whose husband was recently deported, just shipped baby formula home to her infant child.
Reflecting on the recent success of Cuban Heritage Day, organized by Angel Cabrera at the community park in Marathon, Sandy said the strength and tenacity of the Latin community as well as long time local residents is being challenged by an ever-increasing cost of living.
“I think the worst change I’ve seen since I’ve been here is the cost of living has become too high,” said the wife and mother of one. “Things are just too expensive. I spent $180 at the grocery store the other day and didn’t feel like I got anything.”
After the City of Marathon’s incorporation 10 years ago, Sandy applauded several founding fathers that worked diligently to construct the Community Park.
“It’s great that the park is there for the kids,” she added.
At every opportunity that arises, Sandy and Jesus gladly sponsor youth sports teams and help organize fundraisers for local kids. Lencho is currently the class sponsor for Marathon High School’s junior class. Several plaques in both Sandy’s Dollar and Up as well as Lencho’s denote years of team sponsorships and many thanks from local youth.
While Sandy praised her local government’s efforts in the park’s development, she lamented a significant lack of activities for kids in the community.
“There used to be arcade games and kids’ stuff to do at the Jaycees building, but that was stopped,” she explained. “There was a real push to put in a community pool adjacent to the park and that never went through either.”
Her son Ariel, 15, is only a sophomore at MHS, but he’s already looking toward a college career in baseball. Ariel’s already quite aware of geographic challenges he’s going to face with getting recruiters to see him play. Though Marathon’s baseball team is a strong competitor, they are the smallest of district’s three programs.
“He’s already telling me, ‘Mom, I might have to transfer to Key West High School next year’ to get the exposure he needs,” she said.
When she’s not coordinating a community fundraiser or shuttling Ariel back and forth from school to baseball practice and games, she enjoys spending time with her family. Sandy and Jesus will celebrate their 18th wedding anniversary this coming December.
Sandy Rodriguez (center) is flanked by her son, Ariel, and her husband, Jesus.