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Grand Central Market turns 100 — and it has lived many lives




Claudia Armendariz (L) and her aunt Rocio Lopez serve molé paste to a customer at their stall Chiles Secos at Grand Central Market.
Claudia Armendariz (L) and her aunt Rocio Lopez serve molé paste to a customer at their stall Chiles Secos at Grand Central Market.
Leo Duran/KPCC

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Claudia Armendariz recalls the first time her grandfather Celestino Lopez took her to visit his stall at Grand Central Market.

"One thing I do remember from the market is the sawdust on the floor," she says. "It's weird coming in here and not seeing the sawdust anymore because since I was a little kid, that was the one thing that made the market 'the market.'"

Claudia Armendariz stands in front of Chiles Secos, a stall at Grand Central Market that sells Latino groceries. Her grandfather opened the business in 1975.
Claudia Armendariz stands in front of Chiles Secos, a stall at Grand Central Market that sells Latino groceries. Her grandfather opened the business in 1975.
Leo Duran/KPCC

Lopez opened Chiles Secos in 1975 to sell Latino groceries at time when Grand Central Market was still about getting eggs, flowers, fresh fish and more.

"Back then it was more of a 'locals-only' place," says Armendariz, 32, who has run the stall since Lopez passed away in 2008, "but now, it's a destination."

A picture of Celestino Lopez, ca. 1980, at his stall Chiles Secos at Grand Central Market. He opened it in 1975, and his family has continued to operate it after his death in 2008.
A picture of Celestino Lopez, ca. 1980, at his stall Chiles Secos at Grand Central Market. He opened it in 1975, and his family has continued to operate it after his death in 2008.
Leo Duran/KPCC

In just a handful of years, the market has transformed into a trendy food hall selling artisanal cheeses, handcrafted peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, vegan ramen and more.

But Chiles Secos is one of the long-time vendors that has held on through the changes, and Armendariz says she welcomes all the newcomers.

"This has always felt like home that I never feel pushed out," she says. "Whenever we have a new vendor come in to the market, we always go over there and introduce ourselves."

A selection of dried beans for sale at Chiles Secos, a Latino grocery stall at Grand Central Market.
A selection of dried beans for sale at Chiles Secos, a Latino grocery stall at Grand Central Market.
Leo Duran/KPCC

The stall sells a variety of goods like dried pintos, chiles and canned hominy.

A highlight, though, is the selection of molé pastes that the Armendariz family imports.

"We have molé from three different regions of Mexico," she says. "We have from Oaxaca, Puebla and Guerrero."

They range from the brightly tanned pipián made from hearty pumpkin seeds, to the onyx sheen of the Oaxaca Negro colored by black chiles and Mexican chocolate.

Claudia Armendariz (R) runs Chiles Secos in Grand Central Market. Her late-grandfather opened it in 1975, and her whole family has taken part in the operations including Armendariz's aunt Rocio Lopez (L)
Claudia Armendariz (R) runs Chiles Secos in Grand Central Market. Her late-grandfather opened it in 1975, and her whole family has taken part in the operations including Armendariz's aunt Rocio Lopez (L)
Leo Duran/KPCC

And more people than ever are drawn to the stall as the popularity of Grand Central Market grows as a place to eat.

"It's all different kinds of people that come," says Armendariz, "and I think it's a great thing."

But despite the changes, she plans to keep Chiles Secos looking just the way it did when her grandfather ran the stall.

"We don't want to change anything that my grandfather set up for us," she says. "Walking into the market and seeing our stall, it reminds me of him."

Grand Central Market celebrates its 100th anniversary on Friday, October 27th, with the cutting of a 100-layer cake at 10:30 a.m.; and music performances, free Angels Flight rides and vendor specials from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.