Small-business owner in Reading awarded national honor

It was a festive scene outside Super Natural & Fresh Produce on Tuesday morning.

Leopoldo Sanchez was greeted with handshakes and hugs from friends and family as he made his way through the crowd assembled at the entrance to his grocery store on North 12th Street in Reading.

It was, after all, his special day. He was about to be honored by representatives from the US Small Business Administration with the Eastern Pennsylvania Minority-Owned Small Business of the Year Award for 2024.

But Sanchez was quick to redirect that praise elsewhere.

“This wouldn’t be possible without my community,” the Reading resident said. “I worked very hard for many years in this city and the people always supported me.”

Sanchez stressed that he came from humble beginnings — opening his first bodega in Reading nearly 25 years ago by using his experience working in stores owned by his relatives while growing up in the Dominican Republic.

He then helped create a supermarket in the city that would serve residents who live in neighborhoods with limited access to healthy and affordable food due to income, location or transportation issues.

But in 2014 he decided to branch out on his own with a mission to carry on this work.

Sanchez opened Super Natural & Fresh Produce to serve the people of northeast Reading. The grocery store caters specifically to the local Latino population by stocking produce and other products not found elsewhere in the city.

“My customers are like my family,” he said. “I feel very good about being able to help my community because they work very hard for this city and they deserve a place like this.”

Sanchez said he takes his responsibility as a business owner seriously when it comes to his workers as well. Since the store has opened, he has embraced a hiring plan to bring on board unskilled members of the community who are offered the opportunity to rise in the company through training and experience.

Leopoldo Sanchez, president of Super Natural & Fresh Produce, expresses his appreciation on Tuesday outside his store at 1350 N. 12th St.  for being named the SBA Eastern Pennsylvania Minority-owned Small Business of the Year.  (BILL UHRICH - READING EAGLE)
Leopoldo Sanchez, president of Super Natural & Fresh Produce, expresses his appreciation on Tuesday outside his store at 1350 N. 12th St. for being named the SBA Eastern Pennsylvania Minority-owned Small Business of the Year. (BILL UHRICH – READING EAGLE)

That commitment to his community is the reason why Sanchez was nominated for the honor he received, Senior Vice President of Community First Fund Jim Buerger told the crowd outside the store Tuesday.

Buerger said he has had the pleasure of watching Sanchez grow his business over the past decade as he expanded his operations to include stores in Scranton and Lancaster. And, he said, he has been struck by how Sanchez has handled himself while doing it.

He said Sanchez is passionate about keeping his community at the center of his business plan, he is personable by knowing his customers and treating them with great respect and he is persistent because nothing can keep him down for very long if he sets his mind on something .

Those characteristics will undoubtedly serve him well in his newest endeavor, as well, Buerger said.

Sanchez is in the process of transforming a blighted 40,000-square-foot vehicle maintenance garage at North Fourth and Elm streets into a grocery store, produce warehouse, cafe and tortilla factory.

Steve Dixel, district director for the Small Business Administration’s Eastern Pennsylvania District Office, said these new endeavors and the accomplishments Sanchez has already achieved are clear reasons why he is worthy of being honored.

“I know as I look at all the people out here that this community thanks you,” he told Sanchez before presenting him with a plaque. “You are helping Reading’s economic development and revitalization by providing jobs for the local community and eliminating food deserts. We appreciate what you are doing.”

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