El Rey store reopens two weeks after arson

CREATED Jan. 18, 2013

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MILWAUKEE - If you'd never set foot in El Rey grocery store before this Friday morning, you would hardly know the market on South 51st Street was torched in an arson two weeks prior.

Once again, the produce is fresh and neatly stacked.

The aisles of dry and canned goods are just as you would expect them.

It also means Lidia Martinez is back at her place in a checkout lane, working a job best described as half-cashier, half-mother.

"I thought it was going to take longer, but i'm so glad it didn't," said Lidia Martinez.

Martinez was one of the last to leave El Rey when it was set ablaze the night of Jan. 3, so it's only fitting she is back to work on day one of the store's new life.

When the store is slow, she can spend as much as ten minutes chatting up a single customer.

A trademark of the grocery store that has become as much of a neighborhood staple as the Mexican, Polish and German food items on its shelves.

"I saw the fire damage and thought they're done for a while but it's pretty quick," said Mike Martinez.

Quick is relative, though -- when you lose such an important part of your daily life.

Pat Ellenbrecker stopped in to pick up a couple items on a Friday night, but stuck around to visit with store workers who have become her friends.

She lost more than a grocery store for the time El Rey was out of commission.

"It seemed like a month, but it's only been two weeks," Ellenbrecker said. "You don't realize what you have until it's gone."

It will be at least another week until the restaurant opens at El Rey and charges have not yet been filed against the two 17-year-old boys arrested for starting the fire.

But the store is back open, people are back at work and the neighborhood is once again being nourished.

"They're all happy," said Lidia Martinez. "Everyone's so content and happy this opened up so quickly."