Franklin Hernandez of Luz Grocery and Jose Medina of Medina’s Food Market.

Asociacion de Empresarios Unidos: “The “Avengers” of Camden’s Groceries

Reet Starwind
Center for Cooperative Media
6 min readJun 20, 2023


Uncertainty and insecurity loomed over businesses nationwide in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mom-and-pop shops were particularly devastated, with 3 in 10 NJ small businesses operating at the start of 2020 forced to close by the year’s end.

However, it is in the darkness that lights shine brightest, and in those dark times, a light began to shine in Camden: Association de Empresarios Unidos (Association of United Entrepreneurs) was formed in an attempt to address the collective needs of the city’s corner store owners. Stories Invincible caught up with Franklin Hernandez of Luz Grocery and Jose Medina of Medina’s Food Market, current leaders of the AdEU, to learn how it all came together.

Though Hernandez and Medina lead the charge now, the movement was originally spearheaded by Wendy Beltre. A corner store owner in Camden for 17 years, Beltre has also remodeled and revitalized 5 other corner stores during that time. Beltre launched the first push, calling for a unification of store owners to meet with each other, talk to City Hall and advocate for their needs during the pandemic.

On April 7th, 2020, Emma Freedman of the Camden Food Trust (now of the Camden Food Fund) started a small WhatsApp group with Franklin and a few other friends in the industry. The Food Trust’s Healthy Corner Store Team WhatsApp group was created to assist the corner store owners with bilingual support on grants, changing regulations, and resources. The group began to catch on quickly. “Everyone was saying, ‘add my cousin, my uncle, my brother!’” said Freedman. Word got around and the numbers grew, peaking at 98 store owners across Camden. Through monthly meetings, the various WhatsApp group members worked to see who was truly invested in becoming a better business owner. Eventually, around 25 members from that much larger group remained, and now make up the Asociation, which formally incorporated as a non-profit organization by 2021.

Hernandez has worked for 23 years in the same store and Medina is in year 4 of operating his. Both understand the unique and essential role their and other shops serve to their shared community.

“The bodega is an essential-like a police department,” Medina tells us. “It remains open to sustain the needs of the community. The single mother without access to a car to travel to the supermarket but needs to feed her kids, where can she go? She can walk to us.”

Hernandez illustrates just how close of a bond these stores form with their customers, telling me, “They’re more like family. After 23 years I’ve known the parents, the kids, the grandkids, even the great-grandkids.”

While forming these connections with the community is its own reward, the jobs themselves come with quite the workload. “Majority of corner store owners work full days, there aren’t really any part-time employees,” Medina said.

He arrives to work each day at 5:30 a.m. and closes up shop at 8 p.m., 7 days a week, year-round. Medina jokes that Hernandez is lucky: since he shares store ownership with his brother, the two can split the daily 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. shift.

In addition to one-stop shops and warm food, these corner stores have also offered invaluable services to citizens old and new. Whether you’re a freshly arrived migrant looking to establish a sense of community or a Camden native looking for the word around town, the corner store is a place that can assist you. Partnering with the Food Trust, many AdEU corner stores offer ‘Food Bucks’ to help low-income customers purchase fresh produce. Bearing all of this is a great responsibility, especially without sufficient funding. So founders’ goal in creating the AdEU was to empower those facing the same challenges.

One of AdEU’s major goals is obtaining a warehouse to service Camden’s bodegas. Centralizing their inventory here will reduce money and time spent purchasing and transporting goods — lowering prices in stores and offering customers better quality and variety. They hope to do so by applying for the NJDEA’s ‘Food Security Planning Grant’, offering upwards of $125,000. The warehouse refurbished with these funds would also feed back into the community, offering new jobs which they hope go to Camden’s youth.

Every day the Asociation’s members are working toward what they see as a better vision of Camden-a Camden where the different communities stand together, just like they shop together in the bodegas.

As the interview closed, Hernandez brought to my attention that he’s known me for years — having seen my face often as I frequented his family’s stores in Pennsauken and East Camden during my adolescent years. The connection between a city, its people, and its corner stores is like none other.

Special thanks to Emma Freedman for her tireless networking and translation throughout producing this story, and to Jovaan Torres, our neighborhood historian. To learn more about Asociation de Empresarios Unidos visit their official site at:

Stories Invincible and Asociation de Empresarios Unidos dedicate this article and publication in loving memory of the dearly departed Anderson Hernandez. Anderson’s hard-working and compassionate nature inspired those in his life to support and encourage one another. His legacy lives on through his family, his friends, and the continued work of his AdEU partners to create a greater Camden for the next generations.

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Reet Starwind is the Stories Invincible project coordinator for the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University. He is an artist, educator, and organizer in the Camden area working with the Center to elevate restorative narratives about Camden’s residents and history. Contact Reet via email at or on Instagram at @mrstarwind.

About the Center for Cooperative Media: The Center is a primarily grant-funded program of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. Its mission is to grow and strengthen local journalism, and in doing so serve New Jersey residents. The Center is supported with operational and project funding from Montclair State University, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Democracy Fund, NJ Civic Information Consortium, Rita Allen Foundation, Inasmuch Foundation and the Independence Public Media Foundation. For more information, visit



Reet Starwind
Center for Cooperative Media

Reet Starwind is an artist, educator & organizer in the Camden area working with the Center to elevate restorative narratives about Camden’s residents