It used to be that people living in south Yuma County drove Yuma to do their shopping and dining out.
But as San Luis, Ariz., and Somerton grew in recent decades, more businesses have opened in those cities to serve residents' needs.
Now they can drive up to Yuma if they want, but they can find what need just down street — from grocery foods to clothing fashions, and tacos to teriyaki.
And judging from a new poll by Bajo El Sol, many San Luis and Somerton residents prefer to buy locally.
In a poll modeled after Yuma's Best, the Yuma Sun's annual survey of readers' favorite businesses and services, Bajo El Sol invited south county residents to vote online or by paper ballot for their preferred establishments for 2012.
“We are extremely pleased to sponsor the first Best of South County promotion to give recognition to businesses that are doing a great job,” said Joni Brooks, publisher of the Yuma Sun and Bajo El Sol. “The response to the first contest was much more than we anticipated, and we appreciate the participation from the communities.
“We felt it was important to add a Best of South County contest in addition to our Yuma's Best contest because businesses in Somerton, Gadsden and San Luis are somewhat separated from Yuma geographically as well as by language. They deserve recognition from the audience that supports them locally every day. Our hope is that people from Yuma will also travel to Somerton, Gadsden and San Luis to experience what their ‘best' businesses have to offer.”
First-, second- and third-place awards were given out in 20 categories to winners that included family-owned small businesses, chain outlets, nonprofit and governmental organizations and medical providers. Among the winners were:
San Luis Parks and Recreation Department
The parks and recreation department came away with first-place awards in the categories of Best Community Celebration, Best Public Recreation Area and Best Customer Service.
It won the best celebration honors for the annual Fourth of July celebration it organizes. Long after the fireworks are over, the public sticks around to listen to the bands from around region that perform, says Chris Kasid, parks and recreation director.
“It's six hours of fun for the entire community. It's the only event that lasts until 1 in the morning.”
Kasid estimates the event brings 15,000 to 20,000 people to Joe Orduno Park. Besides them, he said, “there are between 5,000 and 8,000 more people who are on the side streets or parked in business parking lots who are watching the fireworks. The desert around the park is packed with people.”
The park, at Juan Sanchez Boulevard and Highway 95, was picked as best recreational area. Named for a police officer killed in a 1986 auto accident, it has baseball, softball, football and soccer fields; courts for basketball, volleyball and tennis; an aquatic center; and picnic areas.
“It's the center of the community,” Kasid said. “It's the gathering place for our community.”
Kasid is particularly proud of his department winning Best Customer Service, given the challenges the staff faces in accommodating heavy demand for use of city parks.
“It's an honor that people recognize that well satisfy all groups and parents. Our staff does an outstanding job trying to please everyone.”
The San Luis Walmart branch won in two categories: Best Grocery Store and Best Place to Buy Supplies for Parties, Weddings and Quinceaneras.
Thanks in part to ongoing customer surveys, store manager George Valdez says, Walmart has gained a full understanding of customers needs that enables it to offer a wide range of goods and other products at competitive prices.
Opened about five years ago at 1613 N. Main St., the store's goal continue to be offering “one-stop shopping,” he said.
Elvira's Bakery at 515 W. Main St. in Somerton won in the category of Best Bakery. Gustavo Ortega, who operates Elvira's with wife, Gloria, credits the bakery's success to its use of long-held family recipes for the American- and Mexican-style breads, cakes, pastries, cookies and other baked goods it sells.
“It's all prepared by hand from scratch, not by machine,” he said.
The Somerton bakery and one in Yuma were opened a quarter-century ago by Ortega's uncles and his parents.
Located on 683 N. 2nd Ave. in San Luis, Panchita's won in the category of Best Menudo. Asked what makes it so good, owner Panchita Trujillo said the reason is simply the dedication of her and her employees.
Opened in 1994, the restaurant serves the red — red chile-seasoned — version of the well-known tripe soup on weekdays, and both red and white menudo on weekend.
Pro Eventos at 780 N. Cesar Chavez St. in San Luis was named Best Venue for a Quinceanera.
The business premises includes a garden area that owner Laura Sanchez decorates with a variety of floral arrangements and other trimmings to fit the specific theme of each celebration of a girl's 15th birthday.
Quinceaneras, a traditional ceremony along the border and in Mexico, are hosted 20 to 30 times a year at Pro Eventos, Sanchez said, although the business also hosts celebration of birthdays, baptisms, Mothers' Day and weddings.
Patio Sushi Café
Patio Sushi Cafe, marking its first anniversary in San Luis in June, was picked as overall Best Restaurant in the south county.
Opened by Evelyn Molina at 979 B St., it is currently operated by her mother, Ana Elsa Molina, who serves not only sushi, but teriyaki dishes, other Asian menu items and salads.
Evelyn Molina has left the restaurant in her mother's hands while pursuing a professional singing career in California. Helping at the family-owned restaurant is Ana Elsa's son and Evelyn's brother, Edgar, who is the cook.
Dishes are prepared from scratch, Ana Elsa Molina said, “and nothing is frozen.”
A “torta” is a Mexican-style sandwich that can be made from a variety of fillings, and Tortas Yuri at 1914 Juan Sanchez Blvd. was picked as serving the best in the south county.
“Our philosophy is that if we give our best to people, they will respond to us,” said Eloina Yeomans, who has operated the eatery with her husband for nearly eight years.
Aside from tortas, Tortas Yuri serves such staples as tostadas, carne asada tacos and flautas, Yeomans said.
Camillus Health Center
Located in the same Plaza Riedel Shopping Center as Tortas Yuri, Camillus Health Center was named Best Medical Services Provider. Staffed with a physician's assistant and two practical nurses, Camillus provides family health care as well as refers patients to medical specialists in the Yuma area and neighboring Mexico.
As part of the services, the bilingual staff provides workshops and counseling to patients on topics that include nutrition, weight control, diabetes and hypertension, said Cecilia Ruiz, the physician's assistant.
It accepts walk-in patients, and for those patients who are low or fixed income, it charges reduced fees on a sliding scale, she said.
A half-century ago, John Arnold began providing educational and vocational training camps to farmworkers out of a refurbished school bus that traveled to Arizona labor camps.
From that came the name of the organization he founded: Portable Practical Educational Preparation. PPEP was picked as Best Non-Profit Organization.
From its beginning, it has grown to include offices in San Luis, Yuma and Somerton, providing farmworkers and impoverished rural residents a widened range of services that include charter schools, training for high school equivalency certificates, housing programs, loans for business startups or expansions and behavioral health counseling.
But its goal, says Cesar Fandino, PPEP area coordinator: “We give them the tools they need to overcome the barriers that would prevent them from gaining full-time employment as well as to achieve economic self-sufficiency.”
Tacos “El Chipilon”
A taco stand operated by his parents for years in San Luis Rio Colorado, Son., served as inspiration for Ezequiel Sosa and his wife, Hilda Reyes, to start one of their own in San Luis, Ariz., three years ago.
Located at 705 N. 2nd Ave. and likewise named Tacos “El Chipilon,” the couple's business serves a variety of tacos that have earned it the title of Best Taco or Hot Dog Stand.
“Our philosophy is to give customers the best service possible,” along with a smiling face, Reyes said. “If we do, they are going to be happy, they are going to come back and they'll tell others about us.”
Gadsden School District Marching Band
The band previously won the title of Best School Music Group in Yuma's Best for 2012, and now it has won the honor of Best Musical Group or Artist in Best of South County.
Made up of 150 students in fourth through eighth grades under the direction of Martin Peralta Jr., it has participated annually in events and parades around the Yuma area, as well as the Christmas parade in Hollywood, Calif., and the Fort McDowell Fiesta Bowl Parade in Phoenix. Its crowning achievement came in January when it performed in London's New Year's Day Parade.
Best of South County for 2012
Best Community Celebration
1st — City of San Luis 4th of July celebration
2nd — Somerton Tamale Festival
3rd — Cocopah Casino 4th of July fireworks
Best Local Band or Entertainer
1st — Gadsden Elementary School District Marching Band
2nd — Evelyn Molina
3rd — Somerton Elementary School District Band
Best Public Recreational Area
1st — Joe Orduno Park, San Luis
2nd — Tie between San Luis Aquatic Center and Somerton Heritage Pool
3rd — Council Avenue Park, Somerton
Best Social Service Agency or Charitable Organization
1st — PPEP Inc.
2nd — Campensinos Sin Fronteras, San Luis and Somerton
3rd — Chicanos Por La Causa, Somerton
1st — Patio Sushi Cafe, San Luis
2nd — Mariscos El Navegante, San Luis
3rd — Tie between Dragon De Oro and Main Street Cafe, both of Somerton
1st — Elvira’s Bakery, Somerton
2nd — Dulces Tentaciones Bakery, San Luis
3rd — Panchita’s, San Luis
1st — Panchita’s, San Luis
2nd — IGA, San Luis
3rd — Elvira’s/Flamingo’s, Somerton
Best Taco or Hot Dog Stand
1st — El Chipilon, San Luis
2nd — Tacos El Buen Sazon, San Luis
3rd — Tacos El Cachanilla, Somerton
1st — Tortas Yuri, San Luis
2nd — Panchita’s, San Luis
3rd — Torta Som’az, Somerton
1st — Del Sol Market (Tortillas Dona Lupe), San Luis and Somerton
2nd — Tortillas Superior LLC, San Luis
3rd — Food City, San Luis
Best Place to Buy a Car
1st — 95 Auto Sales, Somerton
2nd — A&A Auto Sales, San Luis
3rd — Tie among DeSantiago Auto Sales, Gadsden; G&M Auto Sales, San Luis; and Michelle’s Auto Sales, Somerton
Best Clothing Store or Boutique
1st — Rue 21, San Luis
2nd — FACI Fashion Specialist, San Luis
3rd — Pink 360, San Luis
Best Customer Service
1st — City of San Luis Parks & Recreation Department
2nd — Camillus Health Clinic
3rd — Sunset Community Health Center, San Luis
Best Grocery Store
1st — Walmart Supercenter, San Luis
2nd — Del Sol Market, San Luis
3rd — Del Sol Market, Somerton
Best Medical Services
1st — Camillus Health Center, San Luis
2nd — Sunset Community Health Center, Somerton
3rd — Sunset Community Health Center, San Luis
Best Party/Wedding/Quinceanera Supplies or Services
1st — Walmart Supercenter, San Luis
2nd — Susy’s Party Supplies, Somerton
3rd — Dollar Tree, San Luis
Best Real Estate Services
1st — Comite de Bien Estar, Inc
2nd — Century 21 Action Group
3rd — PMHDC-PPEP Housing
Best Furniture Store
1st — Alex Furniture, San Luis
2nd — Alex Furniture, Somerton
3rd — Walmart Supercenter, San Luis
Best Venue for a Quinceanera
1st — Pro Eventos, San Luis
2nd — Comite de Bien Estar Community Hall, San Luis
3rd — Cesar Chavez Cultural Center, San Luis
Best Insurance Services
1st — Tie between Allstate Insurance and Farmers Insurance, San Luis
2nd — RL Jones Insurance, San Luis
3rd — American Family Insurance, San Luis