As we observe National Hispanic Heritage Month from September 15th to October 15th, we bring you the stories and contributions made by our Latino community here in Ventura County. Latinos living in Ventura County come from many different countries including Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. The Museum will be featuring some of these stories over the next month.

“El Brillante Market, Santa Paula”

Sam Salas was born on November 3, 1929. The same month that his father, Juan Salas opened his first store in Santa Paula. El Brillante opened at 245 S. Ojai Street and was at this location until 1941. Juan Gonzalez Salas, known to his friends as J.G. came from Parral, Chihuahua, Mexico in 1922. J. G. had been orphaned at a young age. Seeking a better life, he left Mexico and found work at the Stork Ranch on South Mountain until 1928 when the St. Francis Dam disaster destroyed the property.

By that time, J. G. and Concepcion Salas had a growing family and J. G. had the desire to start his own business. In 1929, Citizen’s Bank had opened in Santa Paula and J. G. wasted no time in securing a loan from the bank. All he needed was $600 to achieve his dream of owning a candy store, like the one in his hometown of Parral. He had loved that store and the beautiful name it had: El Brillante.

J. G. opened a candy store, but it was soon apparent that the families in the barrio around his store wanted more. They wanted a business where they could buy meats, vegetables and some of the Mexican foods that gave them a taste of home, so J. G. opened the store as a grocery.

With eleven children it was difficult to find housing and J. G. decided to purchase a property on Ojai Street that had a storefront and several apartments. In 1938 the Salas family opened a second store at 401 Oak Street and lived in two adjacent apartments. In 1941 the Ojai Street store closed, and J. G. opened a new El Brillante at 1016 Main Street.

J. G. Salas wanted a better life than he had in Mexico for himself and his family. He worked at the grocery business until 1952 and then began a business making concrete blocks. He later owned a radio station in Santa Paula, Station KSPA. He was also one of the founders of the Alianza Hispana Americana in Santa Paula, a mutual aid organization who started La Casa Del Mexicano in 1946.

J.G.’s work ethic continues on in his children and grandchildren. His son Sam ran El Brillante along with his wife, Annie until his retirement in 2008. For a young man who started out his life with no home or family, J. G. achieved much success in his career and fulfilled his greatest dream of having a family, a job and stability.

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