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Columbus resident Anna Villegas wanted to take a break from her previous nightclub business when she opened Palmeras Cuban Store earlier this year.

“This is quieter,” the Cuba native said.

Villegas and her family immigrated to the U.S. in 2008 from Cuba, a Caribbean island south of The Bahamas and north of Jamaica. They settled for two months in Miami before moving to Columbus.

During her first year in the area, Villegas said she only knew a handful of Cubans but has since seen tremendous growth in the population. That compelled her to open the store at 2415 23rd St.

The U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) says that Cubans fall under the category of Latino and Hispanic, as do people originating for Mexico, Puerto Rico or other Spanish culture or origin, regardless of race.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 21 percent of the Columbus population estimated at 23,128 consists of Hispanics and Latinos. The census also shows a 158-percent increase in people of Hispanic or Latino origin from 2000-2010 in Columbus.

“When I came here about 10 years ago, there was nobody,” Villegas said. “There (were) maybe four people from Cuba.”

Palmeras Cuban Store is a family-owned business operating from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. every Monday through Saturday and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sundays.

Villegas said she rarely comes across Cuban stores in Nebraska. However, she said most Cubans living in the area miss the taste of home.

The owner works closely with her husband and sister, Yersya, who take turns tending to the shop.

The store carries unique produce commonly found in Cuba -- from seafood to drinks to pastries. These items also include tostones, which are twice-fried plantain slices; and croquetas, a small bread-crumbed fried food roll containing ingredients like meat, ham, cheese, mashed potatoes or vegetables.

Villegas said items in her store are purchased in bulk from Miami. In addition to food, Palmeras also carries items like curtains, perfume, caps, jewelry and home décor.

Because the club scene was too strenuous in terms of hours, Anna decided to close her nightclub business in February after three years in operation. She also ran the club with Yersya, who was in charge of collecting cover charges.

Villegas isn't the only one who prefers the store over the club. Yersya, who tends to the shop every day, said she also prefers the existing business over the last because of its calmer atmosphere. Yersya generally runs the store during the day and Villegas takes over in the evenings.

Moving forward, Villegas said she strives to introduce new items and ingredients from different cities in Cuba.

“It’s important because people like these products and they are not here,” she said.

Natasya Ong is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach her via email at natasya.ong@lee.net.

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