LITTLE VILLAGE — Don Jose Moreno was a well-known presence at Moreno’s Liquors, a popular Little Village store run by his family.
For years, Jose Moreno helped his son, Mike Moreno Sr., and grandson, Mike Moreno Jr., open and close the store at 3724 W. 26th St., chatting with neighbors who stopped by. Before that, he’d spent decades working on his own businesses in the neighborhood.
Jose Moreno died last week at 99. He is survived by his wife, Antonia Moreno, as well as his eight children and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Jose Moreno was born in 1923 and immigrated to the United States from San Luis Potosí, Mexico, in 1941 through the bracero program. He moved to Chicago in the late ’50s to work in the railroad industry and pursue his dream of starting his own business one day, his family said.
That dream came true when Jose Moreno opened a grocery store, La Escondida at 2411 S. Central Park Ave., in 1966. It was one of the first Mexican businesses in the neighborhood, his son Moreno Sr. said.
A few years later, Jose Moreno closed La Escondida and opened another grocery store called La Popular on 25th Street and Millard Avenue. That one was open until 1975.
Jose Moreno’s entrepreneurial legacy lives on in the neighborhood through the work of his son and grandson, his family said.
“I learned the ropes of the business through my dad,” his son said. “He had a passion for business, and he had a passion for community. … He worked harder than most people I know.”
Moreno Sr. opened Moreno’s Liquors with the help of his father in 1977; it has since became a staple in the neighborhood. Jose Moreno would regularly help behind the cash register and open and close the store.
“His passion was people,” Moreno Sr. said. “He just liked dealing with people and selling to them.”
Moreno Jr. said he remembers seeing his grandfather at Moreno’s Liquors almost every morning.
“He would open the store, get everything set up, and then, by the time I got in, he’d be sitting in the front playing lotería, hanging out with the other community members,” he said.
In 2019, Moreno Jr. opened Osito’s Tap, a speakeasy-style bar behind Moreno’s Liquors. He could’ve opened his bar anywhere in the city, but he chose Little Village because that’s where his family is from — and his grandfather had taught him community loyalty, he said.
“My grandfather instilled in us deep roots of community service and community as a whole,” Moreno Jr. said. “The reason why we’re here today and we’ve been so successful is because of him. He wanted to make sure that we worked in the community that we lived in, wanted to make sure that we help the community that helped us.”
Moreno Sr. recalled a time when a customer at his father’s grocery store needed help with her plumbing, and Jose Moreno told her, “Don’t worry, I’ll be over later.” His family also said he used a credit system for people who couldn’t pay right away. He would save damaged cans of food to give away to people in need instead of tossing them, they said.
And even decades after getting out of the grocery business, Jose Moreno still knew where to buy the best fresh produce, his family said.
“My grandfather was a man of habit,” Moreno Jr. said. “We’d go over to my grandfather’s house, and you felt like you were still in a grocery store. … He refused to let anyone leave his house without a bag of fruits and vegetables. And he always picked the ripest stuff.”
The family is holding a visitation for Jose Moreno that’s open to the public 4-8 p.m Thursday at Mount Auburn Funeral Home, 4101 S. Oak Park Ave. There will be a funeral service mass 10 a.m. Friday at St. Agnes of Bohemia Catholic Church, 2651 S. Central Park Ave.