José Ortiz Flores, owner of El Nevado Mexican Grocery, noted that the Latino community has been growing rapidly. | SPOTLIGHT DELAWARE PHOTO BY JOSE IGNACIO CASTANEDA PEREZ

Middletown is booming – and so are its Latinos

Jose Ignacio Castaneda PerezHeadlines, Culture

José Ortiz Flores, owner of El Nevado Mexican Grocery, noted that the Latino community has been growing rapidly. | SPOTLIGHT DELAWARE PHOTO BY JOSE IGNACIO CASTANEDA PEREZ

José Ortiz Flores, owner of El Nevado Mexican Grocery, noted that the Latino community has been growing rapidly. | SPOTLIGHT DELAWARE PHOTO BY JOSE IGNACIO CASTANEDA PEREZ

A televised soccer match droned on in the background as the smell of fresh mangoes hung heavy in the air.

Colorful piñatas and a medley of soccer jerseys swayed above the cramped aisles of La Costena Market on a recent afternoon. Fresh fruit, leather shoes and ceramic piggy banks lined the walls of the small market tucked into a Middletown strip mall.

A few steps down the street, José Ortiz Flores leaned against the counter of El Nevado Mexican Store. Ortiz Flores, a native of Mexico and owner of the store, sported a close buzz cut and a bushy white mustache amid a crop of stubble.

He spoke from behind thin wire-framed glasses as a wall of baseball caps adorned with “Guatemala” and soccer team logos stood behind him. A rack of embroidered Mexican leather belts watched on from a back room nearby.

“(Middletown) is small but today it’s growing too much,” Ortiz Flores said. “The novelty is Middletown.”

El Nevado Mexican Grocery in Middletown, Delaware, is pictured.
El Nevado Mexican Grocery is one of a few Latino-owned businesses that specifically cater to the growing demographic. | SPOTLIGHT DELAWARE PHOTO BY JOSE IGNACIO CASTANEDA PEREZ

The two stores straddle either side of Middletown’s Main Street, which traverses the downtown heart of the rapidly growing community. The markets are replete with staple Mexican and Central American products, catering toward the growing Latino community in the Middletown-Odessa-Townsend (MOT) area.

The MOT area in general is growing at a rapid pace with housing, businesses and development cropping up regularly. The population has increased by over a 550% in 33 years, according to U.S. Census Bureau data ranging from 1990 to 2023.

Screen Shot 2024 05 30 at 9.56.28 AMMany out-of-state residents from New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania have begun to move into the southern New Castle County area because of the lower taxes and desirable school district.

About 6.4% of residents identified as Hispanic or Latino in the Middletown-Odessa Census County Division, according to 2020 U.S. Census Bureau data. The number of Hispanic or Latino residents in the area increased by about 2% over a decade, which is over a 2,000 person uptick from 2010 to 2020.

The Middletown-Odessa county division, which includes Townsend, is a grouped set of census-identified places that have stable boundaries and recognizable names.

Black residents make up over 23% of the MOT population, per the census. Additionally, about 10.5% of people speak a language other than English at home in the area.

Middletown is scattered with new and established businesses that are catering to its increasingly diverse community, including Halal restaurants, an African market and a Desi farmers market.

There has been a particular increase in the number of people from Guatemala, Latino business owners said.

That could be attributed to the economic opportunities available at nearby Maryland mushroom farms and through increasing construction work, Latino business-owners said. Many see Middletown as the perfect place to establish their new business.

Aida Mendieta and her husband, both from Mexico, moved to Middletown in 2016 to open their business, Fiesta Deli and Market. The pair moved from Pennsylvania because Middletown was growing and there weren’t many businesses around.

Mendieta has seen the number of Latino customers grow over the years as the demand for the market’s Latin American products has increased.

“The town is growing a lot,” Mendieta said.

Middletown, however, wasn’t always as openly diverse.

Celeste Bevans stands outside her Middletown home on Sunday, May 19, 2024.
Celeste Bevans moved to Middletown in 2013 and has seen how the area has grown increasingly diverse. | SPOTLIGHT DELAWARE PHOTO BY JOSE IGNACIO CASTANEDA PEREZ

When Celeste Bevans moved into town in 2013, she doesn’t recall seeing another person of color. Bevans, who is Puerto Rican, recalled her Halloween pumpkins being vandalized and Christmas lights being cut during her first year as a Middletown homeowner.

In 2019, the Hummers Parade in Middletown sparked fierce backlash after a float depicted caged children in a border detention facility. The parade began as a spoof of Philadelphia’s Mummer’s Parade and had a history of pushing the envelope with controversial commentary of the year’s political events.

“I get that it’s satire, but this isn’t funny,” Bevans said about the float.

Bevans attended the parade and became upset when she saw the float. She didn’t know she wasn’t alone.

The float garnered national attention and incited strong opposition from Delaware’s Latino and Black communities. Middletown residents and advocates packed into the Middletown Town Hall during a town council meeting to voice their anger and “disgust” following the parade.

Middletown Mayor Kenneth Branner condemned and distanced himself from the incident at the time, saying that the town had nothing to do with the parade other than providing police for traffic control.

Bevans remembered hearing from other Middletown residents that the parade, which started in 1971, was a longtime tradition.

“Obviously your population is changing where no one was there to get offended,” Bevans said. “Now, there are people to get offended.”

It wasn’t until 2020, when Bevans left her health care job in Philadelphia, that she began to notice the growing diversity of the town. She quickly became entrenched in the local Middletown organizations, becoming an ambassador for the Middletown Area Chamber of Commerce and joining her local Rotary club.

In her roles, Bevans saw an uptick in the number of LGBTQIA+ and minority business owners around town. The town is going to continue to grow and continue to be diverse, she forecasted.

Bevans finished speaking at her kitchen table in Middletown. Her house was only a couple blocks from La Costena Market, which was shelved away into Main Street.

The store’s offerings were ample. And the smell of mangoes still lingered in the air.

This story was originally published on Spotlight Delaware. Get stories like this delivered to your email inbox by signing up for the free newsletter at

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