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    End of an Era

    Pronto Markets exits the convenience business after more than 50 years in Texas.

    BROWNSVILLE, Texas -- Pronto Food Stores Inc., a fixture in Brownsville for some 50 years, is changing ownership as the company announced separate deals to sell nine Pronto Market convenience stores.

    St. Joseph Water Co. is buying six of the smaller stores, which feature unbranded fuel programs. A&V Lopez Supermarkets has negotiated a lease-purchase deal for the larger Pronto stores, according to company president Ted Daniels, whose father Gus pioneered self-serve gasoline in the Rio Grande Valley.

    Once the sale of the six convenience stores is completed, the new owner, Cristobal Valadez, plans to rename them Val-Marts, and construct water huts on the properties, according to The Brownsville Herald.

    "[The stores] need to be updated and upgraded," Valadez said. "One of the first things we plan to do is improve the store's interior and exterior lighting."

    Valadez noted that the facilities lack some amenities that other stores offer. "They can use some added touches that are pretty standard today at most convenience stores -- things like Western Union and an upscale coffee program," he said.

    Vangie Lopez, owner of A&V Lopez Supermarkets, said the five-year lease option for the larger Prontos is a first for her company. She closed the deal June 12.

    Lopez said the amount of work and money needed to renovate the stores was "more than we thought once we got into the stores and really looked them over." Upgrades are in customer service: adding Western Union, PUB payment and Texas Lotto sales.

    Lopez said each store employs 25 workers, including several who worked at Albertson's. That supermarket chain closed its stores in Brownsville and the Rio Grande Valley in March.

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