WEST ORANGE, NJ - The day may have been cooler and cloudy, but the smiles inside Jefferson Auto Repair on Valley Road were warm as the new West Orange business held its grand opening on May 15.

But in addition to family and friends, celebrating with the Puello family were leaders of the Latino business community and local government who were there to recognize the growing importance of Latino owned businesses in West Orange and the surrounding areas. 

Juan Puello has been in the auto repair business for 20 years, with the last 11 at Jefferson's first store in Orange. He was at a loss for words when trying to describe the day. "I feel so happy because I can see all my customers and friends here. I feel blessed, I come from a poor family and we created this from the ground," he said.  

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Those sentiments were echoed by his son Jhoan, who said, "It is a true blessing to know that we come from a very humble family and I have to say the we are very satisfied to stand where we stand today."

He added, "I think we catch a lot of people's attention with (a location) that looks nice and very professional."

Deputy Mayor Rodolfo Rodriguez said Puello's revamping of the site was another example of the influence Latino businesses have on the local scene. "This is what we do to make our communities better.....to make our Hispanic community respected as we are today," he said. "I feel very proud of my friend Juan."

West Orange Township Council President Victor Cirilo said it's always nice to see a new investment in the township. "Mr. Puello started working in West Orange, then worked for a while in Orange and is now we are happy to see him back at a different level as an owner and invested in the town," he said.

Cirilo says he sees the Latino business community growing. "The expansion will continue at the same pace as the community grows so we'll continue to see this....it's a sign there is a lot of economic power in the Latino community and we need to embrace it and make sure that we assimilate properly and we patronize other businesses."

The President of the Essex County Latino-American Chamber of Commerce, John Sanchez, said Latino owned businesses add a lot to their area locations. "They represent opportunity...not only for the community but opportunity for employment," he said.

"I know they will be employing more people to work in this establishment. But not only that, it also helps the economy of the city with revenues through taxes. Knowing this member, he will keep growing," he added.

Pino Bio, a long-time friend of Puello and owner of Elite Auto Body in Orange said the auto body and repair community in the area is very tight-knit. "We help each other....Juan does auto repair, I do body work, so we help each other out," he said.

Jefferson Auto Body is locaed at 356 Valley Road.