The Socks That Made Jose Ramon Martinez a Millionaire

How a Salvadoran market became the soul of a community — and now fights to survive

On a cold morning in early May, Jose Ramon Martinez, 62, walked down a narrow alley in the heart of La Paz, in the northern state of El Salvador. His journey began when he walked into a little store on the corner of Calle 15 and La Paz and asked for a pair of socks.

At first, he couldn’t believe the request — he was on a three-day walk to his next-door neighbor’s house, where he would stay, and he needed gloves and socks for his 4-year-old son, Carlos, who had been diagnosed with a genetic condition that robbed his ability to walk. But this little store owner, who was making a living, said he could accommodate Martinez.

As they walked around the back, Martinez noticed that the shopkeeper, who was a retired judge, didn’t ask for anything but a pair of socks for his son. The judge, Martinez told me later, was simply trying to buy a pair of socks for himself.

“He was doing what the poor do — he was trying to make himself happy,” Martinez said. “It doesn’t matter if you have a house, a business, or even a good car, you shouldn’t have to ask for a pair of socks from a store.”

It was this simple attitude, Martinez said, that made him decide to give up his car and walk the last six miles to his next-door neighbor’s house to stay for free.

A few days after seeing his request for a pair of socks at the corner store, Martinez had a different idea — one that would have a dramatic impact: He would go to La Paz to buy the socks he needed by himself.

That idea spread like wildfire, and by the time it became all-or-nothing, it had not only changed Martinez’s life, but also brought the city of La Paz to it’s knees

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