Maria do Socorro Braga walks through the shop's narrow aisles picking her goods: beans, spring greens, and frozen chicken steaks. She approaches the butcher in the back, Adeladio Rodrigues, and asks for a pork sausage - a specific Brazilian-flavored kind she can find only in his meat supermarket, at 6509 Castor Ave.
"This sausage tastes just the same as in Brazil," says the house cleaner.
She's one of many Brazilians living in Northeast Philadelphia whose immigrant hard work and, at times, aching homesickness have boosted numerous businesses on Castor Avenue for a decade.
Steak houses and little restaurants cater to patrons in their native Portuguese. Shops specialize in Brazilian delicacies like goiabada (a guava jelly), pamonha (a corn-made snack), and guarana (a Brazilian soda). A bakery offers sugarcane juice. A beauty shop features haircuts and waxes in sync with the latest trends in South America.
These small businesses, spread for almost two miles along Castor, are more than just places to find different products. For Braga, they are a way to connect with her culture and feel, even for just a moment, as though she were back home.
"It's better to deal with someone who speaks our language and understands what we like," says Braga, who often works from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. cleaning houses with a partner. "Also, it's my opportunity to make friends, because I work too much. Everybody here has this friendly mood."
Things are tougher now, however. Most businesses that rely on Brazilian customers have had a hard time during the recession, with a 40 percent drop in sales in some cases. The economic doldrums have sent many immigrants back to Brazil in the last year.
Roberta Campbell, a Brazilian-born real estate agent, has noticed the trend.
"I used to help Brazilians buy homes here. Now I'm just helping them sell. And there are many people going back home with no savings, because of the recession," she says.
Most of the immigrants come from Brazil with a plan: Work hard and save money to boost their status back home.
Usually, they have a time frame, as does Rodrigues, co-owner of the Bull Boi meat market. His goal is to pay for his children's college in Brasilia, where he left a son, a daughter, and his wife.
"As soon as I have both of them graduated, I'll be back," he says. "For now, I'm working hard and making my business grow, even with this tough economy, with God's help."
A mile down the street, Christian Kelly Tavares, 35, tries to hold up after sales slid 40 percent at By Brazil, the oldest Brazilian shop in the region. It offers a little bit of everything: Brazilian food, candies, beauty products, airline tickets, even financial services to help send money abroad.
Tavares arrived in the United States in 1993 to live with her father, already settled in Philadelphia. For a year and a half, she cleaned houses. Then a friend offered to sell her By Brazil. With some experience selling Brazilian products to her countrymen, she decided to take a chance.
Her business grew with the Brazilians' arrival in Philadelphia, especially after 1999, when the troubled Brazilian economy and abundant job opportunities in America brought more immigrants.
Even with Brazil's economic growth in the last decade, salaries paid in U.S. dollars go much further in Brazil, where a dollar is worth two Brazilian reals.
Now Tavares is suffering with their exodus: She had to lay off two of her three employees in the winter. But with a stable life in the United States, she and her husband aren't planning to leave - just yet, anyway.
Unlike Elcio Zanata, 32, a house cleaner who thinks it may be time.
He and his wife, Lucelia Borges, have long had a plan: Earn enough money to build a house in their home city, Bebedouro, in southeast Brazil.
Nine years after their arrival here, they have decided to go back this year. Their home in Brazil is almost finished, although earning the money was much harder than they had expected.
He worked in construction and cleaned a supermarket. Since 2002, both have cleaned houses. The 10 percent drop-off in business caused by the economic downturn wasn't the main reason they decided to return home.
After postponing the decision four times, they finally got tired of working six days a week without any vacation and barely seeing their 10-month-old son.
"I'm coming back with my goal met," Zanata says. "But before we achieved that, it was much pain. We fell several times, and always managed to get up on our feet again."
Now their desire for a slower pace has coincided with the recession. "We're leaving in the right moment," Zanata says. "I wouldn't suggest Brazilians to come here now."
But as far as the Brazilian consulate in New York can tell, immigrants haven't stopped coming. The deputy consul in New York, Erika Watanabe, says Brazilian immigrants are very adaptable; they come and go as opportunities arise.
"Some go to Brazil in the winter and then come back in the summer," she says.
Since many immigrants are illegal, the consulate doesn't have accurate statistics for the number of Brazilians in its area. Watanabe estimates that 350,000 live in Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania.
The lack of firm statistics makes the Rev. Gelso Dadalt, who holds a Portuguese-language Mass every Saturday night at St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church at Oxford Circle, unsure about the Brazilian exodus.
He may have seen many families going home to Brazil, but attendance at services hasn't decreased substantially. The parish is dealing with the economic crisis with a greater emphasis on spiritual comfort; in February, a special Mass for the unemployed was said, and a novena for St. Edwiges is going on in the community.
"We've seen people going home, but there are many people waiting for better days," Dadalt says. "They are holding up a little longer to see if something changes [for immigrants] in the Obama administration."
However these forces play out, the disappearance of the Brazilian neighborhood on Castor is unlikely, even if the recession worsens and a few stores go out of business.
Jose Tavares, who owns a beauty salon and a construction firm, said he was confident better days were ahead. For now, he relies on the salon revenue to compensate for the drop-off in his construction business.
In 2006, his firm employed 40 people and built five houses a month. Last year, he built six houses and a small hotel, employing four people. Even the beauty salon's revenue has fallen 30 percent. However, he's confident in his market niche.
"Hair is always growing, and people always will need a house to live in. If you endure the tough times, you are stronger than others when things get better," he says.
Amabilis Silva, owner of Picanha Grill steak house, has her own recipes to prepare typical dishes like feijoada, churrasco, and even the everyday Brazilian meal, rice and beans. But the most important recipe for her is how to attract new, non-Brazilian customers.
"Only 20 percent of our clients are Brazilian, and this is dropping," she says. "We are going through this crisis almost untouched because we have customers from all places and many Americans, who aren't going anywhere."
In her restaurant, the TV is always tuned to a Brazilian channel, and there is always Portuguese conversation. But the crowd is diverse. Silva says she advertises in magazines, in newspapers, and on Web sites all over the city to keep it that way.
Even the luncheon options are Brazilian-style. While the not-so-hungry can pay for food by the pound, those with grander appetites get an entire rodizio - all the meat courses and an all-you-can-eat buffet - for $21.90.
Only a vacant storefront separates Silva's restaurant from Rodrigues' meat market. Silva, 44, has no plans to leave the United States with her family; Rodrigues is planning on three more years before going back to his wife and children in Brasilia.