BY LILY MIHALIK

Norteño music and balladeers move over, chirping cell phones now rule the corner.

After a year of plummeting sales, the Mission’s Ritmo Latino closed its doors and will re-open October 8th as a T-Mobile phone retailer.

In Oakland, Ca., Ritmo Latino and T-Mobile collide. Both shops are owned by David Massry. Photo by Armand Emamdjomeh

In Oakland, Ca., Ritmo Latino and T-Mobile collide. Both shops are owned by David Massry. Photo by Armand Emamdjomeh

“The music industry is dying, I had to change my strategy,” said Massry, owner of Ritmo Latino Inc., once a national chain store selling CDs to the Latino consumer and fast becoming a national chain that sells T-Mobile.

To stay afloat, Massry has joined forces with T-Mobile, as part of its “ERP 2.0 Latino” initiative—a program that taps community-based entrepreneurs to link to a growing Latino population.

Thus far Massry has opened 12 T-Mobile sites including shops in Lynwood, Los Angeles, Anaheim,  and Oakland, California. Beyond these, Massry has several T-Mobile sites scheduled to open this year, including stores in Sacramento, Ca., Texas and Maryland.  The Mission store will be his 13th—all but two of his cell phone stores were once Ritmo Latino locales.

Massry, who built his career by marketing to Latinos, was targeted directly by T-Mobile, and spearheaded their launch into immigrant communities. “They came to me,” he said, “they noticed I’m a big player in the Latin Market and wanted me as a partner.”

The numbers suggest why the Latino market is a safe bet. Up from $212 billion in 1990, to $490 billion in 2000, to $951 billion in 2008, Latino purchasing power is expected to balloon to nearly $1.4 trillion in 2013, according to Selig Center for Economic Growth.

 Numbers provided by the Selig Center for Economic Growth

Numbers provided by the Selig Center for Economic Growth

While purchasing power grows, so does spending on wireless cell phone service. In 2008 alone, Latinos spent $315 million on mobile phone services, as reported by Nielsen Wire in their report, “Now You’re Speaking My Language.”  And numbers are projected to grow.

T-Mobile isn’t alone in their pursuit of the burgeoning Latino spending. In 2005 Cingular, now AT&T, launched its “Adelante” or “Move Forward” campaign to attract more Latinos, and giants like Verizon and Sprint-Nextel sponsor concerts of Latino Pop Stars and offer free downloads of popular Spanish songs.

When the Mission shop re-opens, it will have the looks of a corporate T-Mobile shop, but with a little more pizazz. “There will be a football table,” said Massry, “that way people can pay their bills and hang out.”

Although the store won’t have as much pop as his Ritmo Latino locations, Massry is confident that the customers will continue to stream in. When asked how he will fill the large corner-store location, Massry, paused to think. “Well, I plan on making a lot of activations and selling a lot of phones.”

Under the T-Mobile plan, Massry keeps a percentage—he declined to say how much– of each activated phone plan.

All employees at his T-Mobile shops must be bilingual in Spanish and English, “so that anyone can feel comfortable coming in,” said Massry. “We’re going with T-Mobile’s ‘Estamos Juntos’ slogan, you know, stick together.”