Portland, OR — On the tables in the meeting room of Saint Michael & All Angels Church, blank maps of a future market lay on a half dozen tables. Around the maps, stacks of colorful cards represented about 40 types of businesses. It resembled a popular board game — minus the houses and hotels and get-out of jail cards.
But this was no game.
The challenge of this late-March exercise was what businesses would work best in a future “Authentic Latino Market” that might be developed in Northeast or East Portland.
The program was hosted by Adelante Planning — a group of graduate students at Portland State University — and Hacienda Community Development Corporation (CDC). Hacienda CDC is best known for managing several affordable rental complexes in Northeast Portland.
Sparked by a successful indoor Mercado Central in Minneapolis, the students in conjunction with Hacienda CDC staffers Pietro Ferrari and Nathan Teske began developing a plan to see if a similar market could be created in Portland. Ferrari is Hacienda CDC’s executive director of and Teske is the organization’s director of community economic development.
PSU students Ellen Wyoming and Valentina Smith played key roles in organizing the program.
Many of the “mercado designers” already operate small businesses. Each group showed different approaches as to what businesses should be included as well as how they should be arranged. For example, one group placed all its five restaurants in one quadrant. Another group had their restaurants widely spaced around the market’s layout. Some included banks; others did not.
Prospective stores and services
A sampling of potential services that a Portland mercado might offer might include:
- Food — bakery, pastry shop, fruits and vegetables, butcher shop, candies, restaurants
- Appearance — bridal dresses, quinceañera dresses, shoes, leather goods, jewelry
- Health — doctors, dentists, chiropractors, herbalists, massage, pharmacy
- Technical — computer repair, car parts
- Services — bank and ATM, tax preparation, photography, barber shop, hair dressers, florists, party favors, book store, musical instruments, music and video, religious goods
Reasons for optimism
“Today is for generating ideas,” Ferrari said. Later in the development discussions, he said, organizers will decide which stores and family services should be included. One thing will not be compromised, he added — and that is quality.
Although no site has been selected, Ferrari said that any location must be very close to Latino residents.
Once it is up and running, Ferrari said, it would serve as a model to create other Latino markets in the Portland area.
Teske noted that Minneapolis has many things in common with Portland. The Minneapolis metro area has a population of about 3.3 million, compared to metro Portland’s 2.4 million. In both cities Hispanics live in close-knit areas. With the success of the Mercado Central in Minneapolis, it seems likely that a similar project should succeed in Portland.
Latino markets offer more options than most supermarkets, Teske says. Diverse options should attract consumers. Thus, sales would then go into the pockets of local business owners rather than into the pockets of national corporations.
A Latino cultural center could provide a magnet to bring families to such a market. This might include a performance space for musicians or a gallery for the area’s artists. The closest one is the Centro Cultural in Cornelius, some 25 miles west of downtown Portland.
.Teske noted that security teams would be necessary since hustlers and criminals tend to drift to busy areas.
One problem with flea markets, he says, relates to some illegal goods such as pirated CDs and DVDs. Therefore, he says, the manager of a market should actively assure that all the businesses are legitimate.
One pay-off would be the creation of better jobs for immigrants. Latino markets make it easier for individuals to start new businesses. Thus it should enable more people to escape from low-paying jobs and become their own bosses.
Noting Portland’s shortage of parking, Teske said that parking spaces — surface level or underground — would be a high priority item.
In addition to commercial ventures, a Latino market could also provide some social services. These might include job search services, free translation of documents, English language classes, or advice on business licensing and permits.
Photo Richard Jones, El Hispanic News
Pietro Ferrari explains to PSU students and small business owners how they can use the empty grid to design a preliminary map of a future mercado. Ferrari and Nathan Teske (right) work with the Hacienda Development Corporation.