By Amanda Schurr
What began with a vision to support and advance the Latino community has grown into a launching pad for a generation of entrepreneurs. More than 20 years after its inception, the Hacienda Community Development Corporation will on April 11 debut the Portland Mercado, an innovative marketplace that will present the culture and spirit of the community to the greater metro area on a daily basis.
“You try to find out what the need is in the community,” explains Hacienda CDC founder and former New Mexico Secretary of State Clara Padilla-Andrews, who along with former Multnomah County Commissioner Maria Rojo de Steffey established the nonprofit in the early ‘90s. (Padilla-Andrews was also publisher of El Hispanic News from 1996 to 2010.) Their first project entailed the then crime-plagued apartments in the NE Cully-Killingsworth neighborhood.
“It was something that I put a lot of time and effort into,” Padilla-Andrews says of the initial undertaking that transformed the residential complex now known as Clara Vista. “We were persistent and we never gave up. … We took it a long ways, we laid a real good foundation for it, we were able to bring in some great people.” With each new director and each new venture, she says, that founding vision has grown.
Fast-forward to this month, when the organization sees its latest project to fruition. Hacienda Executive Director Victor Merced, who has been with the CDC since 2011, shares the origins of the Portland Mercado: “It began about five years ago, when the former director saw a need to establish a marketplace for Latino entrepreneurs. We had a program here that trained people in business 101, how to set up your business, how to get the resources, how to apply for a loan, how much money you need, and we started out with ladies who sold tamales.”
“We helped them get their health and food licenses, we paid for them to go to farmers markets and sell their food. And these 10 ladies in one year collectively grossed $300,000. We said, ‘Wow, that’s not bad!’ I didn’t know there was such an appetite for tamales!” he continues, laughing. “We started thinking it would be great if we could pull together resources where we would have all these Latino entrepreneurs selling their wares that would attract a Latino market as well as a non-Latino market.”
The Hacienda CDC set out to secure local and federal funding while working with the Portland Development Commission to find a permanent site for the marketplace. They eventually arrived at an abandoned car dealership at SE Foster and 72nd. “In the meantime in this process, we were training other entrepreneurs to eventually work out of the Mercado,” Merced says, “so the folks that are going to be there now, most of them have been through a training, have gone through our classes, have worked with us in helping develop their businesses.”
The result is what Merced considers a breeding ground for success—and a unique one at that. He cites a similar market in Minneapolis, Minn. and smaller efforts in San Antonio and Los Angeles, but notes, “This one has a nonprofit entity behind it, it also is an incubator, there’s been investments both by philanthropy and government, so it’s a little bit of a different model.”
“What we’re building is an incubator so that, ‘Here’s your first crack at running a business,” adds Mercado, who says they expect 2,000 visitors for the grand opening. “I think everyone’s excited. They’re looking forward to be successful, and for us, success means that they’re so successful that it’s too small for them and they [have to] go somewhere else. And that gives the opportunity to someone else to come in behind them. That’s the hope.”
A thoughtfully curated collection of retail and grocery, prepared food and services, the inaugural lineup includes 18 businesses housed throughout the market’s storefront and outdoor space. Along with the authentic flavors served up at eight food carts, indoor anchor vendors will cover a variety of shopping needs, and services offered will run the gamut from custom signage to insurance. The inclusive approach is geared toward the local population but at the same time accessible to and welcoming of the broader Portland community. “The idea was to build something that was attractive, that reflected our Latino heritage that people could feel good about going to—that it was family friendly, and all the usual things that Latinos like, like music and dancing and food and art and culture,” Merced says.
As the vendors prepare to launch their businesses, he says the neighborhood “has welcomed us with open arms. They’ve been real positive and real happy that we’re bringing this kind of activity and creativity and culture to the community.” And the relationship will be an evolving one. According to Merced, the Mercado’s driving mission is to create “something that is culturally relevant for other people in the community that are not Hispanic [to] appreciate, and understand that our culture brings so many different elements to our being right now as Americans. I think that this will just be an opportunity for us to embrace who we are.”
The grand opening of the Portland Mercado is from noon to 7 p.m. Sat., April 11 at 7238 SE Foster Road. The day will include live musical entertainment and DJs, dancing, a photo booth, face painting, contests and giveaways, and more (and yes, tamales). The Portland Mercado will be open daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Visit portlandmercado.com for more information, and facebook.com/portlandmercado for information about “soft launch” hours beginning April 1.