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La Placita offers testing ground for Hispanic entrepreneurs





Jason Estremera - Hispanic Business Center

Jenice Contreras, executive director of the Hispanic Business Center

Bruno Casiano


The maker movement is on the rise in Cleveland, and a new effort aims to capture that entrepreneurial spirit in the Hispanic community clustered in the Clark-Fulton neighborhood.

Last month, La Placita at West 25th and Clark premiered its first-ever open-air market, showcasing 30 eclectic local makers and food purveyors. Hundreds came out to experience the blend of rich culture and unique businesses.

In Puerto Rico and most Latin American countries, La Placita is the public plaza that functions as a central gathering place for the community. Traditionally, the lively outdoor market is located in close proximity to the Catholic Church where vendors, musicians, artists and residents of all ages can go to enjoy themselves.

“We are bringing the concept of La Placita to Cleveland and to the heart of our Latino community to create that sense of community in the Clark-Fulton neighborhood. In the future, we hope to have a permanent plaza space in the neighborhood,” says Jenice Contreras, executive director of the Hispanic Business Center.

La Placita is a monthly pop-up market that celebrates live music, dance, traditional food and a growing number of artisan vendors that offer jewelry, makeup, clothing, fresh flowers and art.
 
The summer series began May 9th and includes four more pop-up markets this summer — June 13th, July 11th, August 1st and September 12th. Each market has a regional theme. The kickoff market celebrated Mexican heritage, June is El Caribe, July is Puerto Rico and September is the Gran Fiesta.
 
La Placita is a way to celebrate local culture while promoting entrepreneurship by serving as an incubator to grow permanent businesses.

“We need to create our own opportunities. Nobody is going to come into this neighborhood and save us. We need to come up with solutions that meet local needs,” says Contreras. “We want to create opportunities from the bottom up while keeping the authenticity of the project — we want businesses to be Latino owned and operated. The project needs to be authentic and true to the people it’s serving.”

The pop-up market is the pilot for a permanent indoor, year-round market that will house micro-retail businesses. La Placita is designed to showcase local entrepreneurs and jumpstart La Villa Hispana or “Hispanic Village” -- the cultural and economic hub of the Hispanic community centered around Clark and West 25th. The business district will begin with the creation of the permanent market, which could open within a year if pending grant requests are secured.

Cleveland’s Clark-Fulton neighborhood is the densest Hispanic enclave in the State of Ohio. In the diverse, densely-populated square mile, 48 percent of the neighborhood's 10,000 residents are of Hispanic heritage, predominantly Puerto Rican.
 
Contreras is passionate about the growth and success of the neighborhood. She grew up at West 30th and Clark and graduated from Lincoln-West High School. After college, she returned to the neighborhood to work for the Hispanic Business Center, which is located in the same building as the Northeast Ohio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (NEOHCC) at W. 25th and Clark Ave.

“We are a small business center, so we are able to help vendors with making some of those critical decisions that could make or break a business especially in a startup phase,” says Contreras.

HBC provides educational programs and developmental support for business growth and advancement of the Hispanic Community in Northeast Ohio. They offer four economic development programs aimed at providing clients business consulting services. These programs focus on business fundamentals, the creation of a business plan and connecting business owners to resources.

Contreras hopes that La Placita can serve as a low-risk test market for new Hispanic businesses like Edwin Flores, a computer engineer and independent designer who created the t-shirts and designs for La Placita. His graphic design work began as a hobby until he began to sell online and at the market.

For established artists such as Bruno Casiano, La Placita represents a community hub. “If the market comes to be a tangible place down the line, it would be an anchoring part of the community where people can go to buy produce and other goods -- but more than that, it would be driven by community and culture,” says Casiano.

The visual artist and curator owns Bruno Casiano Gallery, the region’s only Latino-owned art gallery and a denizen of Detroit Avenue long before the rejuvenation of the Gordon Square Arts District. He grew up in Juana Díaz, a Southern coastal town in Puerto Rico, and has lived in Cleveland for 25 years.

“My designs are colorful and fresh, they’re Caribbean in essence but very hip and modern at the same time,” Casiano explains.
 
Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization (DSCDO), through its Stockyards, Brooklyn Centre and Clark Fulton office, has partnered closely with the HBC. DCSDO acts as a fiscal agent for the La Placita project. “The entrepreneurial spirit is very alive in the neighborhood and a lot of people would like to do it as a living but don’t know where to get started. La Placita can be the first outlet,” explains Adam Stalder, Economic Development Director at DSCDO.
 
Stadler believes that the success of the market will add to the city’s cultural vibrancy and hopes the festival grows, much like The Cleveland Flea but with its own unique flavor. “We want to make this become one of the premier summer festivals in Cleveland that people know about and want to visit monthly."

Interested in becoming a vendor? Contact the Hispanic Business Center at (216 281-4422 or info@HBCenter.org.

Read more articles by Jacqueline Bon.

Jacqueline Bon is a freelance writer that has been contributing to Fresh Water Cleveland since 2014. As a journalist by trade and self-taught photographer, she has a lot of curiosity in people and their stories. She is a graduate of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University and has pursued film and digital photography for a decade. She is likely to be the first person on the dance floor, especially if you put on Prince.
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