South Central Mercado a creative hub of local businesses

(Video by Christian Serrano/Cronkite News)

In December 2020, Raza Development Fund announced it was moving its headquarters to south Phoenix. For Tommy Espinoza, president and CEO of the fund, it was a way to return to the community where the organization began and work directly with small businesses, artists and entrepreneurs.

One year later, Raza Development Fund’s parking lot on Southern Avenue provides space and sponsorship for one of the community’s most beloved events: the South Central Mercado.

The outdoor pop-up was created in October 2019 as a “collective consciousness of creatives,” according to Sam Gomez, curator of the Sagrado gallery on South Central Avenue and co-founder of the mercado.

It originally was held in the parking lot of St. Catherine Catholic Church and then in the lot next to Promise Arizona, both on South Central. Organizers say the mercado has hosted more than 300 local businesses, emphasizing handcrafted products.

Gomez and co-founders Cecilia Rivera and Joe Muñoz wanted to make a pop-up space to bring together small businesses from the southside and beyond, from a Salvadoran food truck to organic face creams and hand-painted sombreros from Guanajuato, Mexico.

Previously, Gomez, Rivera and Muñoz trained small businesses to establish business plans. The South Central Mercado goes a step further, Rivera said, “providing a platform for entrepreneurs to execute their business and what they were learning.”

In November, Rivera hosted her first virtual small business workshop for owners working to obtain the correct permits. She plans to continue hosting online workshops to assist local business owners.

Additionally, the South Central Mercado provides relief from the ongoing stress placed on local small businesses, from the construction of the Valley Metro light rail to the COVID-19 pandemic. Gomez describes the space as “uplifting,” and meant to provide a sense of community despite the hardships.

“People are feeling better, people are coming together and I just think it’s healing,” he said.

News Reporter, Phoenix

Christian Serrano expects to graduate in December 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in Spanish. Serrano, who has interned with Raza Development Fund and Promise Arizona, and covered the borderlands for Cronkite News, is working in the Phoenix News Bureau.