Even though not every municipality has one, central marketplaces are a classic concept in Puerto Rico.
Municipalities such as Río Grande, Caguas, Luquillo and San Juan all have a marketplace where fruits and vegetables reign. Many marketplaces have proven successful over the years, while others have needed extra help to stay relevant in their respective towns.
That was the case with the Fajardo marketplace, which held its grand reopening inauguration ceremony on Monday.
“I am happy and enthusiastic about this reopening,” Fajardo Mayor José “Joey” A. Meléndez told the STAR. “On my first day of work as mayor, I came to the marketplace for lunch. On that day I promised the vendors I would remodel the marketplace and improve it. We have accomplished that goal today.”
The event began with the inauguration ceremony, where important figures from Fajardo and other parts of the island were invited, such as House District 36 Rep. Carlos “Johnny” Méndez Nuñez, Fajardo Vice Mayor Glenys Otero Crespo, Traffic Safety Commission Executive Director Luis Rodriguez and even former Río Grande Mayor César Méndez. The grand reopening was hosted by Fajardo community spokesperson Orville Pacheco.
“We must give a big hand to all of the marketplace vendors, who have been working relentlessly in preparation for the grand reopening,” Pacheco said. “We couldn’t have done this without them.”
Pacheco also praised the mayor of Fajardo.
“We needed a mayor who would help us be a better municipality; we needed a mayor who was passionate, ready and with a plan to manage the city’s affairs,” Pacheco said, while also thanking all of the special invitees. “That mayor is Mr. José A. Meléndez, and this is an example of the work he’s put into transforming the city of Fajardo.”
The ceremonial speeches began with Méndez Nuñez.
“We don’t only bring back the Fajardo Marketplace stronger than ever with the sale of fruits, vegetables and meats, but we also turn it into a meetingplace, where we have chefs with experience from all around Puerto Rico and even around the world,” the lawmaker said. “That alone puts Fajardo on the map in terms of gastronomic development and, more than ever, this creates economic opportunities for our town, and that’s exactly where our administration wants to take Fajardo. We are grateful to our mayor for thinking, not just about now, but also about the future of Fajardo.”
The first lady of Fajardo, Diana Méndez, also had some words to say about the occasion.
“Today we are making history in Fajardo,” she said. “It fills my heart with happiness to see this project completed. We are not just making history because of all the new concepts the marketplace intends to bring to the table, but because the Fajardo Marketplace has seen three generations of the Padró family. Mr. José Padró was one of the first marketplace vendors when the marketplace was first created, [and] today his grandchildren are here for the inauguration of the remodeled Fajardo Marketplace.”
The mayor also delivered a speech in which, apart from thanking every single vendor in the marketplace for being part of the event, he went into detail about more projects that are in store for the Fajardo.
“This is only the beginning of a great series of projects we are planning for the economic development of Fajardo,” Meléndez said. “Some of these include remodeling the city plaza, with an investment of $1 million. The Fajardo Arts School will also be remodeled and expanded to bring in new services for the youth and adults, as well as a new cultural plaza. If everything goes well, we will be inaugurating this in September.”
As the mayor finished his speech, he moved on to perform the ribbon cutting, officially inaugurating the new and improved marketplace, which was filled to the brim with many different options for customers to pick from. Besides the classic fruits and vegetable markets, there were also many food businesses, including a pizzeria and a Mexican food vendor, as well as a balloon and decoration service business -- all local businesses that proudly showcased their uniqueness.
The marketplace’s contracted designer, engineer William Meléndez, told the STAR that the “previous mayor originally gave me the opportunity to work on this project; he sadly passed away, but thanks to his son Joey, we continued this project.”
“This shows the vision our previous mayor had for this town and Joey’s hard work for the municipality,” he said. “When we first designed this, we wanted to bring something new to the table without losing the touch of a classic marketplace, giving it a new and improved look that is contemporary with the current times.”
One of the marketplace vendors, the healthy option Verdemar Gastro Juice Bar, is owned by husband and wife Christian Vazquéz Guzmán and Yovanna N. Santiago Villegas.
“We are so happy to finally open our business,” Santiago told the STAR. “This is your life oasis, as we present our specialty, fruit and vegetable juices directly from the fruit; we don’t add any sugars, either.”
“Apart from the juices we also have healthy food that is directed at more of a lifestyle for anyone who wants to change something in their diet,” he added. “However, this healthy style doesn’t lose the great taste and seasoning of Puerto Rican food.
“We found the opportunity to open our business; my wife could do anything she wanted -- she is brilliant and yet she left many things behind to build this restaurant. Our menu is also contemporary with the times because we want to promote local products as much as possible, but we also don’t want to lose the essence of how good it is to mix our local products with imported ones.”
Right across from Verdemar is another business named Meat and Dip, which sells local and imported meat, along with prepared dishes for people to enjoy.
“I am very grateful for the opportunity provided by the mayor to be here in remodeled facilities,” head chef Rafael Alamo told the STAR. “We are a gourmet butcher shop; we provide a variety of different sliced meat, apart from food to eat right here, including the production of our own dips, which people can also purchase and take home.”
By Richard Gutiérrez | The San Juan Daily Star