The summer food market that’s helped spice up an East Harlem plaza struggling to recapture its former glory just got an extension.
Vendy Plaza in El Barrio’s La Marqueta space was scheduled to close on Sept. 9 but got a reprieve from local leaders and officials and will now stay open every Sunday through Nov. 1.
“It’s been nothing short of a success,” said Vendy Plaza manager Cesar Fuentes.
Fuentes — who hails from a street vending family and grew up selling Salvadorian pupusas — works the weekly, day-long event that officials say has already drawn as many as 22,500 locals and tourists alike to the stretch of open-air space at Park Avenue and 116th Street.
The city reports about 61 vendors so far — including the popular Lechonera La Piraña cart that consistently sells out of its Puerto Rican-style roast pork dish — are mostly minority and women-owned businesses, most of which are based in Manhattan.
Vendy Plaza was the newest attempt to revitalize La Marqueta, a historically Latino economic hub that decades ago drew hundreds of vendors and thousands of local shoppers walking between 111th and 116th streets for anything from socks to fish to electronics.
The initiative behind Vendy Plaza is the end result collaboration between the Vendy Awards, the city’s Economic Development Corporation and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who has represented El Barrio for the last decade.
“I’ve been dying for years to push hard to allow the community to reclaim the space,” Mark-Viverito told Metro of La Marqueta. “It took a lot to get to the point we’re at.”
That work includes multiple, less-than successful attempts at bringing in business owners to empty retail spaces inside La Marqueta — spaces that the speaker said three Vendy Plaza vendors are hoping to occupy soon.
Fuentes said the project remains very conscious of the space’s diverse history, and that it seeks to bring back the glory days in a modern form.
“To many longtime residents it’s almost like a mecca,” he added. “So we’re trying to do our part to bring about a renaissance for La Marqueta.”
Part of that work includes reaching out to more vendors to add to its roster. In the year since its trial run in 2014, officials already report a 300 percent growth in vendor interest.
Mark-Viverito added that talks with the EDC are already in progress about how to sustain the energy kicked off by Vendy Plaza and other programming at La Marqueta throughout the week.
“Dealing with any city agency can always be difficult,” she said. “But there’s an openness now.”
EDC President Maria Torres-Springer said the agency just as excited as everyone else to keep Vendy Plaza at La Marqueta through the fall, calling it a “neighborhood asset” in a statement to Metro.
For now, though, Vendy Plaza’s Fuentes is focused on another two month’s worth of fresh food and live music atop a little slice of New York City history. He’s sure people will keep stopping by.
“At this point Vendy Plaza’s already has its own magnetism,” he said.