South LA's hidden marketplace: Mercado La Paloma

Jan. 25, 2011, 1:05 p.m.

Outside the gates of the large building located on Grand and 37th is relative silence, as in most of the surrounding neighborhood in South Los Angeles. But the inside of this yellow colored building paints another picture. Mercado La Paloma is home to dozens of non-profits, bustling little restaurants and artisan shops that are reminiscent of the lively markets found in many Latin American countries.

Mercado La Paloma, located a few blocks away from University of Southern California, and across from the Department of Motor Vehicles, is not your typical marketplace. The first floor hosts Thai, Oaxican, Yucatan, Peruvian and other restaurants, that cater to the different tastes and appetites of visitors who are in search of an alternative to the typical burger and fast food restaurants all around South LA. The artisan shops sell homemade and handmade crafts that range from Latin American childhood toys to intricately weaved handbags.

The second floor is home to dozens of non-profits that provide a wide range of services to the community and low-income families, such as EsperanSalud, La Paloma’s drop-in health center, Children's Collective and PTV, programs aimed to help children and torture victims in need.

Upon entering the automatic doors, visitors may glance at the freshly painted walls, seemingly new furniture and dozens of businesses that they never heard of, and think that the market is new. In fact, La Paloma’s Facilities Manager Mauricio Melara says many residents from the area don’t even know of the market’s existence.

"A lot of people who go to the DMV don't know that we are here," Melara said. "They’ve seen the building, but don't know what's in it."

It may come as a surprise then, that La Paloma has been around for ten years.

Once the site of a sweatshop factory, the 34,000 square feet of land was leased in 2000 by the Proyecto La Esperanza (Project Hope), a non-profit that helps low-income families find affordable housing and that heard requests of residents who wished to have a “local version of the bustling markets in their home countries” and for local economic development opportunities.

Since its opening, La Paloma and Esperanza have tried to combat several issues plaguing the South LA area, including lack of investments, jobs and business opportunities. La Paloma not only allows small businesses to lease a location at a low cost, but it allows them to expand. When leasing the space to small businesses, Melara said that they look for small businesses and artisan shops, rather than already established chain stores.

"All of the businesses you find here are independent," Melara said. "There is no competition here. We just help them get off their feet by giving them a space to grow."

As for community members and residents of the area, La Paloma has much to offer. All cross the building are tables, chairs and quaint spaces available for people to eat, meet, relax, or if you're a student, particularly from USC’s nearby campus, study.

Brenda Miranda, a Cal State-Los Angeles transfer student and South LA resident, says what attracted her to La Paloma is how unique it is from neighboring facilities in the area.

“When you go inside, there’s really nothing like it,” she said. “All you find in this area are fast food places and rarely anywhere to shop for clothes or accessories. The things they sell here you can’t find at a regular mall.”

Still, Melara hopes to see more people come in and benefit from La Paloma’s services. The market is in continuous renovation, receiving new furniture and changes to the exterior o the building, according to Melara. The Community Redevelopment Agency, CRA, has helped fund renovations in hopes to maintain a “community asset that provides sit-down eating options and below-market rents for local start-up businesses and non-profits,” as outlined by the agency’s activity report online.

Art and Cultural Programming Coordinator Damon Turner, hopes to see more people enjoy the space through regular events, promotion. The market will host a Valentine’s Day event and an art exhibit on February 18th focusing on the Afghanistan War and featuring local artists, musicians and spoken word pieces.

To Turner, the maintenance and growth of La Paloma is important during the present time.

"Figueroa Corridor is in the middle of redevelopment,” Turner said. “And historically its where indigenous culture is pushed out of the space, and its important to push it into the light."

Find Mercado La Paloma
3655 S. Grand Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90007
(213) 748-1963

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