EAST HARLEM — Vendors at La Marqueta hope that City Council’s $3 million revitalization project will bring the market back to its glory days.
“People would come from Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Brooklyn,” said Aurelia Velez, who had run her own fish station at La Marqueta for 43 years. “They would fill their carts and go home.”
The indoor market on Park Avenue between 110th and 116th streets used to sell everything from fresh meat to clothes. It was a one-stop-destination, Velez added.
La Marqueta used to get so crowded that it was like walking in Times Square, said Jose Rodriguez, who used to buy groceries there in the early 1980s and recently opened a small shop with fruits, canned goods and smoked fish.
But the market has been in decline for decades. More than half of the stores are closed and vendors have had a hard time attracting new customers, Velez said.
Fleur D'Oranger, a small bakery that moved there in January, makes more money from selling its pastries at department store downtown than it does from customers at La Marqueta, said Melisa Guardado, 26, one of the bakers.
On Friday, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito visited the market to announce the $3 million allocated to the market.
Part of the expansion plan will support small businesses, artisans and vendors, including upgrading the market's water and electric infrastructure, remodeling the bathrooms, redesigning the layout and creating new stalls, said a spokesman for the city's Economic Development Corporation.
La Marqueta also offers a discounted rent of $35 per square foot to vendors interested in opening a stall.
Additionally, the city reopened La Placita, a public space under the Metro-North tracks that has been furnished with chairs, tables and WiFi.
The day after the announcement, La Marqueta got a small taste of what may come.
“There were a lot of people here Saturday,” Rodriguez said. “Some just came to look around but many of them bought things.”
The space is very important for the people of Harlem, said Hazelyn Dowdy, 60, who lives on 151st Street but has been shopping at La Marqueta for decades.
“We come from the Caribbean where we use this kind of fish,” she said pointing to a Link fish. “You can find it in other places but it’s very expensive there.”
She stopped by the market Monday to buy link fish and pig snout, which she uses to make rice. She hadn’t heard Friday’s announcement but was pleasantly surprised when she heard the news.
“I think that’s a great idea,” she said. “This is very important.”
Others aren’t as optimistic yet.
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” said Velez, who has heard talk of revitalization before but hasn't seen anyone follow through with it.