A project in the works for approximately four years, La Esquinita (Spanish for “Little Corner”) finally begins its cultural impact in the Barelas community. The mixed-use project—involving housing, retail, food, arts and a cultural business incubator—lies on the corner of 4th St. and Coal Ave. and presents itself as a center for cultural flourishment. The Barelas Community Coalition (BCC), spearheaded by their president Alejandro Saavendra and 10 other board members, has created an area where local vendors and artists can display their craft while involving the surrounding area by means of foot traffic and community interaction.
One of the few communities yet to be truly gentrified, Barelas has suffered from the rapid development in Albuquerque. Living in the heart of Barelas since the ’70s, Saavendra keeps the tight-knit community close to his heart. Watching the city’s unchecked expansion, he saw the center of Albuquerque slowly dying.
“With Albuquerque developing outwards, the central core is becoming disinvested in,” Saavedra explains. “Even in the ’90s, there was this mentality you could feel in Albuquerque where people said, ‘We don’t really care about our downtown anymore, we can go to the malls if we need anything.’ So eventually people kind of lost interest in Barelas and the surrounding downtown areas.”
With the BCC being an offshoot of the Barelas Neighborhood Association (BNA), the two groups sought out economic options to develop on Fourth St. Seeing how the Rail Yards Market—fiscally operated by the BCC—performed with local artisans, local produce, music and programs for the community, the BCC decided to replicate that success. With the Rail Yards only able to provide their wares during a limited spring/summer time frame, Saavedra and the BCC wanted to bring that same energy to Fourth St., but without having to put a cap on time.
Before the area officially became known as La Esquinita, the BCC was talking with site developers to help come up with ideas for the lower space of the complex. While the city could easily have ended up with yet another commercial store or restaurant, the BCC pitched the idea of developing a mini version of the Rail Yards Market—but one that could operate almost every day of the week.
“The idea was to have some of our vendors who were at a point of having a substantial following, but were hesitant on signing a commercial lease, to graduate to the next step up,” Saavedra says. “This is where we collaborate, we pool the efforts and bring in around 15 vendors with the idea of food, drink and other wares.”
Still in development, the modern space provides vendors with little plexiglass garage-like areas to set up shop. So far vendors like Biscuit Boy and Casa Brew use the area to sell their products. The BCC worked on previous prototypes for bigger vendors last year, but quickly realized the need for commercial-grade appliances.
La Esquinita will develop a system to tier some of its core vendors who will use the space every day. Other vendors who are still developing their product and market will have an opportunity to establish an area to increase their following. However, La Esquinita plans to keep its spaces full every day of the week.
“We really planned on having a community push campaign to say we were going to work with community partners,” Saavedra expresses. “Coronado School, Dolores Gonzales [Elementary School], so they could have after-school programming happening here, have a space for performances, so this can be a venue to celebrate Barelas but also attract people.”
The establishment is not far off from having public workshops and community events, despite a few minor bumps along the way. They recently received funding to start entrepreneurial workshops for the community. On Oct. 20 La Esquinita virtually cast an online workshop called “Map Out Your 2021 Vision: A Workshop for Self-Employed Folx,” which was hosted by business coach Peri Pakroo.
La Esquinita will allow patrons to stop for a cup of coffee and an empanada. It will be a place where things are constantly moving in a self-contained environment. There will be spaces to host a company meeting, blank walls for artists to display their creativity, stages for musicians to exercise their ability to sing and, of course, the smell of delicious food.
Alongside the building is an empty lot that the BCC saw as an opportunity to further increase community involvement. Friday, Oct. 23 was the grand opening of La Esquinita’s permanent food truck area. Obtaining the ability to restructure their lease, the BCC made space available for up to four food trucks. The idea came to the BCC to create a more flexible and mobile place. The BCC and the Street Food Institute partnered up to become a place where people can come to taste what a variety of local food trucks have to offer. La Esquinita will develop the same type of method to rotate different local food trucks within their park.
After years of talking to developers and a year for actual development, La Esquinita is staring at the finish line.
“It takes a lot of cooperation,” Cristina Rogers, who manages and directs for both BCC and BNA, explains. “We have been running tests over the last week, and so far everything is fine. It’s been a rollercoaster. But it’s an exciting story for the state, because it’s an economical development in a state with such low economic security.”
Hopefully soon La Esquinita will begin operating on all cylinders. By developing a space for culture to grow, not only in Barelas, but throughout all of Albuquerque, this “Little Corner” will be a space where we can all converge and engage.