While some people started applying for unemployment benefits as the pandemic made its way across the country others sought to take advantage of their new-found free time and start a business out of it.
After Gov. Doug Ducey declared a state of emergency in Arizona, the state shifted from the uncertain and adapted to a new normal.
Shortly after, restaurants, bars, gyms, schools and other public spaces closed temporarily in Maricopa County. In April, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a 12.5 percent unemployment rate, the highest it has been up to this day.
UnidosUS recently reported 2.6 million Latinos in the United States to be unemployed.
Cultivo Mercado is a pop-up Latino market that meets every weekend at three different locations alternatively: Metro Phoenix, West Valley and Tucson.
Before the state had to shut down in March, Cultivo Mercado held its first event with 20 vendors on the list and around 100 people attending.
Jorge Mejia, the founder of Cultivo Mercado, decided to bring a space where Latino small businesses would be represented.
“There’s plenty of things going on in Phoenix, but nothing that is for us,” Mejia said. “My main goal is to have representation out there, have something for Latinx to feel like we’re welcome here.”
However, after almost everything shut down in the state, some of the vendors had already lost their jobs to the pandemic.
For some, their small business became economic support.
Two months later, while applying the state’s health guidelines, Cultivo Mercado gave it a try again, and now they have announced the last two events of the year.
Olivia Williams, the owner of Mars Bomb Shop, transitioned to a bath bomb business after her nanny agency business halted at the start of the pandemic.
Williams has participated in two events with Cultivo Mercado.
“So far, it has helped tremendously because I’ve been actually getting to know a lot of other Hispanic vendors. And they’re so helpful,” Williams said.
Unemployed but inspired to start his food business, Jorge Picos felt motivated to start his taco shop after volunteering with Chef Silvana at Barrio Cafe. Picos helped to prepare meals for homeless people, nurses and doctors.
Picos is the owner of Estero Beach Tacos, an Ensenada style taco shop.
“I love the idea of Latino businesses because we’re going through the same struggles,” Picos said.
The word “cultivo” means cultivation or culture which in both examples is appropriate for the story behind Cultivo Mercado. Picos said he sees it as how businesses grow and later on, bloom.
Maria Jose Parra started her polymer clay accessory shop, Gem & Eye, this summer. She used her free time during quarantine to brainstorm art and craft projects, which led to selling her pieces through Instagram and now at Cultivo Mercado.
Although Parra has a full-time job at the Boys and Girls Club, she said she hopes to continue and invest more time in her shop.
COVID-19 cases in Maricopa County keep surging, and as of today nearly 200,000 cases have been reported. Cultivo Mercado reminds customers, through social media and at the events, to practice the state health guidelines, such as wearing face masks, social distancing, washing hands and staying home when sick, as this has become the “new normal,” Mejia said.
“I think now it’s a good opportunity for us to really say ‘Hey! we’re here’, we’re doing some great things, and we’re contributing, we’re hard workers,” Mejia said.
Mejia hopes to take Cultivo Mercado and share the Latino culture with other communities throughout the state of Arizona.