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Plaza del Sol: Creating community in a St. Paul market square
Located at 990 Payne Avenue, in a spot that was formerly Borgstrom’s pharmacy, Plaza Del Sol offers visitors a new shopping experience. Owner Sonia Ortega has renovated the 40,000 square foot property to create space for independently owned businesses, including Señor Sol Mexican Grill and Tazmal Pupuseria. In addition to these restaurants, the Santa Fe coffee shop offers drinks that are unavailable elsewhere, such as a popular sour, spicy mango smoothie. Other businesses include a document translator, two clothing boutiques, and a jewelry store, and Romeo and Julieta Salon.
After working for many years in restaurants and real estate, Ortega is enthusiastic about her new venture. “We want to offer a little bit of everything…and we’ve been focusing very much on food," she said. "We’ve been in the restaurant business for 24 years. So we learned to deliver good food, good service and good drinks.” Ortega also hopes Plaza Del Sol will also help to revive the East Side, and bring revenue to local businesses.
Plaza del Sol was designed to support small business owners. “We want to… create a community with a business component here to help each other. Because that’s what we do. We help each other, we encourage each other,” she said. Business owners in Plaza Del Sol, most of whom are women from the Latin American community, receive the space they need in order to set up and the resources that they need in order to grow.
Plaza Del Sol is international and inclusive in nature, and the businesses are representative of the larger community. Ortega stressed that, “This is not a Mexican community. We have people from all over the world… We have people from El Salvador, Guatemala, Trinidad. The lady with the clothing store is from Honduras. We are very diverse.”
She envisions many new businesses and services for Plaza Del Sol. A large space on the first floor is being converted into a walk-in cooler where Ortega hopes to operate a meat processing facility. On the second floor, a 10,000 square foot space will become an event center available for rental. The second floor may also be home to a studio for the East Side’s new low-power FM radio station. When Señor Sol restaurant is approved for a liquor license, it will also include the metro area’s only sangria bar.
Ortega hopes that Plaza del Sol will inspire other business owners to work for the good of the community. She commented, “We need to quit doing things just for money… This is the best project I’ve ever done.”
© 2014 Hannah Lieberman