More than a market: Shoppers, vendors see La Marqueta as a sign of rebirth in East Harlem

Guacamole topped with fish roe. Empanadas filled with Neapolitan ice cream. Tourists and locals alike enjoyed untraditional dishes in the historic setting Sunday at La Marqueta in East Harlem.

The open-air market -- open for its second season after a $3 million commitment last year by the City Council -- represents a rebirth for the community, vendors and visitors said.

"The neighborhood is growing little by little, and we're starting to promote it more," said Nestor Leon Fortanel, owner of El Kallejon restaurant, which had a stand near the market entrance.

The plaza under the Metro-North train tracks near East 116th Street and Park Avenue opened as a food market in the 1930s and flourished for a time before declining in recent decades.

Last August, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who represents the area, announced a $3 million commitment toward the plaza's infrastructure. It was dubbed Vendy Plaza after the Vendy Awards street-food competition that curates the rotation of culinary offerings. The neighborhood was rebuilding; La Marqueta is just down the street from the site of the deadly March 2014 building collapse.

"It's creating a sense of community, allowing the community to come together and celebrate," said Mark-Viverito (D-East Harlem), who sat down for conversation with neighbors and a drink from a fresh coconut while Latin music blared. She said the market "reflects our great diversity."

Employees of CoCo & Co, which also has a mobile stand that travels around Central Park, the Brooklyn Bridge and other tourist-heavy spots, said they like serving locals at La Marqueta.

"So many people are brought together in such a peaceful and friendly way," Marki Vallejo said. "It's not only good for the customers; it's good for the vendors, too. Normally, it's a rivalry. Here, we're working together."

Orley Pacheco, of the Lower East Side, stumbled upon the market as he was out in the neighborhood to celebrate his mother Rosa's birthday.

"It's an infusion of what the community has to offer to the city," he said.

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