EL CENTRO — The hustle and bustle of a miniature marketplace graced the lawn of a small business area in El Centro Thursday, June 17, as the Imperial Valley Colectivo group of vendors sold their wares one evening after the sun went down during the pre-summer heatwave.
About a dozen small business startups gathered near a large, lighted canopy while locals came, perused, and bought locally made or locally sourced specialty items from the all-local vendors who are part of Imperial Valley Colectivo, or IV Colectivo for short. Some select items are also sold inside at the Colectivo headquarters, located at 302 North 8th Street in El Centro.
The “tienda Colectivo,” or Collective shop, “is a space where brands can outsource customer service, display their products, ensure that customers are served in the best way, and also surround themselves with other local brands that are worth admiring,” according to the Imperial Valley Colectivo Facebook page.
The idea behind the “shop local” and other IV Colectivo events is to bring the community together, according to Colectivo Shop Owner Ana E. Vazquez Jimenez.
“Yes (it’s to) get them to come to the (Colectivo) store but also to get (our businesses) to interact and (celebrate) the community with interesting activities,” she said in Spanish.
Jimenez said the Colectivo has been in operation since April 21 and held three other events before the Shop Local Pop-Up Market held Thursday. She said the group has 20 vendor-members from all over the Imperial Valley and “we continue receiving more, and we have open arms so the people (join us).”
The only requirements for local vendors to join the Colectivo are vendors come with legitimate business licenses, sales permits, and if their product is edible, they must get approved by the Imperial County Public Health Department.
“That entitles them to a space to sell at any of our events,” Jimenez said. “The only vendors allowed at our events are the ones who want to work with us.”
“The (point) of this Collective is to unite the community, help the people who produce and work, and keep our money local so our community grows,” she said.
The vendors all had varied, colorful and meaningful items including handmade soaps, purses, knapsacks, jewelry, makeup, candles, clothing, and other products.
The vendors’ reasons for joining the Colectivo were as varied as the specialty products which they sold.
“It's an opportunity they give us local vendors and it's a way (for people) to learn about the diversity of our products and the talents we have (in making them),” Calexico resident Dulce Moreno said of her Eternal Beauty store of various Mexican-themed handmade bags.
“These are exclusive products, not ones you would normally find in stores,” she said over her colorful bags and accessories. “Many of the vendors you see here create their own products which they sell.”
Though she’s only been with the Colectivo a month, Moreno said, “it's a great environment, and we get to meet each other, and network. It's great.”
Candle maker and 30-year businessman, Andres Garcia, said he joined the Colectivo earlier in the week with hopes to expand his business from Holtville to the rest of the Valley.
“For me, I think it opens doors for everybody,” he said. “They sell their things for them here, we don't have to be present, and they're very good about it.”
Garcia said when Gold Canyon candles went out of business a year ago he was struggling, but now with his rebrand as Sunset Candles and a small arsenal of different candles, he hopes the Colectivo will help him expand by selling his wares in El Centro while he sells in Holtville in the “big orange building right across from the park.”
“That's why I joined this group too — they sell for me while I sell in Holtville — and it's probably easier for people to come here to El Centro,” he said.
Imperial resident Karla Canales has a story of faith and healing behind her “intentionally-made jewelry” at The Caring Shop.
She said her handmade jewelry is intentionally made to incite inspiration in others to not only survive but flourish in life, having herself survived breast cancer with what she deems as a miraculous healing.
For Canales, her faith in God pushes her to motivate others through the Gospel message, and each part and color on her jewelry has significance, especially the symbolism of an eagle.
"That moment of fear and doubt became my key moment of faith and hope,” she said in Spanish. “In that moment, I took my eagle pen and wrote how the eagle is a symbol of strength, struggle, and to remember to get up and fly after the storm."
“For me, my faith saved me. I couldn't sleep because of the pain or fear but I would get up, grab my Bible, and ask God what He was trying to teach me,” she said. “Now I ask God to take what I'm experiencing and transform it, make it a blessing to others.”
“The doctors say I have to wait to be sure, but I know I'm free from breast cancer now,” she said, “and it gives me more time with my children.”
Canales now also gives some life coaching lessons and motivational speaking. She conducted an event for the Colectivo on May 27, Jimenez said.
“I'm very grateful, and I want other women who had the same fear that I did that cancer doesn't have to be synonymous with death,” she said. “I'm healthy.”
Regardless of their reasons, each vendor said being part of the Colectivo was the right move for them.
Jimenez said the Colectivo holds an average of three events a month. During one of the first two weeks of a month the Colectivo sponsors an event, while two of the final weeks of the month a vendor sponsors an event of their choosing.
“We invite all of the people of the Imperial Valley to sell their products with us and participate with us, sell what you want, and welcome,” she said. “Don't be scared of the requirements, we can help you direct you on how to startup your business.”
To inquire about how to join the Imperial Valley Colectivo or about their upcoming events, call 442-283-5116 or follow their social media pages at Colectivo Facebook or @IVColectivo on Instagram.