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2 stores, coworking area open at El Yunque National Forest

Nonprofit organization Vitrina Solidaria and El Yunque National Forest recently announced the opening of two stores with products from local entrepreneurs and a coworking area that seeks to promote collaboration and sustainability principles.

Vitrina Solidaria Executive Director Raquel Skerrett-Escalera said the coworking area, called La Sede Solidaria, is located at the El Portal de El Yunque visitors’ center and is available to the public through a membership service.

Meanwhile, the Yocahú and Coca Shack stores are located near their respective namesake attractions in the forest and will feature products made by local entrepreneurs who have participated in the organization’s training programs and share the philosophy of “a solidary economy.”

“The Sede Solidaria and the Yocahú and Coca Shack stores are two important socioeconomic development projects for the eastern region that will allow us to expand the possibilities of continuing the economic movement that we have been generating for some years through business training with the El Yunque Emprende Accelerator and the retraining of La Y at El Yunque,” Skerrett-Escalera said.

El Yunque National Forest Supervisor Keenan Adams explained that these three projects are possible thanks to the U.S. Forest Service public policy, that since 2016 has established agreements of understanding with organizations such as Vitrina Solidaria.

This is to promote the empowerment of communities, co-management in the conservation of natural resources, the promotion of tourism, and economic activity in the region consisting of municipalities that are located near El Yunque.

Adams further noted that, as support for these initiatives, the deputy chief of the USFS National Forest System, Chris French, and the USFS Southeast Region Regional Forester Ken Arney, were present at the inauguration.

“Vitrina Solidaria has been an important collaborator in helping us empower our adjacent communities by developing small businesses at El Yunque,” Adams said. “Small businesses are the backbone of a prosperous and decentralized visitor economy. The Forest Service started with a $300,000 agreement, and Vitrina Solidaria has turned it into a $5.5 million program at the El Yunque region.”

“They now have a coworking space and two stores that will provide a great opportunity for some of their micro-enterprises while contributing to the sustainability of the program in the future,” he said.

La Sede Solidaria
Skerrett-Escalera said La Sede Solidaria is a Vitrina Solidaria organizational and business development project aimed at promoting a healthy local economy at the El Yunque region. This project is a workspace and meeting place for organizations, startups, entrepreneurs, professionals and members of the community who share and promote learning initiatives. In addition, it promotes the development of initiatives related to the protection and conservation of El Yunque.

She said that as part of the La Sede Solidaria experience, technical support in business development with these objectives is offered, as well as access to a virtual library and training workshops.

The location has modern facilities in the heart of the forest, 17 workstations, six conference and meeting rooms, and a shared kitchen space. Its location at the El Portal de El Yunque Visitors Center offers members the opportunity to have a complete educational experience of El Portal, including guidance, educational exhibitions, access to guided paths and the chance to taste the cuisine at the El Portal Rainforest Cafe restaurant.  

To use La Sede Solidaria, interested individuals or organizations must apply for one of five membership categories from Vitrina Solidaria: Tabonuco, Palo Colorado, Laurel, Palma de Sierra or Jagüey. Each membership category offers specific benefits.

In addition, as part of a commitment to entrepreneurs in the area and active participants in the financial training programs funded by the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds from the Housing Department, they can use this investment-free space through the Roble membership. So far, 49 participants participating in these programs have benefited from the services offered by La Sede Solidaria, Skerrett-Escalera noted.

The hours of operation for La Sede Solidaria are Monday through Friday, from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and reservations are required.

“We hope that La Sede Solidaria is a space where people can work and connect with nature at the same time, and enjoy the natural resources that El Yunque offers us,” the executive director added. “It is a unique place in Puerto Rico to have an experience like this.”

Yocahú Store and La Coca Shack
The stores will offer a variety of merchandise in line with the sustainability principles promoted in this natural space, developed mostly by local entrepreneurs. The organization selects entrepreneurs through three levels of priority: those who are or have participated in Vitrina’s business training programs, individuals residing in the eastern region who meet the entity’s requirements but are not part of the program, and entrepreneurs from other parts of Puerto Rico.

Visitors can purchase a variety of products, including reusable bottles and bags, sunscreen, shirts and products with tropical forest themes, and handmade soaps, among others.

Skerrett-Escalera also noted that initially, the stores will create four direct and eight indirect jobs, occupied by entrepreneurs from the eastern region who have the opportunity to sell three to five different products.

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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.

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