It is billed as the First Loíza St. Festival and if all works out, this “block party” planned for Aug. 4, a Sunday, along one of San Juan’s best-known roads, could well become a yearly event that benefits area businesses and entertains the masses.
The festival, whose organizers aim to raise the profile of a city street that has undergone an appreciable makeover in recent years while making room for trendy and modest businesses alike, especially food-related ones, will be a day-long affair.
“Our goal is to present everything the street has to offer…We hope to attract many visitors to the sector and give greater visibility to all the work that is being done on Loíza St.,” said Mariana Reyes, a member of a small group of area residents who nurtured the project and got it off the ground with the help of the municipality of San Juan.
The festival will kick off at high noon and extend through 10 p.m. with a three-block section to be closed off to traffic between San Jorge St. and Las Palmas St., opposite a Banco Popular branch office. Organizers said traffic on Loíza St. tends to be lighter on Sunday, which is why they chose that day so as to create the least amount of disruption.
While there is no way to predict how much public the activity will draw, Reyes is confident that at least 1,000 people will stop by during the day-long extravaganza combining commerce with culture.
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz is scheduled to officially announce the event at a press conference this Thursday.Prominent examples of urban decay on Loíza street are the two buildings on the left: one a two-story commercial structure that most recently housed an art gallery/frameshop and the other, in the background, a condominium abandoned in mid-construction more than a decade ago. (Credit: Lorraine Blasor)
Reyes credited the municipality’s Department of Culture and the Department of Public Works with providing considerable support, including $10,000 that will go toward paying for such expenses as the musical acts invited to perform. The city will also provide portable toilets and 10 kiosks, six of which will be run by community organizations, such as the San Juan Bay Estuary and the MAM Center (Women Helping Mothers). The other four will be run by area businesses.
Additionally, the municipality will have two garbage trucks on hand to dispose of all the litter and garbage generated during the event. One of the trucks will handle garbage and the other, recyclable materials.
To help in the recycling effort organizers have enlisted an organization called Zero Waste Puerto Rico to man 10 recycling stations along the street. That organization’s Jessica Seiglie said 20 volunteers working in two shifts at the stations will make sure recyclables don’t get mixed in with the regular garbage. Similar work by the group at events like the famed “Fiestas de San Sebastian” in Old San Juan has managed to divert a considerable amount of recyclable materials, she said.
Revival of popular festival
As it turns out, this is not the first time that a Loíza St. festival has been held, according to Reyes, a former El Nuevo Día newspaper writer who last November launched lacalleloiza.com, a website/blog devoted to Loíza St. and Santurce. More than a decade ago, she said, area businesses regularly sponsored a yearly festival but eventually the event fell by the wayside.
Although this time around the business sector was not actively involved in the planning of the festival, a situation Reyes hopes to rectify when the event is held again next year, its response to the activity has been favorable despite grumbling from a few who complained they had been kept in the dark about the event and only found out about it from flyers posted on posts along the street.
Loíza St. (PR37) extends all the way to Isla Verde Ave. but its core runs for about a mile and a half along the corridor straddling De Diego Ave. and Santa Teresita Church. It is home to many artists and sundry businesses spanning the high-end and low-end of commerce, many in the food sector.
Over the past decade the street fell into disrepair but in recent years it has begun attracting new investments that are revitalizing the area and giving it a more prosperous look despite persistent pockets of neglect and decay.
Businesses getting ready
In anticipation of the festival, some businesses are getting ready for the event and planning to invest in inventory.
One case in point is Kamoli, a colorful café and clothing store on Taft St., right in the heart of the area to be sealed off. Owner Karen Redondo said she plans to rent additional seating and tables in order to extend the cafe onto the street, stock up on food and drink, and hire security. Redondo would not say how much all this will cost but she sounded gung-ho about the event.Snuggled between Plan B and Caba, a wine store, is the entrance for what was once a small hotel. Ironically, just before being shuttered the hostelry underwent an extensive remodeling. (Credit: Lorraine Blasor)
“It’s something good that helps lift the area,” said the young entrepreneur who will soon expand into an adjacent space formerly taken up by Follaje Restaurant where an organic restaurant and juice bar will start operating in September.
Dilcia Castillo, who at age 70 recently made the plunge as entrepreneur, runs a small store on Diez de Andino St. called Nikitas where she sells colorful tote bags and offers tailoring services. She has now hired temporary help to assist her with the tailoring work while she sews more bags in time for the festival, she said.
Businesses that don’t regularly open on Sundays are making plans to open on the day of the festival. Fashion designer Pipo Pere is among them.
“I’m going to take advantage of the fact that I have a lot of pieces for clearance,” said Pere, whose small but popular design store has been in business for eight years. “I love Loíza St. You have everything here. This is turning into a Soho.”
Looking to please everyone
As a first-time production, the Loíza St. Festival aims to please everyone, young and old. There will be food, drink, live entertainment, and workshops on yoga, bomba dancing, and theater. For those curious about the street’s lore, there will be a walking tour headed by historian Lester Nurse Allende (leaves from Cinema Paradiso at 3 p.m.). Artist Abbey Charrón will host a walking tour for photography buffs (leaves from Casa Jefferson at 3:30 p.m.). Artists will paint murals and parents and volunteers will paint walls at Dr. Pedro G. Goyco School.
Musical groups in performance include: Chinchillos del Caribe, Juan Castillo and his band, Velcro and his group Lado Vé, and Viento de Agua, a “bomba” and “plena” band.
After months of hard work putting the festival together, all that is left to do is paperwork.
“It’s going to go well,” Reyes promised.
But what if there is bad weather? No rain date is set. “If it rains,” she said, “we’ll have to wait for next year.”