Santurce POP, a space to test your retail shop.

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In the last decade, Puerto Rico’s entrepreneurial ecosystem has rapidly evolved. The year 2012 saw entrepreneurs from the Caribbean island become among the fastest growing firms in the United States. As  business owners seek retail and office spaces to house their ideas, the need for affordable work spaces has grown. Despite a plethora of empty office buildings and an expanding real estate market on the island, affordable retail space for new businesses is hard to come by. In 2015, entrepreneur Carla López de Azúa sought to close that gap, and provide a valuable incubation environment for the budding ecosystem of new merchants in Puerto Rico. That year, she opened the doors to Santurce POP, a collaborative design marketplace for small local businesses. 

“Retail space in Puerto Rico is very expensive,” López de Azúa explained in a recent interview with BĀSED, “so I think it’s a lot easier to find a [smaller] office space that accommodates your needs for a good price, versus finding retail space in highly populated, high traffic areas.” Her idea for Santurce POP is to create a “socially conscious community” of entrepreneurs. López de Azúa pointed to the need for greater equity in the entrepreneurial ecosystem with the question, “if there is affordable housing, why can’t there be affordable commercial space for you to start [your business]?” Based in the Santurce neighborhood of San Juan, Santurce POP offers just that: affordable, multi-purpose spaces for emerging, small-scale merchants and entrepreneurs seeking growth opportunities. The self-described “retail incubator” has served roughly 300 micro-enterprises since opening its doors in 2015.

Since then, Santurce POP has evolved into a set of multi-use spaces spanning across 10,000 square feet. The building includes a basement floor with offices and workshops, a ground floor with a salon, café, book store, and meeting rooms, and a third floor currently under renovation. Rental rates range from $60 a day for retail spaces, to between $250 and $550 a month for office space. Santurce POP also offers a monthly rate of $20 for co-working access. Over 45 small businesses that have received early-stage rentals from Santurce POP have gone on to successfully rent their own spaces. 

The company has also expanded to include more traditional leases in high traffic areas. Seven Santurce POP retail spaces are housed in the heart of Guaynabo’s popular San Patricio shopping mall, a location that López de Azúa explained receives over 30 million shoppers each year. “The traffic and the marketing from being there is exceptional, and it’s a great opportunity for us,” she said. Santurce POP also runs a monthly agricultural and artisan market at San Patricio, and a mural festival that features up and coming artists. These opportunities serve to encourage a thriving community of retailers and artisans who are fairly compensated for their efforts. “Our team’s biggest goal is for everybody to get paid well,” López de Azúa explained, “and we treat them as professionals, as we believe everyone should have the opportunity to be treated when they are starting their business.” 

López de Azúa’s passion for supporting micro-entrepreneurs ultimately manifests through POP’s socially conscious model. “That’s basically the point,” López de Azúa said, a sparkle in her eye, “for you to be able to try out your dream or try out any crazy idea you want, for the time that you think is appropriate.” [INSERT POST-COVID UPDATE]

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Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.

Thomas A. Edison

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