Humboldt Park pop-up shop promotes women entrepreneurs

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Marisa Diaz-Arce, left, and Brianna Ramirez-Smith run an all-women pop-up shop in Humboldt Park. | Photo courtesy of Angie Star Studios

A new monthly pop-up shop is promoting local women entrepreneurship while hoping it stalls gentrification in Humboldt Park.

Lolita’s Bodega — inspired by the flash retailing trend of Los Angeles — recruits women entrepreneurs from across the city to sell their products at Humboldt Park’s Boathouse Cafe, 1301 N. Humboldt Blvd., on the last Sunday of every month. The pop-up hosts about five vendors selling products like clothing, jewelry, paintings, hand-made candles and photography services.

The all-women cast of vendors don’t pay any fees. Instead, they are asked to leave a donation for continued Hurricane Maria relief efforts in Puerto Rico.

“We don’t charge because women get charged for everything. You know how expensive it is to be a woman?” said Marisa Diaz-Arce, one-half of Lolita’s Bodega. “As women, we always have to put ourselves to the side to support other people and we never get compensated for it, and we are saying no to that.”

Diaz-Arce, 34, and Brianna Ramirez-Smith, 35, both of Puerto Rican descent, said the bodega is a response for decades-worth of being told that women of color can’t do certain things.

“We’ve constantly been told what we are doing, or want to do, can’t be done or has been done and we’re so over that,” Diaz-Arce said. “We are just trying to support other people’s dreams and, in return, they are supporting ours.”

The name of the event is in honor of Lolita Lebron, a Puerto Rican nationalist advocating for socialist and feminist ideas. Historically a contentious figure, Lebron believed Puerto Rico should be free of colonial rule from the United States and led an attack on the U.S. House of Representatives in 1954.

Lebron served 25 years in prison for the assault that wounded five congressmen before being pardoned by President Jimmy Carter in 1979.

Diaz-Arce and Ramirez-Smith decided to name the event, and their newly founded production company, after Lebron because of her underlying belief of self-sufficiency. Diaz-Arce and Ramirez-Smith want the same for their native Humboldt Park.

“I want to be able to spend my money in the neighborhood I live in. We want to be able to patronize Division Street all the time, and not have to go to the South Loop, Wicker [Park] or Pilsen,” Ramirez-Smith said. “It’s about what can we bring here to build up the neighborhood, be somewhat inclusive, but also remain true to our roots.”

“This is the last neighborhood in the city that is truly Puerto Rican and if we don’t help promote it, help promote our businesses and come together, we are going to lose it,” Ramirez-Smith said.

Sabrina Alicea, a teacher by day, designs the Es La Maestra brand and sells it across the country. Her popular “Educated Latina” line is a statement on how a Latina woman’s education is not dependent on traditional education accomplishments.

Alicea, a Harvard graduate and also of Puerto Rican descent, created the brand while she was living in Los Angeles interviewing Latina women about their career paths. It started off as a short-term goal to raise money before she went to Harvard, but the demand was too high for her to stop selling.

“I was personally looking for something that was going to bring my product back into the Puerto Rican community here in Chicago and that is what Lolita’s Bodega has done,” said Alicea, now living in Chicago. “You get a lot of people who are coming in as repeat visitors. They come to hang out, and you get to know the people in the community.”

Vendors interested in selling their products at Lolita’s Bodega are asked to fill out a survey.

Manny Ramos is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.

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