FORT MILL -- Alfredo Arboleda meticulously lined each bottle of soap, shampoo and lotion in neat rows Wednesday morning. He wanted everything to be perfect when he and his son Juan Carlos open Arpe, their small health and beauty products shop, for business today.
The Arboledas are among dozens of local entrepreneurs opening shops at Plaza Fiesta, the Hispanic-themed mall off Carowinds Boulevard. Atlanta-based Capital City Developers has poured millions of dollars into the former Crossroads Mall over the past nine months, transforming the tired outlet mall into a colorful marketplace. A grand opening is slated for early next year, but operations director Roel Lopez said mall officials decided to open on weekends this month so tenants can showcase their wares to holiday shoppers.
"We want people to come out, look around and see what we've done," Lopez said.
Since March, Plaza Fiesta has undergone a $12 million renovation. Developers hope the once-downtrodden mall is now on the verge of becoming a vibrant international marketplace with traditional retailers such as Bass and VanHeusen mixing with scores of independent jewelry, clothing and gift shops.
Opportunity for entrepreneurs
Plaza Fiesta combines the sundries of an American flea market with the ambiance of a Latin American marketplace -- a perfect combination for folks such as the Arboledas.
"It's been good for us so far," Alfredo Arboleda said.
He said his son decided to open the small booth at Plaza Fiesta after working for years in a nearby distribution center. His business plan is to sell beauty care products commonly found in Mexico but rare in the United States. With booths designed to look like quaint store fronts renting for as little as $350 a month, Arboleda said it's a risk start-ups can afford to take.
"It's tough, economically, when you first start," he said. "But we have a chance to grow."
Pedro Zuaniga moved to the United States from Mexico 37 years ago for a job distributing fruits and vegetables in New Jersey. He moved South for the weather a few years ago, and now he's opening a candy shop in the Plaza Fiesta food court.
Zuaniga said he believes the mall will appeal to all cultures as it evolves. One of his specialties will be piñatas, a piece of traditional Mexican party fare now prevalent in American culture. Like the piñata, he believes a Hispanic marketplace will catch on with other cultures in the United States.
"It's something different," he said. "I think this plaza can attract any market."
Plaza offering taste for holidays
Lopez said the mall will be open to the public daily this month, though most stores will only open their gates Thursdays through Sundays. While restaurants, boasting menus from Ecuador, Mexico, Columbia, Italy and Greece, are still under construction, dozens of shops will cater to Christmas shoppers. Despite construction, longtime tenants VanHeusen and Bass are reporting an increase in sales this month compared to last December, Lopez said.
He hopes shoppers bored with traditional malls and shopping centers will stop by to inspect the cobblestone streets, second- and third-story balconies perched above shops and the decorative stone fountains.
"It's synonymous with Mexican, Central and South America to have a market square in the center of town," Lopez said. "But I've had people walk these aisles and tell me it reminds them of Italy, Europe or even New Orleans. The market square concept is multicultural."