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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Despite low turnout for artisan fair, hope is not lost

Janieliz Munet O’farill is a 9-year-old artisan who has been making soaps for two years. (Richard Gutiérrez/ The San Juan Daily Star)

By Richard Gutiérrez

Being an artisan in Puerto Rico is challenging. Many people don’t support local businesses because bigger companies sell similar things at a cheaper price. For artisans to make a profit, their products must be a little more expensive than what people can find at a Walmart or Sam’s Club. Therefore, customers tend to lean more toward buying from larger outlets.

Finding a space to sell their products is also a challenge for island artisans. Some events charge more for a vendor space than what they make in a day, which is why some artisans don’t go to some of the events.

To help alleviate the situation, the Municipality of Caguas opens a space every month in the central marketplace where artisans can set up a stand free of charge. However, while this all may sound like tremendous news for artisans, shopper flow at the events isn’t always especially strong.

“Summer is a difficult time because people are usually on vacation,” said Roberto Delgado, operations manager at agroinnova Caguas, the organization responsible for the event. “We don’t hold the fair in July, though.”

“While the Caguas municipality does provide the space for artisans, they aren’t responsible for the event per se,” he noted, adding that agroinnova hosts the event and each artisan is responsible for promoting their own business on their respective social media pages.

Comments regarding the lack of people showing up for artisan fairs are very broad.

“Sometimes many people come, but today the flow of the event is quite slow,” Evelyn Pérez Pérez, a jewelry maker, told the STAR. “I think the problem is mainly the time of the event. The event is merely three hours long, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.; this is rather short, and the mayor of Caguas should help us out with this a little by caring for the marketplace a little more -- this place does need some remodeling.”

“More promotion would also be nice so that more people know about the event,” she added.

Some artisans pointed out a part of the marketplace that was closed because of some damage that didn’t allow space for more artisan stalls, making the event smaller in a sense.

Regardless of the struggles artisans face, when it comes to their craft, hope is not lost. Many artisans were set up at the fair, and one who stood out, to the surprise of many, won’t be old enough to drive anytime soon. Janieliz Munet O’farill is a 9-year-old artisan who’s been making soaps for two years straight.

“Everything has been made with glycerin, I melt the glycerin, then I put it in the mold,” she told the STAR. “Ever since I saw my aunty do it I was very passionate about it and she taught me how to do it.”

The little girl’s grandmother, Luisa Angelica O’farril, was also at the event and added that “Janieliz was always very close to her aunt; bonding with her is what made her get into soap making in the first place.”

“She’s been doing it for over a year and the only thing I do to help her is cut up the glycerin, because everything else she does on her own very diligently, all in spite of how difficult it is to be an artisan -- promoting your product while standing here for a long period of time,” the young artisan’s grandmother said.

While most children would rather play video games or with Barbie dolls, young Janieliz is making a business of her own. As long as people like her keep working hard, the future for artisans looks bright.

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