BLVD Market eyeing City Heights

City Heights residents Javier Ortega and Krista Berry say the BLVD Market has acted as an incubator for their empanada business, Spanglish Eats.

City Heights residents Javier Ortega and Krista Berry say the BLVD Market has acted as an incubator for their empanada business, Spanglish Eats.

First they reclaimed an old strip mall on El Cajon Boulevard in North Park. Then young business owners expanded to Utah Street. Now organizers have their sights set on City Heights.

Since October, the BLVD Market has brought food vendors, music and residents to a strip mall parking lot on El Cajon Boulevard. The night market grew so popular it expanded onto adjacent Utah Street. Once nondescript, the commercial center — like much of the boulevard — has experienced a rebirth. An artisan butcher shop, juice bar and mattress store that doubles as an art gallery moved in.

“More and more people are coming out and bringing their neighbors just from blocks away,” said Beryl Forman, marketing director for the El Cajon Boulevard Business Improvement Association, which puts on the event. “We felt summertime was a great time to actually expand into the street.”

Forman said the city has approved permits to close Utah Street between El Cajon Boulevard and Howard Street every third Friday of the month through December. The Friday market features everything from Maine lobster to Mexican-style hot dogs to Neapolitan pizza.

Javier Ortega of City Heights has been selling empanadas – inspired by his childhood in Queens – at The BLVD Market since it began. Ortega said the market acted as an incubator for his business, Spanglish Eats, and now he is looking for a restaurant of his own.

“That is because of small market venues like the El Cajon Boulevard market, which is just wonderful for the small business owner because we don’t necessarily have all the opportunities or all the capital,” Ortega said.

He is looking for a space nearby, where other entrepreneurs have helped change the corridor’s reputation from dingy and crime-ridden to fresh and up-and-coming.

The boulevard’s business association plans to start a similar market down the road in City Heights in the coming year, Forman said. The Little Saigon district there has wanted a night market to showcase its Vietnamese-owned businesses.