Hemispheres

In the Market

June 2011

Valencia, Spain –As the morning sun shines through the stained glass windows of Valencia’s vast indoor Central Market, vendors push carts brimming with apples and oranges in anticipation of a busy shopping day. To the right of the entrance stands thirtysomething Antonio Catalán Gómez, the man behind the market’s most popular spice stall, Purificación Gómez Molina. Always cheerful, even as tears stream down his cheeks thanks to the frigid air from nearby refrigerated fish stalls, Gómez greets customers as they peruse the groomed mounds of paprika and jars of cinnamon and saffron.

His grandfather started the business when the market opened in 1928, and it hasn’t closed a day since. “My father took over the stall in 1970, and I started working here after his death, several years ago, to help my mother,” he says. “Everyone knows us because we buy the best-quality spices and we’ve been around for so long.”

Growing up, he would help his father stock shelves on Saturday mornings. Then, the market was dark and dingy—soot covered the stained glass and “sun never came through the windows,” he says. “It was pretty bad until recently,” when the city renovated the market five years ago. Nowadays, the space’s visual aesthetic is more cathedral than market, with frescos of Valencia oranges painted on trusses and a sparkling dome at its center. “It is so beautiful now,” he says. “I love being able to see the sun during the day.”

A balding man walks up to the stall carrying three baguettes. He smiles, exchanges pleasantries and leaves with four containers of paprika. “He’s one of my regulars,” Catalán Gómez says. “I have a close relationship with my customers—they are family. I plan to keep this business going for a long, long time.”

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Katie Morell specializes in feature writing, breaking news and corporate communications.