Cantina La Campana can be a bit hard to find – and it’s by design.
The bar is tucked in the back of Mercado Weslaco. A customer has to walk a hallway of mini-stores featuring Mexican merchandise to reach the downtown cantina. Get a feel for the Mercado before getting to the bar in the back.
“It adds a mystique about our place,” said Steve Valdez, who owns La Campana and Mercado with his fiancée, Walkiria Alvarez. “The concept was to go all the way through to find the cantina. It’s kind of like discovering a speakeasy.”
The Mercado and the cantina with its plentiful inventory of Mexican-origin beverages is adding a new element to downtown Weslaco. The boost it’s providing is much needed. Weslaco along Expressway 83 between Westgate and Texas Boulevard is thriving with new retailing and restaurants. The stretch of Texas going into downtown isn’t regressing, but the core of Weslaco could use some upgrading.
The Mercado is trying to do its part in that regard. Its seven vendor shops and the Cantina feature a mix of Mexican products, clothing, jewelry, fabrics and ceramics.
“A taste of Mexico in the heart of historic downtown Weslaco,” says Mercado’s Facebook page.
It’s the flavor of another country, to be sure, but in the view of Valdez and his vendors, the Mercado and cantina are rooted in Weslaco.
“All of us are from Weslaco,” said Claudia Cruz, the owner of Querencia Coffee & Gourmet. “It’s like a community here. We help each other out.”
Valdez and Alvarez began in 2019 to renovate the downtown space on Texas where the Mercado and cantina sit. By spring 2020, the work was complete along with attracting the sort of Mexican-themed vendors the Mercado owners sought to bring to the space.
“We were just starting to get an energy for the project when everything got shut down,” said Valdez, who is also the executive director of the Weslaco Economic Development Corporation.
He was speaking of the spring 2020 months which led to the temporary closure of many businesses. It would take several months before the Mercado and cantina were fully functioning again. The community responded positively when all the shops reopened.
“Everything turned out as we hoped,” Valdez said. “We became a place to shop and gather.”
Finding A Fit
Cruz had taken her Mexican and Latin American-flavored coffees, chocolates and moles to area farmers markets and pop-up spots to highlight her merchandise.
She needed a fixed location. The Weslaco Mercado turned out to be a perfect fit. Cruz is still getting her footing as a young entrepreneur. The Mercado gives her the venue to gain experience and try new approaches to make her business successful.
“It’s attractive to be part of a bigger concept,” Cruz said. “The rent is reasonable and Steve and Walkiria are so supportive. I’m getting a feel of what it’s like to be a business owner without risking too much.”
Her business is located next door to the cantina, a place Cruz praised for being a “safe, nice environment that’s also classy.”
It’s the sort of feel and vibe Valdez hopes the Mercado and cantina are bringing to Weslaco.
“We get a really nice class of people here,” said of La Campana, which he said is beginning to attract area customers in addition to its south Weslaco-based following. “I hear people saying that Weslaco is getting to the point where you don’t have to leave town to find a place to hang out.”
La Campana will do quite nicely to fill that need.