Cuenca’s refurbished Ninth of October mercado reopons today after months of construction delays. Over the weekend dozens of vendors who had been relegated to the streets during the 18-month project, set up shop in the three level building at Calles Lamar and Cueva. The market building anchors a two-block market district that features everything from food, to clothing, to crafts and household goods.

The Ninth of October is Cuenca’s second largest market; the 5-acre Feira Libre on Av. Las Americas is the largest.

The new facility includes underground parking, a feature which vendors hope will improve market traffic. “This is absolutely fabulous,” said fruit seller Carmen Rodriguez, after she made a quick tour of the new digs. “It is the nicest market in the city and it will bring in many more people.”  

Rodrigez is one of 277 vendors whose position in the new facility was determined by modified lottery. Seniority and physical handicaps of vendors also factored into stall assignments. Although there was some grumbling about assignments, most vendors thought the improvements outweighed the downside of luck-fo-the-draw positioning. “Most of us are happy,” Rodriguez said.

The renovated market is divided into three levels. The first includes parking and milk, meat and fish vendors.  The second features vegetable and fruit sales while the third is a large food court.

Delays and design issues have sparked criticism from some vendors about the $3 million dollar project, Cuenca’s most expensive ever. Meat vendors complained that they were not as visible as they were in the old one-level layout. Others worried that exhuast fumes from the parking garage would be noticeable in the sales areas. Project managers responded by making a number of design changes, including upgrading the garage ventilation system.

Project coordinator Jorge Maldonado says that more changes are inevitable once all vendors are in place and he has a chance to access operations. “This is a work in progress and we will make alterations once we are able to evaluate the day-to-day functioning of the market.”

Among the many upgrades to the market is improved security, with the installation of video cameras on all levels of the market. The 120-vehicle parking lot will be managed by the Cuenca municipal parking authority.

Work continues on other parts of the market area and many outdoor vendors will not relocate for several months, when work is complete.

Photo captions: The refurbished Ninth of October market from the Calle Lamar plaza; vendors were still moving in Monday morning, Jan. 26, the first day of operations in the new facility.