1969: The Spanish Merchant's Association Founded

Ground-breaking ceremony, SMA

Image from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Originally established as a support group by and for Latino business owners, the Spanish Merchant’s Association (SMA) grew from a small local organization into a largely successful group that served and influenced the Spanish-speaking population of Philadelphia. The founding members of SMA also belonged to CONCILIO, the Council of Spanish Speaking Organizations of Philadelphia; CONCILIO served as the initial sponsor of the fledgling association, whose mission was to provide resources and advice to Latino businesses that often encountered economic and technical drawbacks within the business sphere. The founders had a range of experience, including legal and financial, that allowed them to offer their clients an equally vast range of services. SMA assisted their clients in maneuvering their tax returns, loan applications, and mortgages.

The SMA focused on individual Puerto Rican-owned businesses as well as the larger Latino business community of Philadelphia. In the mid-1970s, the Association sponsored a revitalization project of El Bloque de Oro, or the “Golden Block,” a commercial center that spanned North 5th Street. Prior to this revitalization project, El Bloque de Oro was at half-occupancy; after the work of the SMA, the area was packed full of businesses. The revitalization of El Bloque de Oro was only one of many successful projects spearheaded by the Spanish Merchants Association, and is considered a milestone amongst the achievements of the organization. Other projects included a housing rehabilitation program, a milk cooperative, and other community development initiatives.

The organization received a project grant from the U.S. Minority Business Development Agency in 1986, which allowed them to continue conducting and developing various programs. However, the resources afforded from this grant ran dry in 1988, and the Spanish Merchant’s Association of Philadelphia disbanded.

On the other hand, the efforts to assist Latino merchants and businesses did not end there, and already by 1990 the Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce was established as a not for profit organization. The organization is devoted to promoting the advancement and economic growth of Hispanic businesses and professionals in the greater Philadelphia region.

Written by McKenna Britton, a public historian living and learning in Philadelphia. 

See the Spanish version of this page here.

For more context on this event, see the Culture page.

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