Three months after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, Matilsha Marxuach could finally turn on the lights in her San Juan shop.
The Caribbean island was still slowly recovering from the onslaught of two Category 5 hurricanes — Irma and Maria — that struck the region. Although the storms hit in August and September 2017, it took until December for power to return to Marxuach’s retail store. While the entrepreneur waited to reopen her store, Marxuach saw firsthand the impact of losing electricity. San Juan became “ghost town-like,” she says. “You don’t know, until something like this happens.”
Located in the heart of Old San Juan, Marxuach’s company Concalma is the result of her passion for design and ethical manufacturing. Concalma offers a variety of sustainably created tote bags and clutches made by artisans at a women-owned factory in Puerto Rico’s mountainous region of Utuado. But without power, her San Juan retail store went dark, and she says her online shop became a “lifeline” for the brand. When electricity finally returned in December, Marxuach reopened her store as a community space for anyone who needed a place to work or connect.
“I thought ‘well, what we can do right now since people still don't have Wi-Fi or electricity in many places, we [can] open a space where we put a table for people that can come and work there,” she says. “Whether it’s to use the Wi-Fi or maybe even the designers that sell at Concalma [can] have a little workshop space.”
But she still worries the power might go out again at any moment.
“The government’s really not telling what the plan is,” says Marxuach. “It’s a big gigantic mess.”
When separated into two Spanish words, Concalma translates to the phrase “with a sense of calm.” But after Hurricane Maria, Marxuach changed the logo on the brand’s website to switch between the words “concalma” and “ConPrisa.” The latter is a new coinage: a combination of Spanish words that means “with urgency.” A blue banner on the site currently reads: “We’ve been hit very hard by Hurricane Maria. We need the support of our fans urgently!”
Despite the need for assistance in San Juan, help has not arrived “with urgency.” The Federal Emergency Management Agency has even announced that food and water aid for Puerto Rico will end on Wednesday, January 31. And in early January, Time magazine reported that only around 60% of customers in the U.S. territory have regained power so far, and crime has skyrocketed. Recently, a video went viral that showed students running and cheering in a school’s hallways when they realized that electricity had returned — more than 100 days after Hurricane Maria hit.