FALL RIVER - Portugalia Marketplace started in a garage 35 years ago in Fall River. Now it's reaching a much larger audience, bringing products from Portugal to Massachusetts.
Portuguese is the third most spoken language in the state and, in Fall River, just about half of the city's residents are of Portuguese decent.
"Portugalia started in 1988 in a three-car garage in the back of our tenement home where we lived," Portugalia Vice President Michael Benevides told WBZ-TV.
Today, it's a central part of Fall River on Bedford Street.
"My father built a really solid base with his community and the goal here was to honor that base," Benevides said.
He was just 11 years-old when his father started in the business after immigrating from Portugal. In the last 10 years, the market has grown from 4,000 square feet to 20,000 square feet to reach a broader audience. The new space set in a renovated mill pays homage to Fall River's long history.
"If it weren't for the ethnic and Portuguese community that supported us over the course of that time, we would never have been able to make this leap." Benevides told WBZ.
Portugalia brings the community's favorites together all under one roof. Benevides was born in the Azores, a chain of islands far off Portugal, similar to Hawaii. One of the highlights in the market is the Portuguese tradition of bacalhau - dried and salted cod.
"The Portuguese have a massive love affair with salt cod," said Benevides. "It's a really big Christmas tradition. It's very common on Christmas Eve to eat salt cod, even Christmas Day."
"You have to soak it, change the waters on it, and then, at that point, you have what almost resembles a fresh fish," he added.
Then you pair it with wine. Portugalia is home to the largest selection of Portuguese wines in Massachusetts.
"Currently we have 1,400 actual facings of wine and it's broken down by the regions," said Benevides. "If you asked me what my favorite region is, I'm more partial to Douro Valley, it's Portugal's most acclaimed region."
Portugalia even has a gift shop filled with handcrafted products from Portugal. Some of what they sell, including Vista Alegre, is only available at select stores.
"Vista Alegre is the finest China brand in Portugal, in fact the finest luxury brand in Portugal," Benevides told WBZ.
The store also sells candles, furniture, shoes, handbags and more, including gifts from a small village that has a 200-year-old tradition of making pottery.
And they're ready for Christmas. Every year, an artist from Portugal comes to the marketplace to build a nativity scene by hand.
"It's not only a traditional nativity, but it also has a village scene depicting Azorean village life," Benevides said.
The Portuguese community has a tremendous amount of pride seeing how much Portugalia has grown.
"It's not just a market, it's a become like a cultural institution locally," he said. "We feel we're good examples of the American dream. Hard work, perseverance, and here we are 35 years later and hopefully we can go another 35."
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