Jamaica Plain

Painting the town positive
By Diana Schoberg

Tropical Market owner Rafael Benzan works inside his store at 280 Centre St.

Every customer knows Rafael Benzan.

“Thanks, Rafa!” one man said as he waved an avocado in the air and threw a dollar bill down on the counter.

At 12:30 p.m., a constant stream of customers fills Benzan’s Tropical Market, which has been a Jamaica Plain fixture for 17 years at its current
location down the street from the Jackson Square T stop.

“When we moved in here, it was what many would be considered to be on the downside,” he says from the store’s small office, as his wife gives him a break from working the cash register. “A lot of robberies and a lot of drugs in the area, people moving in and out of the neighborhood.”

But he and his neighbors have worked hard since then to clean up the community. “Everybody’s pitching in for that, all the businesses and residents as well,” he says. “We work all these years by forming neighborhood crime watch and working with the community.” Crime has slightly increased recently, he says, but he puts much of the blame on the economy.

Benzan uses murals on the walls of his store to pitch his positive message. “From messages, you learn, whether they are positive or negative, you learn from them,” he says. “But of course you know I’d be one to push for the positive one.”

Rafael Benzan and his daughter are featured in one of the murals on the Tropical Market building.

One mural shows Benzan and his daughter. That design was not his request, but the artists decided they wanted to put him in the picture.

Benzan had more say in the mural on the other side of the building, painted last summer. The artist, a student who has since moved out of the area, showed Benzan some ideas, but he and his wife didn’t like that the designs showed some fight scenes. He asked the artist to go back and work on something that would be more positive for the community and all the kids around. They ended up with a graffiti-style mural showing a rapper telling kids to stay in school.

Benzan believes the images on his building should teach positive lessons.

“You must learn,” the mural says across the center.

“By having something positive on both sides of the building, I definitely think that’s something that helps the image of the business,” Benzan says. “Little kids see that, we all know that they learn from what they see and what they hear around them.”


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