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Puerto Rico Profile: Jaime Fonalledas

September 22, 2000
Copyright © 2000 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

Puerto Rico, with its almost four million U.S. citizens, is one of the most vibrant and exciting retail environments in the world. Puerto Ricans are avid consumers, making the island a major player in the nation’s economy.

Standing at the forefront of Puerto Rico’s thriving consumer culture is Plaza Las Americas, the premier shopping mall in the Caribbean and one of the top retail and entertainment venues in the world. Located in San Juan, Plaza Las Americas has been a major success story for decades. It has provided millions of customers with top brand names from major department and specialty stores, and its phenomenal sales record has attracted considerable attention in the U.S. and throughout the Americas.

Jaime Fonalledas is the third generation of his family to head Empresas Fonalledas, which owns Plaza Las Americas. He has long understood the buying power and tastes of Puerto Rican consumers. Over the years, he has responded to customer demand by almost continuously expanding and improving Plaza Las Americas, making Empresas Fonalledas one of the top locally-owned business concerns on the island.

Mr. Fonalledas is currently supervising a $246 million renovation of Plaza Las Americas that is reinventing the already legendary mall. The shopping center has routinely ranked among the top 1% of North American retailers in sales per-square-foot, but Fonalledas is aiming even higher. He has said that he expects the newly remodeled Plaza Las Americas, the centerpiece of which will be the first Macy’s department store outside the continental United States, to be "one of the most sophisticated and successful selling environments anywhere."

Jaime Fonalledas is a native of Puerto Rico and received his early education at Catholic schools in Hato Rey and Rio Piedras. He attended InterAmerican University in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, where he graduated Magna Cum Laude in Economics in 1966. He subsequently studied law at the University of Puerto Rico, and he was admitted to the Puerto Rico Bar in 1971.

Following in the footsteps of his father, uncle, and grandfather, Jaime Fonalledas joined and eventually rose to the presidency of the family business. Currently, the family holdings include Plaza Del Caribe, Plaza Las Americas’ sister mall in Ponce, Puerto Rico; as well as a dairy, juice drink and ice cream companies, and several real estate developments.

The jewel in the crown, however, remains Plaza Las Americas, which was originally developed in the late 1960’s. "Simply put," Caribbean Business has said, "the shopping center reigns supreme in the local retail industry."

The importance of Plaza Las Americas, however, reaches far beyond the local sphere, luring millions of visitors from Puerto Rico, the Caribbean, South America, the fifty United States, and Europe. The largest shopping center in the Caribbean, it has had 100% occupancy for two decades and in 1999 boasted a per-square-foot sales average of $700. "It is almost like an ambassador, representing something very powerful on the island," said Rebecca Macardini, former chair of the International Council of Shopping Centers.

The current renovations look to boost the sales performance and reputation of Plaza Las Americas to new heights. Opening October 2000, the 225,000 square-foot Macy’s department store will join Sears and JCPenney as one of the mall’s anchors.

Sears and JCPenney have formed the foundation of Plaza’s success for many years. Those department stores, according to Mr. Fonalledas, "came to Puerto Rico in the days when nobody else was doing it." Today, both the JCPenney and Sears stores at Plaza Las Americas are among the top-selling units in their respective chains. The new JCPenney store at Plaza is the worldwide chain’s largest store, and Sears has recently undergone significant improvements.

According to Fonalledas, Macy’s adds an element that the mall has never had before. "I think Macy’s will definitely bring in a new way of doing business in Puerto Rico," he said recently. "They will fill a gap out there that nobody is attending to … the merchandise mix will be very exciting and fashion-oriented."

Macy’s will also be the showcase of a new wing featuring some of the biggest brand names in American retail.

Border’s Books & Music led the way earlier this year when it opened its first Puerto Rican location at Plaza Las Americas. Of the more than 150,000 book, music, and video titles available, roughly 40% are in Spanish — an experiment for Border’s, which has never before had a bilingual store.

Coming soon will be a 13-screen movie theater, an Old Navy store, and a new restaurant and entertainment area. They will join top retailers like K-Mart, GAP, Banana Republic, and Armani Exchange.

The consistent growth and success of Plaza Las Americas demonstrates that Puerto Rico is at the forefront of the retail economy of the new millennium. Plaza Las Americas and Plaza Del Caribe have been called "North America’s retailing crossroads of the 21st Century." The same could be said of Puerto Rico.

"We have a great story, which is basically the sales performance at Plaza. But we have another great story, which is Puerto Rico," Fonalledas said. "The first thing we have to sell … is Puerto Rico, which is a very positive story of growth and opportunity."

Fonalledas takes his prominence among American retailers seriously, and he uses his position to tout the dynamism of the Puerto Rican market. He is not alone, however, in his efforts to raise the profile of Puerto Rico. The members of his immediate family have found their own ways to celebrate and represent the island.

His wife, the former Zoraida Ferraiuoli-Martinez, Esq., is the Republican National Committeewoman for Puerto Rico, and she was a Superdelegate to the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia. Of their four children, the oldest, Zoraida Isabel, is already a celebrity. Last November, she was crowned Miss Puerto Rico and represented the island in the Miss Universe competition in Cyprus.

In addition to his positions with the family enterprises, Mr. Fonalledas has served as a Director of Puerto Rico Telephone Company and the Government Development Bank. His has been named the Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce Businessman of the Year and, on several occasions, one of the Caribbean Business Top Business Leaders of Puerto Rico. He has also been honored by universities, professional associations, and the Roman Catholic Church.

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