Two of the most unlikely people teamed up to open one of the most unlikely businesses, in the most unlikely of places… and now they've been here almost TEN years!!! In 2005, Tom Bate of New Orleans, USA and Dianne Heidke of Brisbane, Australia opened ‘The Zapadora’, a unique design and arts center in the heart of Chiriqui, Panama focused on helping people create their own amazing spaces using antique architecturals, exotic furnishings, lighting, ironwork and handicrafts from all around the world.
Zapadora, an old Spanish word that roughly translates as pioneer, (usually a female pioneer), is the center of this unique enterprise. “You can’t imagine how many people said it would fail ‘ said Bate. ‘Who is going to drive all the way out to Potrerillos?, they said’. Luckily many people have made the trip out to see what they are doing out here.
It didn’t start out so smoothly however. Finding the right place and atmosphere for such a venture was long and hard. “We had been out driving all over Chiriqui for months ,’ says Heidke, ‘We looked at tons of properties and nothing seemed right. Boquete was too small and crowded and there were no large spaces there anyway that weren't subject to family battles. We initially wanted to build our own place but we just couldn’t find the right property. We kept going past this old, ugly building in Potrerillos, and Tom suggested we go in and have a look. The exterior was so bad that even I was very reluctant. “I said no, I’m brave, but not that brave. But this is just one of those stories, once I was in there, it was love and I knew that this was THE place.”
The home of The Zapadora was once a supermarket , entertainment center (with a complete working cinema) and gas station for the workers of the Citricos , a large orange growing and processing Company operating in Potrerillos. During his reign, Noriega took over the building and used it for his own private pursuits. After his ouster, the Citricos Cooperativa used the building for community purposes but the building languished and fell into disrepair. When Bate and Heidke took over the building, it had been abandoned for almost 12 years.
Now renovated, The Zapadora is selling antique doors, shuttered windows, iron grills and lamps both old and new. The doors and windows are approximately the same age as most of the buildings in Casco Viejo. They range from the 1920's to the middle of the 19th century. Some of the doors are over 15 feet high, and range in style from French , Islamic, Colonial, Deco, Continental, and more. The Zapadora also carries Mother of Pearl and Arabesque furniture. It seems that thinking “out side of the box has really paid off as The Zapadora has sold to projects such as Valle Escondido, Cielo Paraiso , Las Molinas, Panamonte Estates and more in Boquete.The Zapadora has now attracted a wider audience and counts among its clients, designers and architects in Casco Viejo, Coronado and El Valle. But The Zapadora plans don’t stop at renovating and rejuvenating Panama through imports. Recently a whole new section opened up, and now The Zapadora is offering an amazing array of great pieces on consignment. Not only selling per-loved treasures, but offering a space for everyone to showcase their own heirlooms or collections too.
Turning the Zapadora building into a functioning space has been a full time labor of love, requiring a grand vision and total commitment. But ultimately, The real Zapadora vision is to provide an unparalleled Arts and Design Center which gives everyone the ability to add WOW factor to their own dream projects, here in Panama. At the end of the day, the real showcase is each clients own amazing space. We are thrilled to be part of that exciting quest.
Viva Panama!! Viva La Zapadora!!