A Welcome Exchange: Midtown Global Market Opens Amid Fanfare and High Hopes

The tower watched over the festivities, amid clear skies and bright sunshine.  Photo courtesy of African Development Center.

The tower watched over the festivities, amid clear skies and bright sunshine.  Photo courtesy of African Development Center.

As any cook will tell you, the secret to a great recipe is finding just the right ingredients, combining them with a deft hand, and presenting the results with a little panache.  Judging by the reaction of the 10,000+ people who gathered at last Saturday’s grand opening, the chefs responsible for putting together the Midtown Global Market have hit upon a keeper. 

Thousands of people gathered to celebrate the opening of the Global Market.  Photo courtesy of Ryan Companies.

Thousands of people gathered to celebrate the opening of the Global Market.  Photo courtesy of Ryan Companies.

The Global Market is at the heart of the new Midtown Exchange, and presents the most public face of the $190 million restoration of the former Sears tower. Its very existence belies the old maxim that too many cooks will spoil the broth.  The Market is the product of a sustained joint effort by many organizations, including the Neighborhood Development Center, the Latino Economic Development Center, the African Development Center, and Powderhorn Phillips Cultural Wellness Center.  

 

Its list of funders is similarly encyclopedic, and reads as a “how-to” manual on ways to leverage public and private financing tools to achieve community development.  The Market’s budget includes everything from corporate and philanthropic contributions, to federal Empowerment Zone funding, to tax credit financing.  Underlying that direct funding is the commitment of substantial public dollars and the bedrock corporate investment in the Midtown Exchange project by companies such as Allina and Ryan Companies.  

A Ceremonial Beginning

But Saturday’s crowd had little interest in the technical details of the Market’s financial architecture, because they were too busy reveling in the pageantry of the opening ceremony, the culinary richness of the Market’s offerings, and the joyous, hopeful spirit that infused the entire event.  Conceived by the In the Heart of the Beast Puppet Theater (HOBT) and its artistic director, Sandra Spieler, the grand opening took place outside the doors of the Midtown Exchange, at the foot of its gleaming, refurbished main tower. 

The ceremony began with a blessing by Lakota elder James Clairmont.  The formal speeches then began but were quickly interrupted by a staged insurrection, as the HOBT players ran through a series of backdrops and humorous montages that paid homage to the site’s multi-storied past.  The first of these backdrops, labeled “Once a Forest,” reminded the crowd that the site’s history long predated the 1928 construction of its famous landmark.  Quickly chopped down by “the explorer,” that backdrop was replaced with a scene of small shops and homes reminiscent of a 19th century Chicago-Lake intersection.  Ms. Ole appeared with her tray of sweet rolls in a nod to the European immigrants who began the neighborhood’s tradition of small entrepreneurship that continues to this day, albeit with merchants who now hail from many different corners of the world.

In the next vignette, a developer appeared with a word balloon reading, “Sears!  A Good Idea!”  Frenetic shoppers swarmed the stage, cheered on by a “money man” who rapidly deflated when the shoppers suddenly disappeared.  Two ominous figures took the stage and spray-painted the Sears Tower backdrop, signaling the beginning of the building’s long decay, and prompting boos from the audience.

The collected dignitaries then began their speeches in earnest, and as each took the podium, the HOBT players unfurled long, yellow strips of cloth filled with written intentions collected from the project’s major partners.  “We held up the banners so that everyone could read these beautiful wishes that each partner has for the Market,” says Sandra Spieler. “They said things like Prosperity for the Local Community; Opportunities for Immigrants and Entrepreneurs of Color; Housing Options for ALL Income Levels; Fresh Local Food; and Health, Vitality, Prosperity, for Midtown.”

The HOBT artists tied all the ribbons into two long streamers and representatives from all the development partners carried them to the doors.  “Our intent was to create a ribbon tying, rather than a ribbon cutting, to reflect how all the partners are bound together,” explains Spieler.

Finally, the audience formed lines stretching to the door, and together pulled the ribbons until the doors opened.  As music played, a parade of drummers and giant “Market Angel” puppets emerged, followed by a grand welcoming committee of people carrying flags and market vendors bearing representative trays of their wares.  “They welcomed the partners and community members inside,” says Spieler, “and so the exchange began.”

Open For Business

The Market’s manager, Patricia Brown, describes the opening as a huge success, and said that its ceremonial aspects seemed to resonate deeply with the community of people who gathered.  “After the opening ceremony, we threw open all the doors to the market, and at every entrance, it seemed, a thousand or more people were waiting,” says Brown.  “The crowds streamed in from every side, packing the market.  Everything went smoothly and without any major hitches, and the public seemed incredibly energized and excited by the experience.”

As of Saturday’s opening, the Market had filled approximately 40 of its 60 available spots with vendors offering a dizzying array of prepared ethnic foods, fresh flowers, produce, seafood, and crafts.   Occupants include large anchors such as Holyland Deli; a number of mid-sized, established businesses such as Manny’s Tortas and Mapp’s Coffee and Tea; true start-ups like Starlight Café and Café Finspang; and a number of “day tables” featuring jewelry and locally-produced products. Brown says that the Market seeks to fill the remaining space with a larger sit-down restaurant and bar, unique crafts, a specialty Indian grocery, and possibly a cooking store.

Faduma Hashi opened Starlight Cafe, her first store, inside theMidtown Global Market, marking a dream come true for this experiencedcaterer and mother of eight. Faduma recently received an African Development Center Achievement Award.  Photo courtesy of African Development Center.

Faduma Hashi opened Starlight Cafe, her first store, inside theMidtown Global Market, marking a dream come true for this experiencedcaterer and mother of eight. Faduma recently received an African Development Center Achievement Award.  Photo courtesy of African Development Center.

The “soft” opening three weeks earlier undoubtedly helped the Market work out any start-up kinks.  During that pre-opening period, many of the thousands of nearby Allina and Abbott Northwestern employees discovered a favorite new lunch spot, and many vendors saw a brisk lunch business rapidly develop.  “Our lunch crowds have been strong from the start,” agrees Brown, “and have been building every week.”  Over the coming weeks, the Market will work to draw the additional evening and weekend traffic that is essential to its long-term success.  Consistent with its community-minded mission, the Global Market will sponsor an outdoor farmer’s market on Thursdays later this summer, and on Saturday mornings will host family-oriented, hands-on events presented by local art groups and others.

Yildiz and Erdoan Akguk, proprietors of Mapps Coffee and Teas, opened a second location in the Midtown Global Market. The original Mapps at Cedar-Riverside is apopular neighborhood hangout.  Photo courtesy ofAfrican Development Center.

Yildiz and Erdoan Akguk, proprietors of Mapps Coffee and Teas, opened a second location in the Midtown Global Market. The original Mapps at Cedar-Riverside is apopular neighborhood hangout.  Photo courtesy ofAfrican Development Center.

Manny Gonzales with the crew of Manny's Tortas in the Midtown Global Market. This is the third Manny's location on Lake Street.  Photo courtesy of African Development Center.

Manny Gonzales with the crew of Manny's Tortas in the Midtown Global Market. This is the third Manny's location on Lake Street.  Photo courtesy of African Development Center.

For years, Midtown has witnessed its share of challenges, and the vacant Sears Tower has been one of its most visible symbols of neglect.  But throughout those difficult times, the neighborhood’s many diverse residents persevered, investing their sweat equity and cold cash, staying open for business against formidable odds, and standing firm against the onslaught of crime.  Now, with the additional community, corporate, and public resources that have converged in the neighborhood over the last decade, Midtown is poised for a true renaissance.  And at its heart still stands that once-abandoned tower, with its vibrant new public market that draws from the community’s many strengths and has the potential to return them tenfold, in a most welcome exchange.

The Midtown Global Market is open for business from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., seven days a week, at the Midtown Exchange, 920 East Lake Street in Minneapolis.