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MPR’s Dan Olson reports on a Minneapolis intersection once known for crime geting a big lift with the opening of a mercado, or marketplace. The city's burgeoning Spanish-speaking population is one of the factor's behind the creation of the business. Residents are welcoming the unusual development as the latest sign of economic revival on Lake Street.


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SPEAKER 1: Juan Linares says Mercados are institutions in cities like San Antonio, where people flock to the markets to shop, eat, and catch up on the latest neighborhood gossip.

SPEAKER 2: The Mercados are the center of reunion, where we go and shop for all kinds of basic needs, or food, and we get to chat with our friend, the butcher, or the guy who sells bread or tortillas.

SPEAKER 1: Linares works for the Interfaith Religious Organization, a coalition of 30 churches. He says the marketplace at the intersection of Bloomington Avenue and Lake Street in South Minneapolis is the result of a survey of Spanish-speaking church members in the area. Many want to start businesses, but don't have enough money. So they're forming a cooperative.

The businesses at the indoor Mercado open in November, but shoppers won't come if they think the intersection of Bloomington and Lake is dangerous. Scott Hawkins, Director of the Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association, says, "Four years ago, crime was a big problem. Drug dealers lurked in the doorways of vacant storefronts. Prostitutes and their customers cruised the neighborhood." Hawkins says, "Crime fighting by neighbors and police has changed the atmosphere."

SPEAKER 3: We have closed the adult saunas in the area. We have closed the problem bars in the area. Curlies, which used to be a notorious place at 3:00 in the morning to buy women, or drugs, or stolen goods, is owned by an owner that is dedicating his blood, sweat, and money into the area, and kicked them all out, and is not a place to hang out anymore.

SPEAKER 1: Even so, neighborhoods live with outsider's perceptions long after problems have been addressed. Project for Pride and Living, the nonprofit developer, is one of the Mercado's financial backers. Executive Director, Steve Kramer, says, "The signs of renewal along Lake Street are unmistakable, and will eventually erase its image in some people's minds as a neighborhood to be avoided."

SPEAKER 4: One could have made probably the exact same observation about Grand Avenue in Saint Paul, 20 or 25 years ago. And now, it's one of the most vibrant parts of that city. And I think, Lake street, while I wouldn't project exactly that future, is headed in that direction, with the redevelopment of the Sears site, we hope, with what's going on at the Fourth and Lake node, with the plans for Bloomington and Lake.

SPEAKER 1: Right now, imagination is needed to visualize the marketplace because the space is a set of buildings in various states of disrepair. The walls between the buildings will be torn down, creating a mall-like environment for the 38 Latino-owned shops. The second floor includes space for offices. Whittier Neighborhood Development Corporation spokesman, John Flores, says, "Some of the new business owners need help making contacts to get started."

SPEAKER 5: One of the businesses that needs the largest amount to open a bakery has secured a loan from a local bank through our introduction. But that introduction is necessary to both explain how business culture works here, and to put people together that can make the business work.

SPEAKER 1: Lisa Kugler, the developer organizing the Mercado, is betting shoppers will appear when the doors open in November. By one estimate, the South Minneapolis Spanish-speaking population is doubling every five years. And Kugler says, the Mercado will have another customer base. A third of the 10,000 employees at nearby Honeywell and Abbott Northwestern Hospital go by the marketplace every day.

SPEAKER 6: Those are really the three markets we're looking at, a very local community market, the huge amount of employees who are here, and then the general Twin Cities. I mean, I think, 50,000 people go to Cinco de Mayo. So there's an indication of interest.

SPEAKER 1: The $1.7 million marketplace for Spanish-speaking businesses at Bloomington and Lake in South Minneapolis is an unconventional enterprise. Nearly a dozen sources, foundations, neighborhoods, the federal government, and the city, are backing the cooperative. If the Mercado survives, it will be a major achievement for neighborhood groups, and a landmark development for Minneapolis's Spanish-speaking population. Dan Olson, Minnesota Public Radio.


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