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Mercado Central Local Journalism Project

Mercado Central is a thriving Latino marketplace in Minneapolis with 38 Latino small businesses. Most are family-owned.

The Mercado opened in 1999 with 43 businesses, but the Mercado Central story started in 1991 when organizing began in the Latino community, and Latino immigrants joined forces with a faith-based group and community organizations to build a traditional marketplace in their Southwest Minneapolis neighborhood.

These partners all arrived with different motivations. Their interests merged into a common vision when they realized the best way to create the neighborhood everyone wanted was to look among local people for the individual gifts and talents that could form its foundation. They used asset-based community development (ABCD) and community talent inventory (CTI) to fulfill community goals.

Mercado Central grew out of a Latino community’s need in South Minneapolis to reconnect with their culture. With the support of many community partners, the Mercado Central cooperative association was born, and they established a venue serving as the center of the Latino community. The Mercado Central is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2024 and remains a gathering place for commerce, community, and culture.

“The whole idea was creating jobs,” said Juan Linares, one of the Mercado Central founders, when I met him at the Mercado in February. “Now these folks are employing people. We were not only successful in teaching how to fish. We taught them how to buy the pond.”

Linares still serves as an advisor for community-based development in Minneapolis, and the Mercado continues teaching a new generation “how to buy the pond.”

To honor and celebrate Mercado Central, the Strong Mind Strong Body Foundation, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit youth and community development organization (where I am executive director), is leading the Mercado Central Local Journalism Project with the Southwest Connector, a local newspaper in Minneapolis.

We will explore the past, present, and future of Mercado Central, the Mercado Central cooperative, and how community-based development can benefit entrepreneurs, local workers, and more communities in Minneapolis and around the United States — especially communities with immigrant populations.

We are making a documentary and will have additional multimedia stories and community engagement events. We are looking for more project partners. Let us know if you would like to be part of this project.

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