Mercado Central keeps teaching community ‘How to buy the pond’

The pioneering Latino marketplace at Lake St. and Bloomington Ave. turns 25 this year.

Mercado Central, the Latino marketplace at the corner of Lake Street and Bloomington Avenue in Minneapolis.
Mercado Central, the Latino marketplace at the corner of Lake Street and Bloomington Avenue in Minneapolis.

Mexico City is 2,106 miles from Minneapolis. But you don't have to travel that far to experience authentic Latino culture. The Mercado Central, or Central Market, is a few minutes from any neighborhood in the city.

The official address is 1515 E Lake St, Minneapolis, MN 55407. Once you get there, you can't miss the Mercado. It's the 28,000-square-foot building at the corner of Lake and Bloomington Ave. that looks like a Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo painting. 

Up top, the second-story outdoor walls resemble bright-colored piano keys. Green, turquoise blue, royal blue, yellow, purple, orange, pink, red. Above a door to enter the market is a picture of an Aztec warrior with his palms facing upward to show thankfulness or gratitude. 

Below, at street level, beautiful murals adorn the walls with authentic Latino characters and symbols. A Mayan pyramid, a small village of adobe homes, and Mexican sun art. We see campesinos (farmers), una familia (family), un luchador (wrestler), una vieja con flores (old woman with flowers), una madre y su hijo mano en mano (mother and son holding hands), and the Virgin of Guadalupe, all walking together. There are colorful calaveras (skeletons from Day of the Dead), one in a blue dress, one in a box, one flying. 

The building represents all sides of life, death, and rebirth. All sides of Latino identity and faith. The human experience. 

Step inside the building, and you are transported to another time and place, another time and space, an old world in the 21st century. The magical sights, sounds, and smells are straight off the pages of a Marquez book or Neruda poem. You can find the labyrinths of Borges and Octavio Paz here, but there is no solitude. Even when it's quiet, there's hustle and bustle.

If you want traditional goods and daily use products, there are plenty of quality retail stores for shopping. Joyería Ashley has a huge assortment of women’s jewelry. Del Sol Florería offers superior flower arrangements. Want clothes? Candela has you covered. Need shoes, boots, and belts? Zapateria Aracely has them for men and women, all made from 100 percent Mexican leather. For sports fans, Deportes Azteca is the premier soccer store in town. And kids of all ages will love the candy at Dulceria la Piñata

The Mercado also has all kinds of services, such as Imperios Beauty Salon, Molina Realtors, Noack Law Office, and Sastrería Don José (tailoring). From satellite television to internet access to insurance to driver's licenses and healthcare, there is a service for every need. Amigos del Mercado helps Latino community members navigate the daily challenges of living in Minnesota to create more opportunities. Interamerican Services makes it easy to ship packages to Mexico, Latin America, and the Caribbean. They offer international money orders, prepaid cell phone services, and more. Unidos Minnesota builds power for working families to advance social, racial, and economic justice.

After you work up an appetite, you can find the best in authentic Latin American food. Pick up some fresh Mexican bread at the Panadería el Mexicano or tortillas from La Perla. Take home meat and produce at Valerie’s Carnicería. Or eat some tacos, tortas, and tamales from the restaurants at the Mercado, such as Cocina San Marcos, La Loma, or Maria's Restaurante. Then, wash everything down with juice from "Mrs. Keta" at La Reyna de los Jugos, the queen of juices.

The Mercado Central is more than a Latino marketplace. It is a place of dreams. Those dreams came true in 1999 when Mercado Central had its grand opening with 43 businesses. Today, Mercado Central has 38 businesses and is celebrating its 25th anniversary as a gathering place for commerce, community, and culture

It also celebrates 25 years as a business cooperative and incubator, a national model for community-based development, and a world-famous example of how local leadership can create a structure for ownership and control.

Mercado Central grew out of a Latino community's need in South Minneapolis to reconnect with their culture. Led by Juan Linares, one of the Mercado Central founders, visionary entrepreneurs started organizing in 1991. They used asset-based community development (ABCD) and community talent inventory (CTI) to fulfill community goals. With support from community partners, the Mercado Central cooperative was born, and they established a venue to serve as the center of the Latino community. In 2019, the Mercado Central acquired the building they occupy.

"The whole idea was creating jobs," said Linares 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 youth and community development nonprofit organization in Minneapolis, is leading the Mercado Central Local Journalism Project. We will explore the past, present, and future of Mercado Central, the Mercado Central cooperative, and how asset-based community development can benefit entrepreneurs, local workers, and more communities in Minneapolis and around the United States — especially communities with immigrant populations. If you would like to be part of this project as a sponsor, let us know at

Eric Ortiz lives in the Wedge with his family. When he’s not bonding, he is community building with the Strong Mind Strong Body Foundation and writing bilingual children’s books with his kids. Their first book, “How the Zookalex Saved the Village,” is available in English and Spanish.


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