Established in 2006, the Midtown Global Market was a pioneering marketplace in Minneapolis and nationwide, a haven for immigrant entrepreneurs. Over the years, they brought new life to the neighborhood surrounding the old art deco Sears store on East Lake Street.
The Market has given a chance for many people, like husband-and-wife chefs Hassan Ziadi and Samlali Raja, to have their own business.
“I’ve been dreaming about having my own restaurant for 30 years,” said Ziadi. “Finally, I get this opportunity, here in Minneapolis.” The couple own Moroccan Flavors, one of more than 36 small businesses at the Global Market that sell international cuisines, groceries and wares, with origins from India to East Africa.
Before the pandemic and George Floyd’s death – he was killed only about a mile away — the Market drew about 4,000 people a day to the neighborhood. Today, the polished cement halls host a fraction of the foot traffic they did, and the future of the Market is in jeopardy.
In the rioting during nights after George Floyd’s killing, the Market’s immigrant business owners almost lost everything, as all the surrounding buildings were set ablaze and burned to the ground. The Global Market only suffered broken windows and theft.
That the market suffered only minimal damaged was due in large part to the courage of the business owners, who joined other volunteers in patrolling the building in shifts. Raja, about seven months pregnant at the time, was one. She told those who repeatedly tried to break into the building, “We are immigrant-owned businesses, these are our dreams.”
A Place Where Different Cultures Mixed
Originally from Rabat, Morocco, Ziadi worked as a chef in the US in the 1990s, including a stint in Minneapolis. He also had executive chef positions that sent him to France, Qatar and Dubai. “When I got married and I had my daughter,” he recounted, “I told my wife the best place to raise a family, it’s Minneapolis.”
He had found it a safe city where immigrants get a warm welcome. The duo launched Moroccan Flavors in 2016. They live above the Market in one of more than 200 residential units. From a counter space dotted with photographs of Morocco and colorful ceramic tagine pots, the two professional chefs sell dishes from couscous to the most popular tagine, lamb shank with vegetables, sweet potatoes, prunes and apricots.
“There’s all these little booths,” marveled customer John Murdoch at the Global Market’s configuration and variety. He makes the trip from his neighborhood, a 15-minute drive away, for the enchiladas at the Mexican-owned Salsa a la Salsa. Meals are reasonably priced and Murdoch feels he’s eating quality, homemade food. “As opposed to a bunch of stuff that came off the US Foods or Sysco truck,” he said.
When COVID-19 hit in March, the market and its tenants struggled, like many small and immigrant-owned businesses.
Manny’s Tortas, specializing in Mexican sandwiches, operates out of a space with bright green accents. “January, February, March, April, May, June—five months with not that much income,” said Manuel Gonzalez, its owner, along with his sister Victoria. January and February are typically slow months anyway. “What are we going to do? You know. I mean, we just try and survive,” Gonzalez said.
By late May, customers were starting to trickle back to the Global Market for curbside pickup and delivery. Then on May 25, police officer Derek Chauvin put his knee on George Floyd’s neck, a mile south of the market. Three days later, Chauvin’s precinct, just over a mile east from the Global Market, was set on fire. Chaos engulfed the neighborhood’s nights; buildings around the Global Market were being torched.
At first, only Raja and a fellow resident, originally from Nigeria and his wife, confronted the protestors. Over the next several nights, however, as the numbers of would-be looters and then arsonists grew, so did the market’s make-shift patrols.
Raja recalled frantically knocking on every door in the building, yelling, “We need help!” A group of 14 volunteer residents and several people from the neighborhood defended the building, joining security guards. They went out after 2 am; the police and fire department were not responding to calls.
Raja talked to the protestors, reasonably. “Lots of children live upstairs,” she told them, in addition to the fact that the shops inside the building represented people’s dreams. Many put their heads down and said, “Oh, sorry,” according to Raja.
She was frightened, she said. But she later laughed at the insanity of being on Lake Street and having bullets fly by her and her fellow residents on patrol.
It remains a mystery who set the area ablaze, smashed windows and looted—citizens enraged at George Floyd’s death, and the systematic racism and police brutality? Were they unleashing fury on any “establishment” structure? Were there criminals taking advantage of the chaos? Or white supremacists looking to rustle up racial discord?
Murdoch took photos during the riots. “I didn’t see anybody rockin’ a Klan robe, throwing Molotov cocktails,” he said. “They were much more subtle than that.”
Efforts To Save The Market Continue
The chaos lasted for four nights. Businesses were closed for three weeks in response, a further blow after the months of the pandemic lockdown. Now, having helped to save the Market, the immigrants who run businesses inside are wondering whether it will survive the fall.
The Midtown Global Market was the vision of Mihailo Temali, who often goes by Mike, the founder of the Neighborhood Development Center (NDC). It’s one of two non-profits that own Midtown Global Market.
Temali grew up in Minneapolis with two immigrant parents, one a refugee. He knows firsthand the value that immigrants bring to the United States. “They are an incredible resource and asset if we recognize them as such,” he wrote in an email, “as our other low income and marginalized communities.”
The NDC’s mission is to cultivate economic development from within neighborhoods without displacement. It offers “culturally affirming” business training and financing, among other services; the Midtown Global Market is one of NDC’s incubator spaces.
The neighborhood surrounding the Global Market was once considered “sketchy,” but it had been evolving into a vibrant community with immigrant-owned enterprises. In 2018, Minneapolis had the highest number of refugees per capita in the United States; about 10% of the population of Minnesota is foreign-born.
The Market had a well-publicized grand reopening on July 18, but traffic has remained a fraction of what it was last year. Many Global Market businesses report earning 30-50% of what they earned last August.
“Sometimes it’s scary because I don’t know how long it will take to get the business back,” said Ziadi, adding that Moroccan Flavors does have its good days. Just the other morning, a regular customer tipped him $50 on a $20 order.
“The existence of the Global Market is what we’re fighting for right now,” said a distressed Temali. If businesses’ earnings are at 50% for the next two years due to the pandemic, he projected, “That doesn’t work.”
Reaching For A Network Of Supporters
All the tenants’ rents go towards the operation of the market, but there is now a $600,000 shortfall from reduced rent. There is no mortgage, however NDC, one of the market’s owners, is negotiating with their creditors, working out payment plans, hoping for philanthropic donations and waiting for a possible state grant.
A network of supporters, from individuals who are generous with their donations and time, to initiatives created by NDC and Friends of the Global Market’s fundraising, have sprung up. A food bank even popped-up outside the market, as the neighborhood became a food dessert after the riots.
“We’re turning over every rock,” said Renay Dossman, the executive director of the NDC, to help businesses survive. The NDC has reduced Global Market tenants’ rent by 50% and helped entrepreneurs apply for government grants and loans. “English isn’t their first language. We helped them to do whatever they needed to do to get some of that funding,” she said.
Thankfully, she added, Minnesotans “are just generous people.” And the community wants the Market to succeed because of what it stands for.
Naomi Angarag, director of Friends of Global Market, the market’s fundraising arm, launched Global Market Mend, a GoFundMe campaign to help the market after the nights of rioting.
The fund received a little over $150,000 of the $250,000 goal. “It’s still live,” she said. Each entrepreneur received a $2,000 check to use as they wished—rent, technology, or inventory.
Gonzalez and Ziadi believe they’re better off as nimble micro businesses than larger companies. “I can operate it with myself, my sister and three employees,” said Gonzalez.
Creative projects are planned. Dossman hopes an entrepreneur will step forward to start an in-house delivery business, since companies like Grub Hub and Uber Eats charge prohibitive fees. Angarag outlined a possible Global Market food truck. “Every day would be a different business owner, different food, lunch ready to go,” she explained. She’s also reaching out to the local displaced business owners whose buildings burned down, to fill the Global Market’s empty spaces.
What can help these businesses the most? Everyone answers a resounding “more customers.” However many customers remain scared to enter the market due to COVID-19, or the desolate, charred neighborhood.
In the meantime, business owners think government could do more in terms of grants or forgivable loans. “The more chances they give us to stay open, the better,” said Ziadi. If customers, the community or the government can’t help, this landmark space could run the risk of housing an entirely different type of business, like an Amazon fulfillment center.
“It’s going to take a village for the Market to come back together,” said Dossman, who noted that many locals have already volunteered time, talent and funds. “It’s going to take everybody.”