The pandemic wasn't the only thing that spelled a tumultuous first half of the year for the Midtown Global Market.
The E. Lake Street international food hall was already struggling under a state-ordered shutdown of indoor dining and a loss of customers this past spring. Then, unrest after the police killing of George Floyd set many neighboring businesses ablaze. Windows and doors to the market were smashed; some tenants' stands were ransacked.
As vendors and management were picking up the pieces, next came scandal. The market terminated the lease of one of its first and largest tenants, Holy Land, after racist social media posts by the CEO's daughter surfaced online.
With its grand reopening on Saturday, Midtown Global Market hopes to send a message that the market — and the area — is on the rebound.
"The last couple months have been really difficult, not just for the neighborhood, but for the whole corridor," said Earlsworth "Baba" Letang, who monitors businesses and sales at the market for the Neighborhood Development Center, a nonprofit that co-owns the market with the Cultural Wellness Center.
"We wanted to do something to bring them back to the area, to celebrate in a safe way," Letang said. "Yes, it is safe."
Visitors to the reopening, which runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., will find more than 30 restaurants, grocery stores and retailers open for business, despite some plywood boards that remain up. Drummers and dancers will perform. A "Passport to Food and Fun" offers discounts and information about the 16 countries that market businesses represent.
Guests can travel one-way in the market, ambassadors will be handing out masks, and hand sanitizer will be stationed throughout.
The market, which opened in 2006 in the former Sears building, now the Midtown Exchange, didn't fully shut down when the pandemic first took root in Minnesota.
Three grocery stores stayed open for business and many restaurants launched curbside pickup and delivery to weather the statewide stay-at-home order. Gradually more restaurant vendors relaunched in June, but "traffic is obviously still not where it used to be," Letang said. The market's primary customer base used to come from another tenant in the building, Allina Health. Many employees have been working from home.
With sales down, and rent relief for vendors, the market is facing about a $500,000 budget deficit. A GoFundMe to support the vendors and repair damage from the riots has brought in almost $155,000 so far.
The market also launched Meals for Medics, an initiative that pays for meals from market vendors and sends them to health care workers at nearby Abbott Northwestern Hospital.
In addition to the loss of Holy Land, which had one of the largest footprints in the market, a handful of other businesses have left in the past few months. Letang said he is fielding offers to take over Holy Land's space and that some Lake Street businesses lost to fire are considering moving into the market.
Letang credits the building's security team, as well as its residents, for protecting the market during the nights of unrest on Lake Street. He and other managers stayed up night after night, texting one another and monitoring the destruction to the market's neighbors.
"This is about the future of small business owners," he said. "It was hard to sleep, knowing that anything would happen to the market."
Since it first opened, Midtown Global Market has served as a hub for emerging businesses, many of them owned by immigrants, as a reflection of the neighborhood.
"When you look at the history of Lake Street, immigrants have always played a very significant role in the development of this area," Letang said. "To know there is a public market where they can continue to have their business and follow their dreams, it's a very good thing for them."
Tabota Seyon had opened her market stand, InfusedLife Plant Based Eatery, in January 2020. Not long afterward, workers in the building began staying home.
"It felt strange, worrying about myself and everyone else," Seyon said. "Did they lose their job? Did they get sick?"
She took the next few months as an opportunity to revamp her health food menu. "My business was intended for the sole purpose of helping the community heal," she said. "I think that was what I was put here to do."
Manny Gonzalez moved to the United States in 1999 from Mexico City, and launched the sandwich shop Manny's Tortas. When the market opened in 2006, he relocated there, and has been an anchor for the market ever since.
The first months of 2020 have been crushing for his business, he said.
A federal paycheck protection loan has kept him afloat through COVID-19. But then his space was vandalized, and his computer and the tablets he uses for delivery services were stolen.
"They just made a big mess, but we can replace that," he said. "I'm thankful nothing more than that happened."
The grand reopening is symbolic, he said.
"It's going to bring a little normalcy back to the area, and hopefully we come back even stronger than before," Gonzalez said. "The neighborhood has been very supportive. I can't wait till we start seeing more people around here."
Midtown Global Market, 920 E. Lake St., Mpls., midtown globalmarket.org
Sharyn Jackson • 612-673-4853