A new indoor space, a Food Truck Lane where vendors will dish up Wednesday lunches, and the first-ever Quad Cities Day of the Dead Parade top a full, flavorful menu for Mercado on Fifth’s 2022 season. The six-year-old vibrant, open-air Friday night market kicks off on May 27 on Moline’s Fifth Avenue in the Floreciente […]
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A new indoor space, a Food Truck Lane where vendors will dish up Wednesday lunches, and the first-ever Quad Cities Day of the Dead Parade top a full, flavorful menu for Mercado on Fifth’s 2022 season.
The six-year-old vibrant, open-air Friday night market kicks off on May 27 on Moline’s Fifth Avenue in the Floreciente neighborhood. The downtown marketplace will run through Sept. 30. But that won’t be the end of the 2022 cultural celebration that is Mercado.
This year, Anamaria Rocha, executive director of Mercado, and others are hoping the community will be back to pack the downtown for the inaugural Día de los Muertos Parade scheduled for Oct. 22 – three weeks after Mercado’s season closes.
These days organizers are busy preparing for the weekly crowds they expect will come to this year’s family-friendly event that will once again feature food trucks, music, retail vendors, children’s activities, and live entertainment.
In addition to recruiting vendors and volunteers, workers were busy in early May at Mercado’s indoor building, new patio and the adjacent Food Truck Lane where vendors will ply their wares for the Friday night markets and serve up Wednesday lunches beginning in June.
The 6,300-square-foot indoor community space and 5,000-square-foot outdoor patio will give the organization the opportunity to present year-round classes and workshops to assist minority businesses owners as well as space for craft making opportunities like one in the works with a Día de los Muertos theme. The space and its catering kitchen also will be available to the community.
The interior space, which is being kept under wraps for now, is not expected to be open until later this summer, according to Maria Ontiveros. But those who attend the Celebration of Life for her grandfather, Bob Ontiveros, the founder of Group O, will be able to get a look inside.
Mercado is a fitting venue from which to honor Mr. Ontiveros, who died on Feb. 8. He grew up in the Floreciente neighborhood and co-founded Mercado on Fifth with his granddaughter, who now serves as its president.
“It makes me proud that this platform we created has inspired people to follow their dreams and start their own businesses. That’s a big leap,” Ms. Ontiveros told the QCBJ. “And that’s just one aspect of our mission. Mercado on Fifth also inspires the Hispanic community to lean into their cultural roots.”
She added that her grandfather’s original goal was to promote economic development and provide a gathering space in his beloved Floreciente neighborhood. “It made him so happy to see those goals fulfilled,” she said of her grandfather, who was a regular attendee at Mercado’s Friday night markets.
“He loved that the community embraced the weekly event. But for as long as the outdoor market has existed, he has had his mind set on an indoor space,” she said.
Renovation of the new community center, the former Car Shop auto parts store located at 423 12th St., has been complicated by COVID-19, supply chain challenges and government regulation, which slowed work at times and required design changes. Ms. Ontiveros’ father Chris was the project manager navigating the challenges.
Mercado on Fifth continues to be more than a festival. Among its community contributions is providing a platform for more than 30 minority-owned businesses in the region. It launched the Food Protection Manager course in Spanish at Black Hawk College, Moline. And thanks to Mercado, Moline has developed a food business policy. Mercado also partners with the Small Business Development Center at Western Illinois University-Quad Cities on minority grants and bilingual workshops.
Janessa Calderon, executive director of the Greater Quad Cities Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, told the QCBJ, “We look forward to being with everyone again for the celebration of life for our founder, Bob Ontiveros.”
Thanks to all of its new features and Mercado’s unique atmosphere, its leaders and supporters are looking forward to Mercado’s best year yet.
“We are proud that Mercado on Fifth has its season every year,” Ms. Calderon said.“It brings more of the enriched authentic Hispanic culture to light in the Quad Cities. Its seasonal opportunity allows for people to come from all over and see what the Quad Cities has to offer.”
She also celebrated Mercado’s continuing expansion and mission. “Their indoor incubator space will allow for more small and micro businesses to get their footing and hopefully fill our downtown spaces, once they outgrow it,” Ms. Calderon said.
“The public/private partnership between Mercado on Fifth and the City of Moline has been, and continues to be, one of the best success stories throughout the Quad Cities region,” said Geoff Manis, Moline Centre Main Street manager and a Mercado on Fifth board member.
“Mercado is a wonderful showcasing of Moline’s vibrant and diverse potential,” he added. “With the addition of their newly renovated brick and mortar community space building, we are confident that the best is yet to come for Mercado on Fifth in downtown Moline.”
Mercado has come a long way from a relatively quiet start back in 2016 when it opened. But its growth since then has been impressive. Among the catalysts was moving the marketplace to Friday nights when more Quad Citians and visitors were available to enjoy the food, the fun and the experience, Ms. Rocha said.
And when word of the great music, vendors, authentic Mexican cuisine and family-friendly events and atmosphere began to spread, it began to take off.
“I’ve seen it grow from Day One,” Ms. Rocha said, adding that it’s so popular now that regulars drop off their lawn chairs at 10 a.m. and padlock them to ensure they have good seats for that night’s music, dancing and family events.
Since it began in 2016, Mercado said, a total of $660,000 has been spent at the market. In addition, the organization reports, “We project that a minimum of $1,750,000 (approximately $350,000 annually) will be spent by customers purchasing food and products from Mercado on Fifth vendors over the next five years.”
The market’s rapid growth and popularity were not a surprise to Ms. Rocha, who took over as Mercado’s director last year from Ms. Ontiveros. From the beginning, Ms. Rocha was excited by the prospect of a Mexican market in the QC. “I knew what they were trying to mimic, she said. “I got it. I understood.”
Eventually, Quad Citians did, too. While COVID-19 restrictions impacted attendance in 2019 and 2020, attendance at the Friday night markets doubled by 2021.
The space is more than a source of revenue, supporters say.
“Mercado on Fifth is an energy and an opportunity to build a destination within a destination,” said Dave Herrell, president and CEO of Visit Quad Cities, which is helping promote the new Day of the Dead event. “Mercado on Fifth continues to add significant value for our tourism product and experience and creates unique and consistent activation which advances our QC brand. The new assets, events, and programming will significantly enhance our quality of life and place objectives while celebrating our cultural pride.”
Since last September, Mercado has announced its presence and its Mexican heritage year-round thanks to a brightly colored sign made up of giant letters that spell out “Mercado.” In addition to being a popular place for visitors to take selfies, the sign itself celebrates the community and its cultural heritage. The letters, each with their own symbolic meaning, were designed and created in Mexico to showcase the art form and highlight the local Latino community.