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State Grant Will Help Mercado on Fifth Expand

Mercado on Fifth in Moline has won a huge financial boost from the state of Illinois.

The five-year-old nonprofit in Moline’s Floreciente neighborhood was approved by Governor J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity for nearly $500,000 as part of $11 million in state funding for 32 minority-owned businesses and business incubators, from the Minority-Owned Business Capital and Infrastructure Program.

These grants will equip minority-owned firms with resources to create jobs, build capacity, increase revenue, and revitalize properties in under-served communities. Mercado’s grant will enable expansion into a much-needed incubator facility to create more equitable growth in the community. Finance director Chris Ontiveros says Mercado applied last year for the maximum amount from the state.

Credit Mercado on Fifth
a drawing of how the former Car Shop will change.

“We felt we had a strong case for Mercado on Fifth, the city of Moline and the Floreciente neighborhood, that our vision could benefit the community greatly, and the state of Illinois agreed.”

In late 2019, Mercado, with real estate development group West Gateway Partners LLC, bought the 100-year-old former Car Shop at 423 12th Street, in downtown Moline, next to the organization’s outdoor property.

Mercado and West Gateway, both managed by members of the Ontiveros family, are renovating the 6,300-square-foot building into a business incubator and event space at a cost of over $500,000, including a new outdoor patio. This will allow Mercado’s food and retail vendors year-round opportunities to sell their products, rain or shine. Mercado executive director Melissa Freidhof-Rodgers also anticipates using the space for small-business training, mentorship, and for private events.

Chris Ontiveros says the renovation project will be tailored to the needs of the community. Mercado originally started as a daytime farmers’ market, which didn’t work, and morphed into a hugely successful Friday night all-products market, with entertainment.

“We think the indoor building is going to be a huge opportunity for Mercado, but we’re being very cautious on the design, because just like our farmers’ market concept, we don’t want to assume what the community wants. When we build out this building, it’s not going to be to the finished product right away.”

The Illinois grant recipients represent under-served communities across Illinois, and the majority of projects are for property acquisition and renovation—and every project is expected to create jobs. Ontiveros says the Floreciente neighborhood in Moline, with a sizable Hispanic population, has been historically underserved.

The coronavirus crisis this year has devastated area businesses, and postponed the start of the outdoor market.

“Covid just wrecked Mercado for the 2020 season, as it did many other small businesses. Our micro vendors are really being hurt by this. We’re hopeful that phase four or five, the state of Illinois will allow us to open Mercado safely for the vendors and the community to get back into action.”

He hopes Mercado can re-open in August and run through October 1st, with the year-round center to be renovated this fall. The state grant, which doesn’t apply toward matching a $100,000 Quad-Cities Community Foundation grant, validates the need for the project and should inspire others to give.

“This is obviously a project others are behind, and we should get behind it. If other charitable foundations and corporations get behind us, we can do amazing things in the community to help small and micro businesses in the Illinois Quad-Cities.”

For more information, visit mercadoonfifth.org.

A native of Detroit, Herb Trix began his radio career as a country-western disc jockey in Roswell, New Mexico (“KRSY, your superkicker in the Pecos Valley”), in 1978. After a stint at an oldies station in Topeka, Kansas (imagine getting paid to play “Louie Louie” and “Great Balls of Fire”), he wormed his way into news, first in Topeka, and then in Freeport Illinois.
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