Editor’s note: This story is part of an occasional Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service series that highlights groups and people worth knowing in Milwaukee. To nominate a person or a group, email firstname.lastname@example.org and put "Spotlight" in the subject line.
After COVID-19 put a halt to their in-person mobile markets, the organizers of CirculateMKE went virtual.
But this weekend, the market, which creates space and opportunity for shoppers and entrepreneurs to experience the diverse cultures of Milwaukee, is back in business.
“The pandemic hit the communities that already had limited resources the worst,” said Shalina Ali, a co-creator of the market. “We knew that they needed a platform throughout all of this.”
The mobile markets, which began in 2015, are held at different locations across the city, including TRUE Skool, the Artisan and Alice’s Garden, the site of this weekend’s event.
In April, the markets had to be canceled, but Ali and Fidel Verdin, the other co-creator and organizer, didn’t want the community to miss out.
They turned to Zoom, giving entrepreneurs a platform to share their stories while advertising their products.
“Many of our vendors run small businesses from their homes,” Ali said. “But it’s not always comfortable having people come to your door, so we created a space for them to sell their products comfortably.”
CirculateMKE’s markets have become a home to over 120 local entrepreneurs.
Bisan Muna, the owner of Rumaneh Nourish skin care, is one of them.
“I didn’t know what to expect from the markets initially,” said Muna, a vendor for about three years. “But they helped me grow my business and make a lot of new connections.”
Muna said she’s forged close relationships with other vendors and the customers she’s met.
But the markets are just as much for the community as they are for the vendors.
“If you’re getting your necessities like soap or skin care products from someone at these markets, then you need to have access to it often,” Ali said.
“It’s a tight-knit group of people, but it’s always welcoming,” added vendor Alonzo Mickey, the owner of AZTeez, a hip-hop and custom clothing company.
Ali and Verdin also co-founded and run TRUE Skool, a nonprofit organization that develops Milwaukee youth through urban arts.
“We are both from Milwaukee, and we are deeply embedded in this community,” Ali said. “So there is a level of trust and understanding within the community that allows us to do what we do.”
CirculateMKE will host its first in-person market since the beginning of the pandemic from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sept. 19 -20 at Alice’s Garden. Organizers will ensure safety precautions like social distancing and requiring masks.