About a mile south from U.S. Bank Stadium, in a midtown Minneapolis building-turned-market called Mercado Central, the only visible reminder that a big sports game is happening in the city this weekend is a sign of protest. On a message board dressed with community announcements and plumber suggestions, a pink sheet of paper with a picture of Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid kneeling invites passerby to an anti-racist, anti-corporate rally. It is scheduled to start two and a half hours before Super Bowl XLII.
A few steps away, a display lights a wall of strawberry, vanilla, and chocolate conchas. The case of baked goods faces what is an almost life-sized nativity scene, even though it’s already February.
Mercado Central is on Lake Street, which has been one of the foremost immigrant thoroughfares in Minneapolis since its inception. According to the district’s website, the first people to settle here were Canadians and East Coasters living outside of old Minneapolis proper. In the late 1800s, a wave of Scandinavian immigrants moved into the area as the city’s population boomed. The city eventually swallowed the area, and Lake Street became one of the avenues bridging Minneapolis and St. Paul, and more broadly the city’s present and progressively more diverse future. The railroad to Milwaukee and Chicago stopped only a block north of the street. Greek immigrants came. Latin American and Somali immigrants arrived. The city grew, and Lake Street changed and changed and changed again.
Today, a walk down Lake is a tour through the city’s history.
There’s Ingebretsen’s, a Scandinavian gift shop and food market which Nancy, the lady at the register, proudly points out has been open “since 1921”; signage outside echoes the hard-earned boast. The store occupies two consecutive storefronts, one selling clothing and needlework supplies and wooden Scandi-tchotchkes, with the other focusing on specialty foods ranging from the mystifying lye-preserved fish delicacy lutefisk to imposing pork roasts and jerky the color of shingles.
Nancy works in the back, and is happy to tell the story of the neighborhood through the Ingebretsen’s lens if you’ll allow her. The store was opened as Model Meat Market in its current location by Charles Ingebretsen Jr. and is now owned by Charles’s granddaughter Julie, who has resisted calls to move the store’s location for a while now. Joan, who works the textile part of Ingebretsen’s, will also share. She’s originally from a small town in North Dakota, and says that’s probably why she loves the diversity of Lake. A Minnesotan for a good amount of time now, Joan is a proud enough Democrat that she brings it up. She’s seen Minneapolis schools improve in her time there, and she’s excited about the new light rail. She misses the recently closed downtown Macy’s, though.
On the opposite corner of the street is Dur Dur, a Somali bakery and grocery store. It’s bustling at 3pm on a Friday, with shoppers going in and out and bantering with the cashier as they pass by. I smile when I see that the first rack of snacks is stocked with Takis. Know your audience, I guess.
The cashier, who is busy fielding questions and checking out customers, tells me the market’s been around some 15 years now. People, mostly black men speaking in Somali, move about the store, many in a hurry. As with Mercado Central, Dur Dur is also home to well-populated community boards. As with Mercado Central, they don’t suggest a community that’s overly concerned with a football game.
The camel milk seemed like a worthwhile gift for the Deadspin Milk Idiots, but a quart of the stuff was a whopping $20. Maybe another time.
Mercado Central is a quarter mile or so down the avenue, with several other Mexican stores and restaurants surrounding it. The smell of chicharrón lured me into Súper Mercado Morelia, where the eat-in kitchen was indeed frying pork skins into crispy snacks. There again were my beloved Takis, along with piñatas, cheeses, and other Mexican delights. The butcher asks me what I need, but I tell him I’m only gawking.
Inside Midtown Global Market, a food and merch court in an old commercial space that (formerly a Sears), there’s a Mexican candy store named Fiesta en América, where I talk to the lady working the counter. She’s originally from the Mexican state of Morelos and has seen Lake’s businesses change and grow over the years. She says that in earlier days, she would go to the Richfield Lake area a few miles south to do her shopping; now she can do it closer to home. She originally came from California, and she liked that the Twin Cities Mexican community still had a ways to grow. We talk about the precarious state of immigration these days, and I wonder if Charles Ingebretsen ever had to worry about the presence of a merciless institutional deportation force.
Further down Lake is Taqueria Los Ocampo, where some honeycomb tripe Menudo will help you ward off the cold. Our waitress tells me the owners there are also from Morelos; they’ve grown Los Ocampo into a local chain, with another branch inside the nearby Global Market and three others in St. Paul.
Another Morelos native makes a more conspicuous appearance on Lake Street. That would be Emiliano Zapata, the revolutionary who fought for peasants’ right to the land in early 20th Century Mexico, and he stands out proudly among the mounds of snow and ice in Plaza Centenario. It’s small as far as plazas go, but Zapata’s defiant posture doesn’t suggest he minds much. Minneapolis has been a sister city to Morelos’ capital of Cuernavaca since 2008, and this statue was a gift from the Mexican state to the “bold north.” Every immigrant story faces some sort of rejection, of course, and this statue’s story is no different. Some neighbors fought the statue for fear that Zapata’s military outfit would incite violence. Okay.
On the way back to your car and Ingebretsen’s, you’ll pass by two classic Lake Street scenes—a Somali museum inside another mercado, Plaza Verde, and a charro and western-wear store next to a Somali restaurant. The museum is in Plaza Verde’s basement, in what was formerly an office space. It has in its collection a plethora of artifacts, photographs, and a life-sized replica of a hut, all of which were donated by members of the local Somali community. If you have time to stop in, admission is $11.
The western-wear store is full of leather goods and vaquero accessories and it smells great. The lady at the counter is from Peru, and says that though she hears of New York and other places, life is easy in Minneapolis, give or take the cold in the winter months. The Somali restaurant next door is exhaustively ornate.
It’s called Quruxlow, likely named after the cook and recipe master Lulu Quruxlow. At the recommendation of my waiter, I order their Moffa with chicken. It’s a good recommendation—wonderfully marinated chicken arrives alongside the spongy, sour bread and soup come on a big platter, in a volume that makes finishing it all in one sitting an impossibility. At the register, people wait for lunch orders to go, men on one side and women on the other. CNN blares something about the GOP from a TV above the tables. I thank my waiter for the suggestion, and I ask for a box.
If you drive further down Lake toward Bde Maka Ska, the panorama changes. There are newer businesses, or at least slicker places that more comfortably wear a contemporary aesthetic. There are pubs and breweries and a CVS and a Target. As at Ingebretsen’s, the clientele becomes palpably whiter. Amid all this familiar upscale urban normalcy, I find myself imagining what Supermercado Morelia might look like in a hundred years. I wonder what will be in these slick buildings then, and who the new arrivals will be.