MOLINE, Ill. — Mercado on Fifth, the annual open-air market on 5th Ave and 12th St in Moline, is back for its fifth season. The event was canceled last year due to Covid-19, so organizers say Friday night's opening was more than a long time coming.
The market is open every Friday night from 5pm until 10pm all summer long. It's free to enter and is filled with food, beer, drinks, music, games, dancing, shopping and more. Even community organizations and nonprofits will have rotating booths set up.
And to really celebrate opening night, a roving band was called in to visit all corners of the festival.
"So you'll get to experience them at eye level, really up close and personal," laughed Anamaria Rocha, Mercado's new director.
The nonprofit Mercado seeks to uplift and showcase the Quad City's Latin community. They work with dozens of small businesses in the area to help get them exposure and training, in both Spanish and English. And the market is a way to not only show it all off, but invite the rest of the Quad Cities in to see.
"It's a very family-friendly, community space," said Rocha. "I think it means something special to everybody in a different way. You know, for vendors whether it's their first year, them starting a business, or getting their dreams into fruition. For other people they just like to come out and enjoy the food - different types of food that you don't get to experience in a brick and mortar business. And very authentic music. It's just so lively!"
After Covid derailed the nonprofits market last summer, Rocha said she was a little nervous about how many vendors would show up this year. However, it didn't take long for those fears to be dashed.
"Everyone that's here loves Mercado. And they love being a part of it. So they made an effort to come back," she said.
One of those vendors was Marina Varela, owner of El Tosoro, a treat and drink booth that's been at Mercado for the past four years. Varela says the community atmosphere is what she missed most during the break last summer.
"Just seeing everybody having a good time and being out here on Fridays and just socializing with everybody," she smiled.
Although Varela says the pandemic is still impacting the way she runs her business. Supply chain shortages caused by Covid-19 have made certain supplies and foods unavailable to her - even after weeks of searching.
"We're noticing the price difference. And we're noticing that things aren't available or the things that we used to purchase the size of the cups or things like that we're going with different items to make up for it," she said.
Varela said she'd been searching for weeks but unable to find bulk nacho chips or even limes, causing her to rethink parts of her menu.
But even through all of that, she said nothing was going to keep her from being there on opening night.
Other vendors, like Rodolfo Geardo, are newcomers to Mercado, and just as excited.
"I hope everybody comes out and enjoys the food," he said. "You know, this many vendors, they're gonna have a lot of stuff so people can enjoy. We'll have fun here."
And opening day was packed - despite the scorching temperatures.
Elizabeth Debisschop and Claire Albarran were out visiting the market for the first time, saying they wanted to check out the music and the cuisine.
"It's wonderful," said Debisschop. "It's great, it's fun, the music, the food, the atmosphere... it's just a lot of fun!"
It's something Rocha hopes will carry over into the markets expansion. Starting on June 12th, Mercado will begin hosting monthly events in Davenport as well, on the second Saturday of each month, trying to reach a crowd that may not make it across the river into Moline.
"The Quad Cities is big. There's so many people, so if we're just here, there may be people in Davenport that haven't been exposed. Being in Davenport just taps into a whole 'nother population," she said.
But no worries for Moline residents and fans. The weekly Friday night markets are here to stay for the summer.
And if you're going to check it out for the first time, Rocha suggests you try a little bit of everything.
"If you don't know what something is, just ask! Because you might end up really liking it," she said.