Anamaria Rocha is on Cloud 10 after leading a spectacular season for the nonprofit Mercado on Fifth, including a very successful first-annual Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) parade last weekend.

The Mercado executive director this week posted some pretty impressive numbers from this year’s weekly market in Moline:

  • $591,302 spent on food, beverages, merchandise and activities, a 92.5% increase from 2021 and up 251% since 2019.
  • 116 entities participated — 27 food vendors, 20 retail, 22 corporate, 35 nonprofits and 12 sponsor booths.
  • $8,885 in volunteer tips at the Mercado beer tent, benefitting a wide range of area nonprofit organizations — from the QC Storm Booster Club to Our Lady of Grace Catholic Academy.
  • 259,463+ (through October and counting) in social media reach, up 24.8% compared to last year.

“I don’t think any of us could have guessed that or projected that,” Rocha said Thursday of Mercado’s phenomenal growth. She said it was due to a combination of things.

Anamaria Rocha is executive director of Mercado on Fifth.

“First off, I have made a big effort to really create an authentic environment in terms of entertainment and just listening to community in terms of what type of music and performers they want to see,” she said. “If they’re enjoying the music and they’re dancing and they’re hanging out with their friends and family, they’re going to continue to consume.”

“The other part of it is, of course, that we have more vendors, and they have their returning customers,” Rocha said. “They are also a massive part of the success.”

Mercado’s mission is “serving as a resource and catalyst for minority entrepreneurs, inspiring Hispanic cultural pride and providing access to bilingual enrichment and educational opportunities for a more empowered and engaged community.”

Mercado increased the quality of its live music acts this year.

Its growing community navigator program, led by Greg Aguilar, helped area businesses and increased Mercado’s visibility, to get them into the market.

The Friday night market also benefitted from added space, on the new patio and green space (from the nearby Boys and Girls Club), which added more room for vendors, Rocha said.

Total average attendance per week jumped from less than 1,500 in 2019 to over 4,000 this year, she said.

Part of the attraction is that Mercado has free admission, due mostly to generous sponsors, Rocha said.

Mercado is a free multicultural market on Fridays from May to October on Moline’s Fifth Avenue in the area of 11th and 12th streets.

“Every week I focused on getting a sponsor for that week,” she said, noting that covered the costs of live music and other market expenses.

“That has really helped us also to be able to bring in bands outside of the area and that draws in more people because it’s entertainment they haven’t seen before in the community,” Rocha said, noting vendor fees are very low.

“As an organization, that’s probably what makes the least amount of money, but that is the overall mission — to create this environment that then draws in the crowds that these vendors can benefit from,” she said.

Mercado does not take any percentage of vendor sales.

Since 2016, Mercado On Fifth has “strived to foster social interaction by drawing a diverse crowd and has worked to build and support an equitable local economy through its direct assistance to minority-owned small-scale entrepreneurs,” Rocha posted on social media.

“Thank you, Mercado family for your continued support, engagement, and active participation. The amount of money spent at Mercado is to the primary benefit of our participating vendors who work so hard week after week to be part of Mercado. We are so proud of their hard work and also proud of our supportive community. We know that we could not do what we do without the constant support of our attendees, city, volunteers, sponsors, and generous donors.”

Colorful parade on a perfect day

It was Rocha’s idea to start a big new Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) parade, which was on a picture-perfect, warm Saturday, Oct. 22. That was followed by a food truck party in the Vibrant Arena parking lot, and concert inside the arena that night.

Participants in the first annual Dia de Los Muertos parade, Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022.

“It was very exciting,” Rocha said. “It just was overwhelming; the feedback has been so positive. I mean, the weather could not have been any better.” She also noted the arena staff was great to work with.

“It was the most perfect day overall and the level of detail from the participants, I mean I was just blown away,” she said. “Everyone really put in so much love into their costumes and their floats and honoring their loved ones. And I think that genuine love that they put into all of that is what the community really felt. That energy was just amazing.”

There were about 80 parade entries and 1,000 people total who participated.

There were 80 parade entries, and about 1,000 people altogether who walked, Rocha said of what will be an annual late October tradition.

“It is nice to see the diversity and the community support and different ethnicities coming out and asking questions, wanting to learn more about the culture,” she said. “Losing a loved one and the different ways that we keep their memories alive – that doesn’t have a race; that doesn’t have a culture.

“I think it’s one of those holidays we can all relate to and we all know what that feels like and it’s just such a unique holiday and it’s personally one of my favorites,” Rocha said. “I’m really happy that it was very well-received and supported and hopefully that also will continue to grow.”

On Facebook, she posted:

“So much hard work went into making the floats and costumes, I had chills looking at all of them. You know, I may have been the one who put in the leg work to get the support I needed to kick off the idea, but it was everyone who was a part of it who takes the credit for making it as special as it was.

“Together, we created something SPECTACULAR,” she wrote. “We created something this area has never seen before. We made our loved ones proud. I honestly almost cried looking down the street and seeing how many people were flooding the street looking for a place to sit. I cannot thank everyone enough for supporting the Parade. I was in awe at the outpour.”

Helping start businesses

Mercado has helped 16 new businesses this year (that sold at the market for the first time), mainly with lining up their required certifications and permits. Some also have permanent storefront locations.

“We serve as a resource, as a guide,” Rocha said. “There are lot of wonderful agencies in the community that are doing great work and so we want the community to use those resources and so we try to stay in tune with what’s available and fill in the gap to whatever isn’t and then serve as a liaison and just walk alongside them in the process.”

One of the Mercado vendors selling empanadas.

This year, there was a waiting list of vendors waiting to get into Mercado, and some vendors could only commit to once a month, Rocha said.

The Mercado building is being used as a meeting and event space and could house some vendors in the off-season, she said. They don’t have a kitchen there, so businesses can’t cook there but can sell pre-packaged food.

They plan to have vendors sell merchandise during next month’s Moline Centre Holiday Hop, Rocha said.

For more information on the organization, click HERE.