PEORIA — With six kids, Maria Gutierrez needs a business she can do from home. Growing and selling houseplants is a perfect fit.
Two of Gutierrez’s kids ran around the parking lot at Spring and Monroe Streets as their mother tended her booth during the North End Mercado on Saturday afternoon. Large plants lined the space in front of a cactus-filled table.
“I love cactus,” said Gutierrez. “They are my number one.”
Gutierrez markets her plants on Facebook — Plants by MG — and sells at local markets. She’s been selling at the new North End Mercado since it began in July — at $10 a booth, it’s affordable, and it’s also right around the corner from her home.
“This is our sixth market,” said North End Mercado founder Andy Diaz, who purchased the parking lot and adjacent building just seven weeks ago with the idea of forming a business incubator for neighborhood entrepreneurs. He started the Mercado right away, and on Saturday there were eight booths offering fresh produce and plants, handmade goods and food. Diaz’s wife, Kathryn, and their four children sat in a booth filled with produce they grow, and his father, Rigo Diaz, stood at a portable grill making fresh tacos for customers.
“We live right here around the corner. I grew up here — my parents have been here for 45 years,” said Andy Diaz, a Caterpillar employee who spends his weekdays selling equipment to the federal government. The business incubator is a side project Diaz is very passionate about. He wants to help his neighbors build small businesses with the ultimate goal of bettering the neighborhood he loves.
“We want to share our vision with people and have them buy into our neighborhood,” said Diaz. Hundreds of people drive through the busy intersection at Monroe and Spring every time the market is held. Those who stop and buy a taco and bag of fresh produce leave with a positive impression of the neighborhood.
Though he grew up in the neighborhood, Diaz and his wife bought a home in Metamora when they moved back to central Illinois about four years ago. Kathryn grew up in Indiana and was leery of living in an urban environment. But Metamora never felt like home, said Diaz. Every Sunday night they would have dinner with Diaz’s parents, and that’s when they saw a beautiful old home for sale nearby.
“It’s 100 years old and built from brick. We are only the fifth family to live there, and it’s on about a half acre of land,” said Diaz. He’s purchased several empty lots in the neighborhood, including one where the family grows produce. Ever since planting the first garden last summer, Diaz has wanted to start a neighborhood market. When the building and parking lot formerly used by podiatrist Dr. John Ruff went on the market this summer, Diaz snapped it up. Once remodeling is complete, the space will hold multiple offices for entrepreneurs.
“Each exam room will be an office,” he said. “We have a guy who does credit repair and a woman who does beautiful leather work, and we are looking for other folks.” To learn more about the incubator, visit Urban Acres on Facebook or email Diaz at Urbanacrespeoria@gmail.com.
The mercado will be open next Saturday for the last time this summer, though Diaz plans to host a fall market in October and a Christmas market in November. Weather permitting, vendors will be outside as well as inside the building.
Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.