Festive music blared on speakers as children settled in a bit of shade to savor some ice cream.
The tempting aromas of freshly made tacos and other Mexican staples tugged at the nose and stomach.
Patrons browsed through toys, games and a myriad of merchandise offered in tents that fluttered in a hearty summer breeze, handwritten signs — or no signs at all — reflecting the grassroots, entrepreneurial flavor of the setting.
This snapshot of a recent weekend at the Nomar International Market reflects more than a pleasant distraction on a summer’s evening, city leaders and local residents say: it’s a key piece of efforts to revitalize Wichita’s north end.
The Mercadito Hispano Nomar is a grassroots business incubator launched and managed by local entrepreneurs.
“It’s more than just a market,” said Armando Minjares, director of Horizontes, an artist-driven, community engagement arts project. “It’s really exciting to see what’s happening there.”
City leaders were looking for a way to reinvigorate north Wichita when “China” Pena and a friend hatched the idea of opening the mercadito at the corner of 21st and Broadway to give families something to do on the weekends. In no time at all, they had nearly 20 other vendors signed up to take part.
As part of the program, the vendors agreed to take small business development classes presented in Spanish at Wichita State University. The hope is that as the businesses grow, they will move into retail space that’s available in strip malls along 21st Street between Broadway and Waco.
“What is really exceptional about this is it’s 100 percent grass roots,” Minjares said. “It’s coming out of the need they have seen in the neighborhood.
“As immigrants, it’s common for people to have all these different side hustles under the table,” he said. “They said, ‘Let’s make it legitimized and more sustainable so they can start moving into some of those brick and mortar sites” on 21st.
That’s Victor Lopez’s dream. He was making tacos and other offerings on a hot August Saturday at the mercadito — a Spanish word for “market.”
“I really like to do this,” Lopez said, his black T-shirt bearing the name of his business — Tacos el Chivo.
“I work in construction, but I don’t like the job,” he said. “When you do something like this, you (get to) know different people every day.”
A couple of the vendors involved already have a store, Pena said, but “most of them, they’re completely new. They don’t have anything” in terms of a retail presence.
“They do it out of their homes,” she said.
Blanca Prado has “a little bit of everything” at her tent for Blanca’s Western Wear and Blankets.
“I’m so happy,” Prado said. “It’s hard work. But we’re doing good.”
She’s hoping to be able to open her own store soon.
In just a few weeks, Pena said, she’s seen the activity at the mercadito grow significantly.
As the fledgling businesses move into storefronts, City Council member Cindy Claycomb said, it can open space for the next wave of entrepreneurs.
“When I drive down in that area, you can just see what it could be,” Claycomb said. “You can just visualize what it could be like.
“I’m just so excited,” she said. “It’s not government doing this. I think that’s what’s so exciting. We’re just here to help them navigate things.
“I think this can just grow bigger and bigger.”
The goal of the mercadito, those involved say, is to give people a taste of what a Mexican street market is like.
“This is new and different,” Maria Esparza said as she whipped up a smoothie from fresh fruit and natural ingredients. “It’s totally opposite from what people see in other areas” of town.
“They’re getting the real taste of home-style foods” from Mexico, she said.
Young professionals crave authentic experiences, and Claycomb said that means Nomar could transform into more than a neighborhood draw.
“As that whole area redevelops, it could turn into a destination location,” she said. “It could easily be one of those situations where if you’ve got people coming into Wichita from out of town, you’ll say, ‘We’ve got to go down to the north end.’”
The owners of largely vacant buildings along 21st have begun talking with organizers and renovating their properties to have space available for vendors seeking a home.
“I’ve noticed a momentum happening and it’s really exciting to me personally,” Minjares said.
That momentum includes the commissioning of 16 murals from 14 different artists to be painted in Wichita’s north end this summer. Nine were completed over the course of a single week in late July.
City officials have earmarked $1 million from the sale of the Hyatt for the renovation and expansion of the Evergreen Neighborhood Resource Center at 25th North and Arkansas. Discussions have begun on what features the new Evergreen should have.
“We want to build the facility so that it meets those needs and has some flexibility,” Claycomb said. “We don’t know what’s going to be needed five years from now.”
The discussions are viewing “that whole area as a campus,” including the Evergreen library branch at 2601 N. Arkansas, she said.
“It’s really difficult to walk from the neighborhood center to the library,” Claycomb said. “People have to get in their cars and drive around there.”
Ideally, she said, she’d like to see a walking connection between the library and Evergreen, perhaps with interactive art along the way.
Those improvements won’t happen until 2020 or 2021, by which time north Wichita could have an entirely new feel about it.
“People are really excited about this,” Pena said. “We want to bring everyone together” through the market.