There’s a lot to discuss when it comes to the so-called “rebranding” of several of Denver’s historic neighborhoods. There have been many conversations, with unlikely symbols and highly visible champions keeping certain aspects upfront while many voices still remain unheard. Enter the North Side Market — a new assembly of largely Latin vendors who met for the first time outside The Monkey Barrel this last Saturday, April 17. The gathering — which has two more iterations coming in May — was arranged by Leslie Amaya, Carlo Hernandez and Jazmine Mendoza, a group of North Side natives who have witnessed the area’s gradual transformation grow less and less gradually as they themselves grew into adulthood. Amaya and Hernandez met while attending Smedley Elementary School, not two blocks from where the event is now held.
Even so, North Side Market is not political so much as it is a celebration of the neighborhood’s origins. The opening weekend saw 22 different food vendors and craftspeople touch down to immediate acclaim, with a noticeable amount of the contributors being area locals. “It’s diverse, but with a kick,” grinned Hernandez, noting that while the sellers lean Latin the roster is by no means exclusionary.
The trio designed the event to be a testing ground for those who were considering turning side hustles into main gigs, with a deliberate focus on cross-promotion and community support. All three individuals have watched their businesses take off as a result of markets, recalling that without the boost in confidence that some of these formative events provided, each may have at some point thrown in the towel. “It’s really nice to see people value your work and your hand-made work,” said Mendoza. Between the three, the North Side Market has been founded with strategy in mind and love at its core.
Amaya, who could be considered the event’s leader, quickly began getting the wheels turning for what would become North Side Market after she and Hernandez reconnected via Facebook. “It all started with [Hernandez] sharing a post about how his wife was doing these polymer earings,” Amaya said. That wife just so happened to be Mendoza, whose homemade earing project Good With Clay was then beginning to become a feature at some of the existing pop-up markets. Amaya was also steadily growing her beaded hat business AmaDa Artesania since December 2019, with regular features at what was then Night Market (now Made By Us) along with Westwood’s Mercadito.
Hernandez is the founder of Café Cruzano, a COVID pivot that has fully developed into a growing coffee business, with the man selling all-organic beans he sources from his extended family in his native Veracruz. Along with online sales, the coffee can be found at Tessa Delicatessen, Panaderia Luna and Panaderia Rosales — one of the oldest and most iconic bakeries in the North Side.
Things really got in motion after Hernandez and Mendoza brainstormed on a drive to Pueblo. On the return trip, they spent the entire time on the phone with Amaya, excitedly putting together the pieces to make the market a reality. The Monkey Barrel‘s owner Jimmy Nigg was quick to get on board, providing the lot where North Side Market will continue to take place.
Each of the three has taken on a distinct role in the actual orchestration, with Mendoza handling social media, promoting, traditional paper flyers and connecting to local makers largely through Instagram. Amaya continues to be central to each step of what has been set at a bimonthly curation, helping to conceptualize and organize a lineup intentionally designed to showcase as many new participants with each event as possible. While Hernandez certainly brings his ideas to the table at each turn, his main role has been the grounds coordinator, handling wiring, spacing and all the other minutia that ensures the day goes off without a hitch. “His work doesn’t start until the day of the market,” smiled Amaya. “And he still needs to set up his own booth,” she continued.
While pop-up markets all allow for solid networking, North Side Market has taken particular measures to provide solutions for the distinct hoops they see Latin vendors facing. Last weekend Alvaro Saucedo was onsite taking photos and shooting both traditional and drone video. “We get every vendor professional photos that they can use at their booth in the future,” said Mendoza. On May 8, Sunnyside Accounting will be available to help with financial planning and contract-related questions. “It’s so exciting to see our people come out and do this,” smiled Mendoza. While many markets seem to consider customers first, North Side Market appears to have attracted droves last Saturday by putting more than a little extra energy into providing for its sellers. “I’m pretty sure The Monkey Barrel was the envy of everybody,” laughed Amaya.
To further fuel the fire, the founders have noted that the chance to break stereotypes has made vendors extra hungry. “We’ve had to work hard to get this type of attention,” said Hernandez. “We want to be seen as an earring maker, as a hat maker, as a coffee owner,” he continued, noting that the entrepreneurial spirit has always been there even in the absence of proper recognition.
Last week’s vendors included stalls by each of the three organizers alongside Chismes y Cafecito, Three Dogs Pickles, Aztlan 5280, Firme Foods Ltd., Cholo Ass Vegan and Not Yo Mama’s Cupcakes, amongst others. May 8 will see some returns, with Dixy Donuts, Loverboy Fine Chocolates, Refried Rockabilly, The Bomb Enchilada, Carrera’s Tacos and TTS Sneakers’ Victor and Beth Quevedo — who Hernandez cites as being instrumental to the event’s early formation — all joining the party.
All three are optimistic, particularly after the opening weekend’s success. “We had at least five vendors completely sell out,” said Hernandez. “I sold all my hats,” added Amaya.
As for the neighborhood, the trio has grown to see it less as a battleground than as fertile soil. “The changes are good, we just want to be a part of that change,” beamed Hernandez. “We are not getting left behind at all.”
North Side Market will continue to take place at The Monkey Barrel at 4401 Tejon St., Denver. The next one will be on Saturday, May 8 from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m., with another happening on Saturday, May 22 at the same time.
All photography by Adrienne Thomas.