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Iowa City To Host Its First-Ever 'Diversity Market'

LaDamus stands in front of his family-owned JD Beauty Supply in Iowa City. Tasha Lard, the owner, is a co-chair on the South District Diversity Market Event Committee.
South District Neighborhood Association
LaDamus stands in front of his family-owned JD Beauty Supply in Iowa City. Tasha Lard, the owner, is a co-chair on the South District Diversity Market Event Committee.

The first-ever Diversity Market in Iowa City opens this weekend. It will highlight underrepresented entrepreneurs while also revitalizing Iowa City's South District commercial area.

The majority of the vendors at this pop up shopping center are entrepreneurs from marginalized populations looking to further their business growth. Its main goal is to highlight Black, Indigenous and other small business owners of color as well as women.

Angie Jordan,South District Neighborhood Association President and Diversity Market co-chair, said now is the time for an event like this, referring to national conversations about race and social justice.

“People are listening. This is a window of opportunity for us to push all of our ideas and to collaborate and connect with networks that now, some of them, are more open to exploring collaboration," Jordan said.

She and the other organizers are using this weekend as the pilot. Jordan said for now, it’s only five weekends, but she wants it to become a more regular event.

“It's just now people are interested, and are listening and want to support us. So we want to capitalize on that, and make all of our efforts sustainable," Jordan said with a chuckle.

She, along with most of the other organizers, are running this event completely as volunteers. Jordan said she's going through the challenges of making this multicultural market a possibility and a tradition so that her children, and other generations behind her, won't have to.

The Diversity Market is currently at its vendor capacity of around 30, but Jordan still encouraged people to sign up on the waiting list. Since it is starting with a "soft opening," there will only be 20 vendors at this Saturday's event. But every weekend it is open, the Diversity Market will host more vendors, going up to about 30 on the final weekend.

Jordan said she has big dreams for the Diversity Market to someday be compared to the Des Moines Farmers Market. As of now, it will run every Saturday from June 12 to July 10, 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Kingdom Center in Iowa City.

"[It] elevates the BIPOC-owned and/or women-owned entrepreneurs, artisans and others looking for a spot to shine, sell their products and services and really get their name out there," Jordan reiterated. She good naturedly apologized for talking "a million words a minute."

The shopping event offers an affordable way for these entrepreneurs to market their products and services, Jordan said. The fee to be included was $50, less than some other markets around the state. It is completely free to attend, though.

"Plus another goal is to have something really fun and positive and engaging for people on our side of town to do consistently, regularly," Jordan, a woman of color, added. "We have to stand it up. We have to show folks we can do this."

The Diversity Market garnered support from other groups in the area such as the Multicultural Development Center of Iowa, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and local community colleges, among many others.

In a press release, Marlén Mendoza, co-founder of the Colectivo de Mujeres en Negocios (Collective of Women in Business) and president of the Iowa City LULAC chapter, said she hopes the Diversity Market will replicate the Mercado on Fifth's success. Mercado on Fifth is the weekly multicultural shopping center is based in Moline, Illinois.

“We’re excited to provide local food vendors and immigrant entrepreneurs with opportunities to directly sell to their community members and grow their businesses through annual community family events like the Diversity Market," Mendoza said in the press release.

There will be food, COVID-friendly activities and shopping at the five-week-long event.

Kassidy was a reporter based in Des Moines