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MKE Black Summer Marketplace returns to Deer District Sunday

Nearly 50 Black-owned businesses will be represented at the MKE Black Summer Marketplace in the Deer District, just outside Fiserv Forum, from 11 am until 5 pm Sunday.

Photo courtesy MKE Black.

It’s the third summer for the Summer Marketplace. MKE Black, founded in 2019 to uplift and spotlight Black-owned businesses, started with a food truck block party in the spring of 2021, at the corner of Houghton and Townsend on the city’s Northeast Side. That event was so successful that organizers started to think big.

“(Organizers) were like, why don’t we make it something more exciting?” said Solana Patterson Ramos, vice chair of the MKE Black board of directors. Once some businesses were on board for what became the Summer Marketplace, it was clear they’d need a bigger space. Leadership of the group was already in dialog with the Milwaukee Bucks on another project and decided to “shoot our shot,” Patterson Ramos said, and ask the Bucks to host the marketplace at the Deer District. They said yes.

Over the past two summers, MKE Black has hosted the marketplace each month with upwards of 30 vendors. This year, that’s grown to nearly 50. Those first events were free for vendors; this summer, there is a modest fee that funds marketing and publicity efforts, which will drive more traffic and sales.

“Our main thing is making sure that black businesses are getting money directly in their hands … A lot of times, Black businesses don’t get the opportunity to be showcased in a very prominent place like the Bucks arena or downtown. A lot of times, either vendor opportunities are expensive, or just not friendly to Black people,” Patterson Ramos said.

She added that it doesn’t have the feel of your typical business expo.

“We want to create not just an opportunity for folks but a vibe. It’s kind of more like a family reunion,” she said.

You don’t have to attend the marketplace to support Black businesses, though — the MKE Black app lists more than 850 Black-owned restaurants, shops, service companies and more on its mobile app, available at the iOS App Store and the Google Play Store.

Photo courtesy MKE Black.

The first of three Summer Marketplace events is set for this Sunday, with the dates and locations of the July and August events to be determined.

MKE Black, a volunteer-run, registered nonprofit organization, also hosts the Blacketty Black Holiday Marketplace and several business pitch competitions each year. More information is available on the app and the organization’s website.