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Episode 122: Celebrating local businesses at Minneapolis’ Aquatennial

Reporter Kindra Peterson looks at the economic impact in Aquatennial’s marketplaces for small businesses.

KINDRA PETERSON: Hello everyone, and welcome to In The Know – the podcast covering the latest events and news at the University of Minnesota. I’m your host, Kindra Peterson. 

This past week, I immersed myself in Minneapolis festivities called the Aquatennial, aiming to gain insights into the event itself, the businesses involved, and the economic impact it has on the vendors who participate. At the start of this, I had no idea what Aquatennial was, but I discovered that it’s an official civic celebration organized by the Minneapolis Downtown Council for the city’s residents, workers, and visitors, serving as a platform to showcase all that the city has to offer. The festivities kick off with a Torchlight Parade on Wednesday, July 19, and culminate in the city’s biggest fireworks display on Saturday, July 22. During my exploration of the event, I had the privilege of conversing with Hayley Matthews-Jones, the CEO and founder of the Minneapolis Craft Market, a participant in the weekend celebrations.

HAYLEY MATTHEWS-JONES: This is our 4th year partnering with the Minneapolis Aquatennial and so we have been a partner of the Minneapolis Downtown Council for quite a few years now and we really enjoy the opportunity to bring that local feel to such a big, focused event.

PETERSON: Since its inception in 2015, the Minneapolis Craft Market has been a resounding success in capturing the essence of the local community through its distinctive business model. With a passionate commitment to showcasing the talents of local artisans, the Craft Market has become a prominent platform for promoting the vibrant and diverse creative scene in Minneapolis. 

MATTHEWS-JONES: We work with around 2000 artists in our roster right now, and so the kind of module or the model for our business is that it’s a pop up event that happens all over the place and artists, once they’re approved to sell with us, can sign up for dates as they wish. So basically the lineup for every single market is always completely different. You’re always going to find something new there, but the one consistent theme with all of our markets is that the vendors have to be selling handmade products. So we have a variety of products from jewelry, clothing, woodwork, printmaking, all kinds of stuff. But it’s all handmade locally here in Minnesota.

PETERSON: Throughout the year, the Craft Market orchestrates an array of 80 to 100 events, spanning diverse venues such as breweries, parks and festivals, ensuring its presence is felt across the cities. Now, let’s explore the rationale behind the Craft Market’s enthusiastic participation in the one-of-a-kind Aquatennial event.

MATTHEWS-JONES: I grew up in London and so that’s part of what I grew up with is this vibrant street culture, and I think Minneapolis is really committed as a city and the downtown council as an organization is really committed to seeing different ways that we could thrive and really using small business as a catalyst for that, and I think it’s really exciting to see the city coming alive like that. 

Street culture is the mark of any vibrant, world class city. You can’t be a world class city and not have things going on in your downtown. And so I think that’s a great, it’s a great area of focus and we’re really excited to be a part of that. And I think the more that we can get people out and seeing what’s in their local community being outside with their neighbors, especially in the summer, our season is so short here and I think just trying to enjoy it while we really can.

PETERSON: What sort of vendors can people expect to see? 

MATTHEWS-JONES: We have around 50 vendors coming on Saturday, so it’s going to be quite a big marketplace, lots of opportunity to find something that you like. So some of the vendors that I’m really excited about are Kobi Co., a local candle making company. It’s a mother daughter duo and they do really great, beautiful scented candles. We have some pet things from Fuzzbutt boutique, they sell kind of handmade bandanas and collars and things like that. We have a vendor called Stuck On U Art. The guy’s name is Toby and he does a lot of cool kind of interactive things, making magnets and prints while you wait on a manual typewriter. So you can kind of do these customized magnets and cards and things like that, so it’s a really fun, cute little pop up.

PETERSON: Part of what makes the market such an important event for Minneapolis residents is the economic benefit for the vendors. According to the Small Business Economic Impact Study, $0.67 of every dollar spent at small businesses in the U.S. remains in the local economy. Matthews-Jones points out that with over 2000 vendors on the Minneapolis Craft Market’s roster, this can be a hugely impactful investment in the local community.

MATTHEWS-JONES: It’s such a great opportunity to support local and I think that that is a phrase that we hear often, now it’s become kind of commonplace. I don’t know if people fully understand always the impact that those things have, you know. You’re providing for someone’s family. You’re supporting their dreams. You’re supporting their creative outlets, you’re supporting your local economy. It’s so much more than just a transaction and a purchase. And so to see that be supported in this way by our community, when people come out and shop with them, that’s kind of what it’s all about. 

PETERSON: Now, the Minneapolis Craft Market is not the only market represented at Aquatennial. Earlier this week I also spoke with George Shannon, the founder of Black Market Events, which is a marketplace aimed at helping small business owners who identify as black or women by creating spaces and opportunities to present the businesses to new audiences. This year, Black Market Events is happy to be back at the Aquatennial celebrations on Saturday, July 22. 

GEORGE SHANNON: This will be our third year at Aquatennial and the city came to me three years ago and we’ve been collaborating with the City of Minneapolis and MDC – Minneapolis Downtown council ever since. So we’ll have about 15 vendors out there and create a marketplace, it’s called the City of Lakes Market. We’ll be out there selling goods and services and promoting business and small business owners and just trying to tap into the crowd that’s going to be there.

PETERSON: Black Market Events is eagerly anticipating a substantial turnout at Aquatennial, as it presents a tremendous opportunity to enhance brand recognition and generate new prospects for their vendors, many of whom offer truly distinctive offerings. While the Craft Market detailed their lineup of vendors, let’s now explore what Black Market Events has in store for attendees.

SHANNON: We have a variety of vendors, we have healthcare and beauty products. We have some beverage companies. We have a dog treat and toy, a company that’s going to be out there. We have this doughnut company called Doughnut Trap. We have some jewelry makers. We have some baked goods and we’re trying out this new media company, it’s called Jones Mobile media and they have this vehicle that we can display images on, so we’re going to be doing some advertising space, too. So it’s a diverse and variety of opportunities for people to enjoy the marketplace.

PETERSON: Black Market Events has experienced firsthand the economic impact generated by small businesses, including the vendors who will be participating in the event.

SHANNON: We did a recap of 30 days that we were in business from May 27 to June 27 and we had 11 events for our vendors and we totaled it up that we had $75,000 worth of income coming up the spaces that we’re in and 11 events for 30 days. So, I think the economic impact is huge and I think it helps us by one of the things we want to do is close the wealth gap that’s in Minnesota and we want to do that by promoting ownership and promoting people to bring their ideas and visions to life through small businesses.

PETERSON: Just like the Minneapolis Craft Market, Black Market Events encourages everyone to head out to the Aquatennial celebrations this weekend to have a great time, and to support small businesses. 

SHANNON: It’s a good opportunity to invest in community. It’s a good opportunity to shop, eat, vibe and connect with the community. It’s a welcoming space for all and there’s always good music, always good food and there’s always good gifts and things that people can pick up for themselves or for their loved ones or their colleagues. 

PETERSON: I’ve learned there’s a lot to do at the Aquatennial—from the markets to mini golfing, watching the River Rats ski show, listening to live music or experiencing incredible fireworks. Both the Minneapolis Craft Market and Black Market Events are on Saturday, July 22 from 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. on the Chicago Mall between the Guthrie Theater and Mill City Museum. For a full list of events and further information on the Aquatennial celebrations, you can go to 

This episode was written by Kindra Peterson and produced by Kaylie Sirovy. As always, we appreciate you listening in and feel free to email us at [email protected] with comments or questions. I’m Kindra, and this is In The Know. 

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