'Like A Family': Burlington Community Helping Fund Mawuhi African Market's Move
If you've ever driven through the Old North End of Burlington, you've no doubt seen it, the market that sits at the corner of North Street and North Winooski Avenue, a brick building boasting brightly painted murals, one featuring boxing champ Muhammad Ali.
The Mawuhi African Market has been owned by Patience Bannerman and her family since 2007. Bannerman originally hails from Ghana and has called Burlington home for the last 27 years.
The clientele the market serves rely on it for tastes of home: For those in the African diaspora living in Vermont and New England, the market is one of the few stores that carry spices and vegetables and products not found elsewhere.
Bannerman has rented the space month-to-month for the past 13 years. But this October, when a new owner purchased the building, he told Bannerman he was terminating her lease. Bannerman then found herself scrambling to find a new space and still serve the community she loves.
VPR's Mary Engisch spoke with Patience Bannerman. Their conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Mary Engisch: What is on the store shelves at Mawuhi African Market?
Patience Bannerman: A little bit of everything! Jamaican Jerk, barbecue, African palm oil… Even though it's an African market, and I carry more of the African and Caribbean foods and spices, if you come in you'll see onions, you see toilet paper, you see canned tomatoes, because you know the students, most of them don't drive! So, I made it a neighborhood mini-market.
And because it is such a community fixture, the news that the store lease wasn't being renewed moved some people to action, namely community organizer Mellisa Cain, who started a GoFundMe page. And as of this recording, people had donated to the GoFundMe page and raised already over $24,000 dollars on its way to a goal of $25,000.
The funds will be used to help Bannerman and her family move the market to a new location, one she hopes is still in the Old North End of Burlington.
I'm looking at the “294” building [294 North Winooski Avenue in the Old North End]. It's just a walking distance. I put in a letter of intent.
Tell us more about that, about people coming together to support the market and its place in the Old North End and also to help with your move.
These are people I don't know, never met before, but they are supporting me. Some people have come to me: ‘The day you want to move, let me know and I will come help you move." You know, the fixtures, the equipment. And it's a big move. And whatever love you show to me, I show it back to you and I will fill you up.
Do you also still cater and have food to-go, especially during the pandemic?
No, I do have catering service. Normally, people order, so I only cook when I get the order. Since the pandemic, nobody has made any orders because they are not gathering. They are not having meetings and parties because of the pandemic.
Under a verbal agreement with the building's new owner, Bannerman and the market will stay at its current location until Dec. 31st. The market is the only location in the neighborhood that has MoneyGram, which folks from across the world use to send money home to their families, especially during the holiday season.
You're able to stay, though, in your current location at least through the holiday season?
Yeah, the holiday season, I do have MoneyGram and that's when people come and send money home to their families and all that. So I'll be there and it will help. And that's when they cook meals and all that. So that will also help.
"I have an interest to stay in the same neighborhood, because I built my clientele and you know, I trust them and they trust me. So they keep saying, we need you, we need you!" — Patience Bannerman, Mawuhi African Market owner
How do you feel about the market itself as being a really important part of the Old North End community?
Yes, you know, this place is very small. Vermont’s a small state, the neighborhood. So, we are like family. I see familiar faces. I built my clientele. Somebody had said one day to me that this store is like a lifeline. If somebody misses home and miss a particular food and doesn't know where to find it, they come and ask me. I'll write it down and try and look for it.
I make them feel home, and some foods they haven't eaten in a long time, I bring it to them. So a lot of people appreciate what I'm doing, and they need me.
I have an interest to stay in the same neighborhood, because I built my clientele and you know, I trust them and they trust me. So they keep saying, we need you, we need you! So, you know, that's why I would like to continue to stay in the neighborhood and not go too far.
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