A walk through a building, a spin around the world
The dingy white building at the corner of Southeast 4th Street and 1st Avenue Northeast is nondescript and incongruous in the newly trendy East Bank neighborhood. But crack the unremarkable veneer, and one discovers Seven Bridges World Market -- a retail operation that is anything but ordinary.
Seven Bridges World Market has 40 businesses spanning 24 countries -- retail shops, a caf, aromatherapy, tarot card reading, dream interpretation, henna body art, Spanish classes, English classes, acupuncture, meditation and entertainment from punk rock to African drumming.
Step through the front door and enter an international bazaar. The smell of burritos and curried rice wafts from Indi's Caf International. Inside small shops find intricately embroidered Hmong tapestries, natural perfumes, raw silk Indian sarongs, carved elephants from Thailand, photographs by local artists, Russian dolls, Brazilian soapstone carvings, Egyptian belly-dancing costumes and jewelry from all over the world.
During lunchtime, local artists might wander in to perform their music on a fabric-draped stage. On Saturdays, the sounds of African Jembe drumming compete with the belly dancers' songs.
The name Seven Bridges stems from the world's seven continents, said owner Theresa Berglund. "We're bridging those continents and cultures."
"We're more than retail. We're a cultural community center. We bring together different people of different cultures, different ages, everything."
Seven Bridges began as an off-season venue for vendors at the Lyndale Farmer's Market, but quickly evolved into a year-round attraction, Berglund said. Many of Seven Bridges' merchants still have booths at various farmers' markets.
Jennifer Umolac, a former vendor at the Lyndale Farmers' Market, started the bazaar under the name Global Vision World Market in 2000.
"She originally leased that space looking for a place to house her large boatload of Buddhas coming from Bali," Berglund said. "I met her at the time that she was doing that, and it seemed like a good fit for the nonprofit work that I wanted to do."
Berglund's "non-profit work" was a work in progress. She had an idea for an organization called Seven Bridges, helping newly arrived immigrant women get a sense of belonging. As a former Anoka County public health nurse, she said that she learned the challenges immigrant women face when they come to this country.
"I just wanted to develop a program of people coming together for social support," she said. "Largely, that would be a prevention for mental health issues -- because when you don't have transportation, you don't speak the language of the culture, that can lead to isolation and depression."
Umolac left the market to pursue other interests, however, and that changed Berglund's plans, Berglund said. She took over in January, changing the name to Seven Bridges World Market.
She had to learn of lot of skills she didn't have, like accounting, Berglund said. It delayed the start of her nonprofit, although she says she is close.
In a different sort of way, Seven Bridges is already carrying out Berglund's vision to be a gathering spot.
About a dozen tables are scattered throughout one big room at Seven Bridges, but on a recent Saturday most of the patrons clumped around a few tables, chatting. Some were there because their children were taking a belly-dancing class. Others came for Indi's food. Some came to learn African Jembe drumming.
"There's a sense of community here," said a patron named Jeanne, as she watched her daughter and her son's girlfriend take a belly dancing class.
The classes offered at Seven Bridges are informal. During Kwasi Nunyakpe's drumming class, children, Haylie Madkins and Emily Goldstein sat eagerly beating their drums with wooden sticks, while an older boy and two adults drummed with their hands. "I use a stick because I don't know hand drums yet," Emily explained.
Later, five girls, ages 7 to 16, assemble for Tammy Madkins' belly dancing lessons. All grab scarves and tie coin belts around their waists for the jingly effect.
"I like the cool moves and the coin belts," said Bryanna Madkins, 11, who has been belly dancing for about a year with her mom.
Take a walk through the market, and meet the people, the vendors and their wares.