While working as freelancers in the Bay Area, Alexandra Cava Palomino and Raul Parra Orizondo loved going to the region’s small shops that offered local goods from the community there. But when they moved to Miami, the couple saw a lack of local artisan shops.
“We were inspired by different communities that were doing everything locally,” says Parra Orizondo. “We were experimenting a little bit and set up a trailer and started going to markets. But we were missing that part of having a place where people could come in.”
So the couple started to look around the city for a retail space and found a spot in the Miami Shores neighborhood. In 2018, the young couple opened Mima Market, a centralized hub for groceries and goods from Miami artisans and small businesses. The brick-and-mortar also serves as an education space for the community, hosting classes on topics like keeping honey bees, kombucha making, and recycling.
“We wanted to create a space that could celebrate things that were being made and grown locally by artisans and where we could learn, and other people in the community can share really valuable knowledge,” says Cava Palomino.
Hello Alice spoke with the couple to discuss building community at your business, splitting responsibilities as co-founders, and running a business with a newborn. The following conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Your store brings people together. How do you cultivate community at Mima Market?
Raul Parra Orizondo: We focus on sustainability, and customers just want to come in and learn about the process. We started finding farmers and buying fruits and vegetables when they’re in season and finding makers doing interesting things. For us, it was really important to have a hub to ask and talk about the environment, gardening, community, eating healthy, natural dyes. It was really important to bring in the community and have events like customers coming in to learn how to make kombucha.
Alexandra Cava Palomino: We have over 100 vendors that we work with who are all local. A lot of them know each other, and then they have a network of customers they know. Then their customers will even request specific products or work with artisans.
That’s what makes us unique. Because we’re such a small team, we’re really flexible and have people participate actively, like turning the store into a gallery one day or doing things that are a little bit out of the box. People in the local community see us as a place for that, which is nice.
People would come to us and say, ‘I’m starting a business, and I heard you might be able to try my products.’ Sometimes a vendor might not be ready to have their products for sale, but they know that they can come to us and get some information about where to go. So it’s really about empowering independent makers and the community at large.
Since starting the business in 2018, how have things changed, especially with the pandemic?
ACP: In 2018, there were a lot of farmers markets that were similar to what we were doing, but there wasn’t a brick-and-mortar shop that was all local. Since then, we saw more of a shift towards us, and that was a pivotal moment. It wasn’t just us; it was also on the minds of people.
Especially with COVID, it was interesting to see. Some people were obviously ordering online and getting products shipped to them, but there was also this real desire from people to continue to support businesses locally because they knew if they didn’t during that critical time, a lot of them wouldn’t be around once the dust settled. That was an interesting moment. A lot of businesses that we’re working with right now started at that time.
When you started Mima Market, was that your first time going into entrepreneurship?
ACP: We were both freelancers. I’m an artist, photographer, and illustrator, so I have been working in magazines and freelance photography and illustration. Raul is a freelance IT specialist, so we had some knowledge of business in that way, but really nothing compared to what is needed to manage this brick-and-mortar store. We just dove into it. We’ve been learning a lot on the way, and we’re still learning all the time.
And what business lessons have you learned along the way?
ACP: I would say the number one thing that we learned is that the quality of collaboration is the most important thing. You can have a network of people that you work with or a customer base and know a bunch of people. But it’s really about the quality of that connection that’s really going to be a value. For example, I can have a vendor who I work with who sells their products. If they don’t check in to see how it’s doing, or they don’t care about how it’s selling them — that makes a huge difference in how successful the product is at the store.
RPO: For me, I rely on the process of learning from other people. For example, some classes on marketing don’t really match our business needs.
ACP: Yeah, sometimes we’ve connected our vendors with other vendors who have gone through a similar situation. You can go to a general marketing class, and that might not have anything to do with your specific issue. But if you speak to someone who has gone through it and has figured it out, that could be a stronger relationship and a better way to learn.
How do you strengthen communication with your customers?
RPO: For us, we’re doing things like texting with the patrons, where customers can come and meet the makers and talk to them. Also, when they go to our website and look for us, the first thing they see are the names of the makers. Usually, when you go to the market, you don’t know the person behind the product.
ACP: We opened up the lines of communication. When someone is taking a workshop with someone, we’ve seen friendships happen, which is really special. We’ve also formed friendships with vendors and customers. You have to go shopping every day; that’s part of life’s everyday chores. But if they could be something that’s more meaningful and even fun, then why not?
As co-founders, how do you split the responsibilities?
ACP: We figured it out over time. We didn’t know in the beginning. Over time, we’ve kind of created more guidelines and structure for the business. I’m more of the organizational mind, so I’ve been writing down, ‘Okay, this is your thing for this day,’ because I like structure. Raul is definitely the big picture person and a really good motivator within the business, but also with the other people that we work with. That’s Raul’s strength — really looking at where we could go from here and looking at ways to expand the business. We’ve mostly split it up that way: I do all the social media; Raul does the financials. Over time, we figured out how to divvy things up.
We just had a baby a month ago. Raul is taking on a lot more responsibilities, as well as the employee that we work with. It’s definitely playing to your strengths.
Congratulations! How is it like running the business with a new baby?
ACP: In this first month, for me, it was important to step back from the business. I decided that I really wanted to have time to be at home with a baby and, you know, post on Instagram, and that was about it at least for a month or two. That’s been an interesting experience. Raul is taking more responsibilities, and he’s seeing things like, ‘This thing is not working. I’m going to change it around.’ So me letting go of that control a little bit has been a good process for the business. Anytime there’s been a change like that where you have to adapt, that means you learn a lot.
What’s your vision for Mima Market?
RPO: We really would like to continue empowering people, vendors, and small businesses in the area. We would like to have more education and more space where people could come, spend time, and learn and grow like a cultural center. Our space is beautiful and lovely, but it’s a little shop. It would be a great opportunity not only for the vendors that we are working with but the new vendors who are coming in.
ACP: And ideally, what we have envisioned for the space in the future will also have a bit of outdoor space. That’s really what makes Miami extremely special. Most people who grow up here or really anywhere in the States, there’s a disconnect from the land, and we’re getting reinterested again. I would love for more people to see all of the things that can grow here and how to use it in your everyday life.