“In the next five years, I think Gary is going to be the coolest place in the world,” Carmella Saraceno tells me as we sit at one of the café tables under a brightly colored beach umbrellas suspended from the ceiling of her recently opened Miller Beach Market Place. “I was in Tribeca, New York’s Chinatown, SoHo and East Village all before they came back and I can feel it here too.”
Saraceno so believed in the Miller vibe that she left her home in the Humboldt Park area of Chicago, where she had started both her non-profit Artists and Children Create Together as well as her for-profit business, Methods & Materials, and moved here with her husband and two children. But though she liked the community, Saraceno missed having a convenient place to shop nearby. Saraceno thought Miller needed a market, the type of place not only where you could pick up a roll of toilet paper but also where you could grab a package of Pizzelle di Nonna (Italian waffle cookies) in such flavors as anise, vanilla and chocolate, Italian subs and artisan breads, choose between 12 types of olive oil and sip freshly roasted coffee after 2 pm. All of which she stocks.
“It was a little selfish,” said Saraceno about her reasons for taking an old building in need of a lot of work and transforming part of it into the market (there are plans for developing the other section of the 5000-foot building into an event center and a commercial kitchen where burgeoning food entrepreneurs can rent space to create their edibles). “I was tired of driving to Portage to buy things I needed.”
Instead, she lives three blocks away, a walkable distance if she isn’t running off to various produce markets such as the Canal Market in Chicago, Evans in Merrillville and one in Niles, Michigan as well to buy fresh vegetables and fruits to sell.
“Friday I posted on Facebook that I was going to the markets and would be back at 2,” said Saraceno. “And when I walked in people were waiting.”
As if on cue, a woman browsing in the produce area calls over and asks if there’s any fresh arugula. Alas, they sold out about an hour ago.
The market is located on what Saraceno calls Miller Square – the neighborhood where Shelby Street merges with Locust. Also here are two venerable restaurants – Flamingo Pizza which first opened its doors in Gary back in the 1940s and has been a mainstay here for many years, and the Beach Café which opened back in the 1930s, went through several owners before shutting down for a few years and then renovated and re-opened about two years ago. Nestled across the street is Marquette Perk, an adorable coffee and baked goods café. They close at 2 pm which is why Saraceno won’t be serving her coffee before that.
“Miller Square is community,” she said. “We help each other out.”
To foster this sense of community, Saraceno has created a community calendar, experiencemillerbeach.com, where everyone can post an event. She sees Miller Square as a nexus where people can gather. To that end she also has cooking demonstrations.
“Rosie Kresser who is originally from Puerto Vallarta and comes from a family of restaurateurs will be here on Friday for the next month or so making high end Mexican food,” she said.
Bruno Organics Home Delivery, another Miller Beach business which delivers organic and farm fresh, locally sourced foods, supplies eggs to the store. Also for sale are locally made food stuff such as Dave’s Strudel and Fudge and individual packets of The Caffeinated Cashews made by Elizabeth Wallish who Saraceno met at a woman’s entrepreneurship class several years ago.
“She asked me if I’d sell her cookies,” said Saraceno. “She brought over a batch and I sold out of them that day.”
After spending the day in Miller Beach, Wallish decided to move here from Chicago.
For decades, this building housed the Beach Pharmacy.
“Everybody I meet has fond memories of coming here, getting Jack Spratt Ice Cream and picking up things for the beach,” said Saraceno.
Indeed, the beach is just steps away and so Saraceno is stocking the shelves with seasonal items including sunglasses, lotions, beach umbrellas and the like during summer and bird feeders and binoculars.
Miller Beach Market Place will be hosting their grand opening starting with a Red Ribbon Cutting Ceremony at 4 p.m. on May 23rd with Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson in attendance. That starts off a long weekend of special programming at the store.
But before that, Saraceno has more plans. She’s starting a box lunch delivery service to local businesses and homes, expanding her produce area and adding tables for outdoor dining. And, of course, turning this part of Gary into the next coolest place.
“If you want the community to go to the next level,” she said, “you need a place to buy toilet paper.”