Michelle Lasnier envisions her space on South Pearl Street in Denver’s Platt Park neighborhood as a community hub.
Though some COVID-19 gathering restrictions are still in place for now, Lasnier foresees many fun community events — pop-up exhibits and meet-the-artisan events, perhaps — taking place at Ruby’s Market in the future.
In March, Ruby’s Market, 1569 S. Pearl St., celebrated its one-year anniversary. And despite opening in the midst of a global pandemic, it has become the spot to support local immigrant and refugee entrepreneurs.
“For me, it’s all about them,” Lasnier said of the immigrant and refugee artisans. “I focus on their dreams, and that’s what I help facilitate.”
Ruby’s Market is the business that houses the R Bazaar, which is a nonprofit that got its start five years ago to celebrate the journey of local immigrant and refugee entrepreneurs. Featuring a variety of locally-made multicultural artisan products, the R Bazaar launched as a mobile market and went all around the Denver metro area, Lasnier said. The R Bazaar was a vendor at the South Pearl Street Farmers Market, which is how Lasnier found out that the space where Ruby’s Market is now located had become available.
Ruby’s Market as a brick-and-mortar was set to open just as the pandemic hit and caused the shutdown in the early spring of 2020. Unable to allow customers inside the establishment at the time, Lasnier instead launched the online Ruby’s Market Box in April 2020, boasting 70 vendors and at least 400 items. Now a permanent fixture, Ruby’s Market Box allows people to browse nearly every item available inside the store – including spices, sauces, chocolate, jewelry, art and soaps, for some examples.
Lasnier also heard from refugee families that they were struggling to get toiletries and cleaning products because those items cannot be purchased with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
“I wanted to offer a place where community members can come and donate such items,” Lasnier said.
So, she partnered with Lutheran Family Services and the African Community Center — both are local re-settlement agencies — to open Ruby’s Pantry, which operates out of Ruby’s Market’s garage. Community members can drop items off at Ruby’s Market, and the two organizations above have volunteer drivers that pick up the items and deliver them to refugee families residing across the metro area.
Ruby’s Market was able to start welcoming guests inside the store last May. As a global market, the store features more than 40 vendors, ranging from local family farmers to immigrant and refugee crafters.
“For immigrants and refugees, it can be a long process to integrate,” Lasnier said.
Ruby’s Market can serve as a link to the community and help facilitate integration, she added.
Yurima Crowley is one of the artists whose work is available at Ruby’s Market. Crowley is a jewelry-maker who immigrated from Venezuela in 2015 in search for a better life for herself and her son.
In Venezuela, Crowley worked as a jewelry importer, and she decided to become the jewelry designer/creator after she settled in the U.S.
She completed a 20-week course offered through the University of Colorado called the Family Leadership Training Institute, and three years ago, launched her I Love ME jewelry line. Referred to as simply ME, the word ME stands for Manos Emprendedoras, Spanish for entrepreneurial hands.
With the jewelry line, Crowley provides work opportunities to other immigrant women and currently works with eight women who reside in Aurora.
How it works is, every Tuesday for two hours, the group gets together — they are gathering virtually now, but will go back to in-person once the pandemic is no longer an issue — to make jewelry. During each session, Crowley teaches the women how to make a specific piece of jewelry and provides them with all the supplies they need to make a predetermined number of that piece of jewelry.
“It’s not just time for work,” Crowley said. “We love to get together. It’s a time for sharing and conversation.”
All the women have different stories to share each week, Crowley said, adding they talk about their families and traditions from their home countries, among many other topics.
The idea, specifically for the `I Love’ in the I Love ME name, Crowley said, is for the women that she works with to take me-time. For each piece of jewelry sold, a portion of the proceeds go to Crowley, a portion goes to the woman who made it and a portion goes toward purchasing the supplies, Crowley said. Therefore, because the women are their family’s primary caregiver and don’t work outside of the home, creating the jewelry once a week gives them the opportunity to socialize as well as have some money of their own to spend however they wish, Crowley said.
But not only that, Crowley added, the women love making something that will be going out into their community.
“It raises their self-esteem knowing they’re creating something that somebody will love and cherish,” Crowley said.
Eloisa Lynch believes there is healing power when one creates.
“When I’m creating, my mind relaxes,” said Lynch, who is a survivor of ovarian cancer. And “it feels amazing when someone connects with my art.”
Lynch, who was born in Mexico City and raised in Chihuahua, Mexico, came to the United States about 20 years ago — when she was 21 — to attend college and study graphic design.
She graduated, but realized she didn’t enjoy working on the computer as much as she thought she would, Lynch said. Fast forward to about two years ago when Lynch relocated to Denver and became an art teacher at a charter school in Denver’s Westwood neighborhood.
“I love the kids,” Lynch said, adding that with her job, she enjoys “the teaching aspect and making the art, equally.”
Some of Lynch’s work that can be found at Ruby’s Market is called Tesse Prints. Lynch creates these alongside her mother, Martha Flores. Tesse Prints are inspired by the mathematical nature of the late Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher’s tessellations, which are puzzle-like patterns, Lynch said. The mother-and-daughter team’s Tesse Prints go on all sorts of cardstock, such as greeting cards and postcards.
Lynch also enjoys making collage portraits. Most of the pieces she has done so far are of famous people who have a story that Lynch relates to, she said. But Lynch is now exploring making her collage portraits of the general “community members with a fighting spirit,” Lynch said. For example, a maintenance worker or restaurant server, she said.
“To me, that’s what America is all about,” Lynch said. “People from all different backgrounds.”
Ruby’s Market’s third prong is the Supper Club. This was launched in November and features authentic, prepared meals for a family of four. The meals are prepared by refugee and immigrant chefs who have a catering business but not a restaurant establishment or food truck.
Ruby’s Market exists to bring the Colorado-local, and refugee and immigrant entrepreneurs — the artisans behind all sorts of global creations — into the spotlight, Lasnier said.
“The goal is to get the vendors’ stories out there,” Lasnier said. “Global blends can really get the conversations going.”