May Mart celebrates, supports Evanston ASPA-owned businesses


Kimberly Espinosa/Daily Senior Staffer

Artem Pop Up Gallery. Owner Sarita Kamat said she appreciates May Mart for bringing attention and customers to her business.

Casey He, Assistant City Editor

Even for casual passersby, Artem Pop Up Gallery on Sherman Avenue is hard to miss. Paintings, sculptures and handmade jewelry gleam through its spacious glass window. Behind it, the warmly lit gallery awaits customers.

Owner Sarita Kamat, a multidisciplinary artist who moved from India to the U.S. two decades ago, said the gallery represents about 75 local artists. Half have been with it since it opened in 2019, while the other half rotates throughout the year. She also sells some of her own pieces along with those of the other artists, she added.

This month, Artem is participating in May Mart, an event organized by the group Evanston ASPA to celebrate and showcase diverse cultures in Evanston through its Asian, South Asian and Pacific Islander Americans-owned businesses.

There are about 70 ASPA-owned businesses in the city, according to Evanston ASPA. They include art stores like Artem, restaurants, cafes, home decor shops and salons. 

Inspired by the street markets that are part of many Asian cultures, Melissa Raman Molitor, founder of Evanston ASPA, organized the first May Mart event in 2022. 

This year, the rules for May Mart remained mostly unchanged. Molitor said those interested in participating can first pick up a May Mart postcard at a participating ASPA-owned business or print their own. After participants visit five of those businesses and receive stickers for their postcard, they can then email a photo of the completed card to Evanston ASPA and enter a raffle for a $100 E-Town Gift Card that can be used at local shops. 

Although support structures for ASPA-owned businesses, such as the Asian American Chamber of Commerce of Illinois, have recently taken root in Chicago, Molitor said they have not yet expanded to include Evanston businesses.

“(May Mart) is our local effort to bring people into Asian-owned businesses and increase their customers,” Molitor said. “(The raffle) just gets people involved and engaged.”

Jeff Yang, owner of Chicago Strings, a full-service violin shop in Evanston, said his store is participating in May Mart and offering a discount on violin strings and accessories. 

Sitting before a cabinet filled with violins of different sizes and colors with still more hanging on the wall, Yang, a professional violinist himself, said he first started his own shop from his Rogers Park home in the early 2000s and moved into his Evanston storefront in 2009.

“I’ve always bought and traded instruments when I was younger,” Yang said. “I always buy things at flea markets and yard sales and auctions, and I had a good eye.”

A Taiwanese immigrant who grew up in Seattle, Yang said he appreciates the various ASPA Heritage Month events in Evanston for bringing awareness to diverse Asian cultures and celebrating the “melting pot of everything.” 

Although his store is only doing the discount this year, Yang said he wants to be more involved in ASPA Heritage Month events in the future, such as by putting on a music performance for the community. But more importantly, he hopes for a closer-knit community of ASPA-owned businesses. 

Apart from participating in May Mart, Kamat said Artem is offering a discount on the marble mugs and coasters printed at the gallery for the month. She is also giving out free prints of one of her paintings with purchases.

Since the start of the month, Kamat said, she has already had several customers come to the gallery because of the advertising for May Mart.

“I’m very appreciative of the city and (Evanston ASPA) because they’re trying to divert people to local businesses owned by Asians so that they can support them,” Kamat said. 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @caseeey_he

Related Stories: 

Umbrella Arts Festival highlights local artists, celebrates Asian cultures

‘Spiritual and radical becoming’: APIDA artists discuss using tattoos to collect stories on skin

APIDA Book Club returns with graphic novel ‘Shadow Life’