Gate 34 Experience offers vendors priceless exposure
Using baseball lingo, the Minnesota Twins this season hit its new “Gate 34 Experience” out of the ballpark, according to both team officials and local business owners. Since the stadium opened, the MSR has been among those critical of the lack of diversity among its vendors and the failure to engage with businesses in the nearby North Side of Minneapolis. Gate 34 could be a major step forward in addressing those concerns.
First opened in March this year, the Twins’ Gate 34, the stadium’s main entrance, has been redesigned and expanded, adding over 9,300 square feet inside the ballpark. The redesign includes a new “Market” for local merchants where fans can visit and shop before and during games.
Over 80 local vendors — at least 20 of them Black-owned or businesses owned by other people of color — have participated at Gate 34 thus far, Twins Communications Manager Matt Hodson estimates. Breaking Bread Café and Houston White’s HWMR, both Northside-based businesses, are among the vendors this season.
“It’s been a real joy to come out here to bring people to our business,” Breaking Bread Front House Manager Anthony Jennings told the MSR.
Houston White, who operates a barbershop and his HWMR clothing brand, added, “When you think of this as advertising, it costs 10 grand to be on the [stadium jumbo videoboard]. This way we get our brand on four times [during the game].”
The Gate 34 Experience is “something unique in Major League Baseball, a shopping experience within the ballpark” beyond the traditional stadium concessions, Hodson boasts. “It has done everything we had hoped it would do. It created another must-see destination in the ballpark. We have heard tons of positive feedback from the vendors.”
The local vendors switch with every three-game series. Some, like Breaking Bread, have been at the ballpark multiple times this season. At the time of our interview, White had only one appearance but said he was open to work another series. “It just worked out to be here on these dates [in July],” he said.
“It is not a traditional application process” to get on the vendors list, Hodson points out. He noted that Mich Berthiaume, the team’s brand curator, is largely responsible for it. “She goes to every festival and pop-up that she can to see these brands and establish that relationship,” he added. White said that the Twins reached out to him.
More importantly, according to both White and Jennings, being at Twins games brings more positive awareness to the city’s North Side. Jennings said that he had run into patrons at the Breaking Bread’s West Broadway location who told him they first learned about the café after visiting their booth at a Twins game.
“I’m already seeing it,” White said. “People are going on our website. They may actually come [to his shop, located in the Camden neighborhood] one day.”
“My hope is that people start tapping into what we have to offer, which is unique, different and distinctive,” he pointed out. “I am trying to promote Black excellence across the board. Getting people to understand that — to shop local and shop North [Minneapolis].”
“Whether they buy it here or at the store later on,” Hodson noted, “our goal is to help improve these businesses and give them a platform and exposure.”
Hodson, White and Jennings all agree they are not yet ready to pronounce the Gate 34 Experience’s first year a success. “I think it is too soon to know,” Jennings said.
“We will evaluate it, not just in dollars and cents for our vendors. We are going to judge this on [the] experience that our vendors had,” Hodson said. “The end evaluation will come at the end of the season, but right now we’re thrilled at what it’s done.”
White agreed: “I like it.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.