After verdict, small businesses eager to welcome customers and rebuild

Two woman pose for a photo.
Elvira Espinoza, right, and her granddaughter Chelsy Solis-Cruz pose for a photo inside La Alborada Market, their business on East Lake Street. The store and restaurant was one of many buildings that looters ransacked in May 2020 during the unrest that followed the police killing of George Floyd. The market was closed for two weeks while family members and workers cleaned up the mess and repaired the damage.
Matt Sepic | MPR News file

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, looting and fires damaged hundreds of businesses in the Twin Cities.

Daunte Wright’s killing in Brooklyn Center earlier this month led to unrest and curfews, and some braced for the worst as the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin unfolded in Minneapolis. But after Chauvin was found guilty on murder charges last week, worries about a second round of destruction eased.

Business owners along Lake Street in Minneapolis started taking the plywood down from windows, and a heavy law enforcement presence started to pull out.

Restaurants, retailers and service shops that struggled to stay afloat looked hopefully toward an easing of the pandemic and warmer weather to attract customers. At the same time, nonprofit groups increased support for entrepreneurs of color and hoped to turn a recovery into a launch pad for building wealth in struggling communities.

What are the challenges and early successes of rebuilding on Lake Street and elsewhere? How were businesses affected by the Chauvin trial and the pandemic? What will business look like in the future?

After the relatively peaceful response to the Chauvin verdict, “there is just this real sense of relief” among small business owners in the Twin Cities, Allison Sharkey, executive director of the Lake Street Council, told MPR News host Angela Davis.

But with the trial of the other three officers involved in George Floyd’s arrest still to come, Sharkey acknowledged “there is some trepidation about what could come next. … We continue to have a lot of work to do.”

Renay Dossman, executive director of the Neighborhood Development Center, said small business owners are a strong bunch. 

“They’re resilient, and they’re smart, and they’re savvy,” Dossman said. “If you’re an entrepreneur, you want to serve. … They just really want people to come back.”

Cesia Abigail Baires, owner of the Salvadoran restaurant Abi’s, helped organize a neighborhood watch on Lake Street during the unrest following George Floyd’s murder to protect residents and businesses from looters.

“Lake Street has so much history and so much culture, and I just didn’t want that to be gone,” Baires said.

Elias Usso’s Seward Pharmacy was hit hard by looters in the summer of 2020 and again following Wright’s killing. “But there’s something beautiful about Minnesota, and you cannot give up: It’s the people, the neighbor,” Usso said. “They will keep you up, they will keep you going.”

MPR senior economics contributor Chris Farrell also stopped by to discuss economic optimism in the U.S., the future of work and unemployment, and President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” recovery plan — and associated tax hikes for the wealthy.

Farrell said that the question central to tax policy debates is really: “What do you think is a good society?”

Guests:

  • Renay Dossman is executive director of the Neighborhood Development Center, a nonprofit organization that supports small businesses, especially Black, indigenous and immigrant entrepreneurs. NDC developed and co-owns Midtown Global Market on Lake Street near Chicago Avenue.

  • Allison Sharkey is executive director of the Lake Street Council, which provides financial, legal and other support for businesses.

  • Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor at MPR News.

Use the audio player above to listen to the program.

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