Three years ago, the world watched as Lake Street in Minneapolis sustained significant damage during the protests that followed the murder of George Floyd. Some business owners lost everything.
But with the help of their neighbors, many of those businesses cleaned up, came back and insisted that justice be both a part and a goal of the process.
Hear an In Focus conversation hosted by MPR News host Angela Davis, recorded live on June 6 in front of a live audience at the Hook and Ladder Theater and Lounge in Minneapolis, where business owners and community leaders talked about what Lake Street's rebirth can teach us about making sure recovery is equitable and accessible to all.
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Manny Gonzalez, co-owner of Manny’s Tortas. Gonzalez, a Mexican immigrant who opened the first Mexican market in south Minneapolis in 1999, explained how 2020 was one of the most difficult years for his three businesses on Lake Street due to the pandemic and the protests. His resilience and service to the community, even when his businesses were closed, helped him succeed today.
Elias Usso, owner of Seward Pharmacy. Usso talked about moving his family from Sacramento, Calif. to Minneapolis, how they lost almost everything due to the 2020 protests and how his neighbors on Lake Street kept him going.
Andy Hestness, executive director of Redesign, a nonprofit community development corporation that took part in the restoration of the Coliseum building, a beacon for local businesses and BIPOC entrepreneurs along East Lake Street. Hestness detailed the damage the Coliseum suffered during the unrest and how Redesign found an opportunity to save it after the property owners wanted to tear it down.
Yusra Mohamud, business advisor at Lake Street Council. Mohamud told the story of how Lake Street started off, how the “We Love Lake Street” initiative raised $12 million for the community and what equitable efforts were made to make sure the recovery would happen.
What drove you as a business owner to rebuild and reopen?
Usso: We lost almost everything … everything that we built. … It’s Minneapolis, you know, we’ll be back. This is the city I believe in. This is Lake Street, where immigrants come and thrive, where you feel welcomed, where you feel [at] home. And and even if you lose everything, there are people in Minneapolis that keep you up. The silver lining … our neighbors that came to bring us up and uplift us to where we are right now. And they keep on supporting us. So it was the most difficult time for all of us, you know? … The City of Minneapolis, the people, the force in Minneapolis, are the most amazing people. And that's what keeps us going … where you feel welcome as an immigrant, where you feel home.
Am I going to come back and reopen this business, and then go through this again? And I said, “if I don't do it, who will come back and do it?” Because it's incumbent on us, all of us, to just come back and reopen and keep this going as a society. That is what I believe. And Lake Street is very, very important … as an immigrant, as a minority, and as the most vibrant street that you can find in Minneapolis. The world is watching us.
Gonzalez: I live in Eagan. And people around there, you know, I tell them when my businesses and they say, “oh, Lake Street?” And I say “come on, you know, it is the best avenue in Minneapolis.”
A lot of people don't feel safe to come to south Minneapolis, but I think it's the misconception about the area. I’ll tell you, I've been here for so many years and I think it's it's a beautiful avenue, a lot of diversity. And that's the beauty about it. That you can see all kinds of people from all over the world.
I was talking when we opened up Midtown Global Market, I said we have to make this avenue a tourist destination. And I think is getting there because I got a lot of customers and they come visit and I say “where do you come from?” And it’s Colorado, Los Angeles … they come to Lake Street because it's so diverse and all kinds of opportunities. The food is unbelievable. There's a lot of misconception about Lake Street.
Stories behind the storefront
Baarla’s Boutique is a women’s fashion shop that offers modern Islamic clothing.
“I like Lake Street. Honestly, as long as we get more safe I think it's the best place to be.”
Mostafa, owner of Dar Medina in Midtown Global Market, sells handcrafted Moroccan rugs, cloth and jewelry.
“For me, the big support I need is for customers to come. Lake Street, it’s a very wonderful neighborhood. Everywhere in the world there is places good and not sometimes … people, they are trying to make it nicer. And I don't know why people get scared down here.”
Tedi Grey Owl, academic intern specialist for MIGIZI a Native American non-profit organization, and Hope Flanagan, community outreach and culture teacher for Dream of Wild Health, an intertribal nonprofit that serves the Minneapolis-St. Paul Native American community are partnering to reach their goal of helping Native American students be successful.