Businesses press on in Minneapolis

Origami Restaurant: “Our windows can be replaced, George Floyd's life cannot.”

Tony Gulyard (l), co-owner of One 21 4 East Barbershop and Manny Minter, owner of Fit 1st Running, have reopened their Hennepin Avenue storefronts.

Banadir Pharmacy was looted two nights in a row at Lake & Blaisdell, but Dr. Edris Kosar hasn’t yet tallied the loss. Instead he explained the situation to his suppliers, cleaned and boarded the store and reopened three days later. 

“I still have got Monday patients coming to me and they want their medications,” he said.

The pharmacy is delivering 80% of prescriptions, so customers can stay home during the pandemic. Corporate pharmacies that were damaged could be slow to come back, Kosar said. 

“That is one of the reasons why I had to act with a sense of urgency,” he said. “Somehow, someway I have to take the burden for the rest of the community.”

Dr. Edris Kosar. File photo

Rongo’s auto shop was destroyed by fire, but Gemechis Merga is still making minor repairs in the parking lot using donated tools. Some other damaged businesses have quickly reopened the doors, including Valerie’s Carniceria and Sebastian Joe’s. Origami’s patio is open, saying: “Our windows can be replaced, George Floyd’s life cannot.” Galactic Pizza is turning down donations and instead plans to cover its own insurance deductible and give all June 9 food and beverage proceeds to the Black Visions Collective and Lake Street businesses in need.

The City of Minneapolis’ observable building damage is at least $100 million to $150 million, based on an initial assessment by 17 teams that fanned throughout the city. At least 11 buildings should be demolished in the interest of public safety, according to city staff. 

The heaviest damage covers a five-mile stretch of Lake Street concentrated around the 3rd and 5th precinct headquarters and a one-mile stretch of University Avenue in St. Paul, according to the Star Tribune, impacting many businesses owned by people of color. In Southwest Minneapolis, much of the damage is along Lake Street, stretching a few blocks to the north and south along Hennepin, Lyndale and Nicollet. 

The damage will likely increase the wealth gap and intensify displacement pressure for the BIPOC [black, indigenous and people of color] community, said David Frank, director of Community Planning and Economic Development. Still to come are estimates of business financial losses, as well as the loss of community economic wealth, which includes harder-to-quantify impacts like the cost of living, property values and farther travel for goods and services. 

Frank recommended the city seek aid of more than $500 million.

The Community Legal Collective is providing free services every Saturday through at least June 20 at Zeus Jones, a marketing firm that offered its empty Eat Street building while employees are working from home. Originally conceived as legal help for protesters and businesses, the effort has expanded to include areas like bankruptcy, immigration, LGBT rights and family law.

One participant is attorney Margo Brownell from Maslon LLP, a firm that has offered to represent businesses pro bono. Given the pandemic, estimating profit losses could become complicated, she said. She recommends that shops seek counsel. One insurance adjuster recently asked a business owner for a credit check, which Brownell had never seen in 20-plus years of practice.  

The Lake Street Council is hearing from some business owners who are told they don’t have the proper insurance coverage. To help fill the gap, the council has raised $6 million from more than 62,000 people worldwide, with proceeds dedicated to helping businesses and nonprofits rebuild and reopen.

“We do know the money needs to get out soon,” said Theresa Swaney, the Lake Street Council’s senior creative operations manager. 

She hopes shoppers support grocery stores that are open, particularly while construction hinders access and free food donations are plentiful. Open stores include Longfellow Market, La Loteria Market, Super Mercado Morelia, La Mexicana and La Parcela Produce (previously El Chinelo).

“With COVID happening and now this, they’re going to need all the help they can get,” she said.

Council Member Alondra Cano said she wants swift council action so that communities of color aren’t bought out and displaced at a vulnerable moment.

“If you have a relationship with the brown folks on our commercial corridors, you understand that this is more than just buildings. You know that this is how people feed their kids, how people are planning to send their kids to college,” she said, explaining her support for National Guard protection. “It’s not just about the physical buildings on Lake Street and trying to protect them, but it was trying to protect the history [and] presence of a community here that is now under threat of being completely erased.”

Following the 1992 Los Angeles riots, most of the impacted neighborhoods saw unemployment and poverty worsen and per capita retail sales fall, according to a 2017 UCLA study. 

Business owners reflect

Byron Gulyard has spent a lot of time sitting outside his barber shop on Hennepin Avenue in recent weeks. He sat outside until 4:30 a.m. on two nights to make sure there were no problems at his business. Now he’s sitting outside so regulars can see that despite the boards on the windows, One 21 4 East Barbershop is open for business.

“This is how we feed our families,” he said, describing the pandemic and protests as a “double whammy” for the business. 

Reflecting on the police killing of George Floyd, Gulyard, who is African American, said he’s been harassed by police since he reached driving age more than 30 years ago.

“It could have happened to myself, it could have happened to my kids, it could have happened to anyone,” he said. “They turn it into a black or white situation, but it’s a right and wrong situation.”

“We’ve been through this so many times in our lives,” said Louis Hunter, owner of Trio Plant-based. “Pray for America. This fight is not over.” 

During the protests, a Unicorn Riot reporter was interviewing Hunter outside Trio’s door when state troopers walked by and pushed them inside. For Hunter, it brought back painful memories of protesting Philando Castile’s killing.  

“Unfortunately, me being black, in a community that I own a restaurant in, white police officers found it hard to believe that I’m the owner,” he said.

Trio’s co-founders suggested shutting down when they ran into financial trouble, but Hunter said he wanted to keep going. He became the sole owner in 2019.

“Looking back wasn’t an option. I can’t do that, it would have led me right back to the streets, and I didn’t want to do that,” he said. 

Ever since he put up a takeout sign and opened the restaurant window to let some air in, he’s been selling 200 to 300 meatless Beyond burgers each day. A GoFundMe to benefit Trio has raised more than $160,000. Now Hunter plans to meet with other black-owned restaurants and help other entrepreneurs who don’t have kitchens yet. 

“I’ve never seen this in my life. Every day I wake up and it’s like, Is this real? I’ve got to pinch myself. I’m just overwhelmed by supporters,” he said. 

While waiting for her business to fully reopen, Ja’Lisa Calaway, owner of Ja’Lisa’s Gorgeous Extensions, said she had a couple of panic attacks, a couple of breakdowns and applied for a couple of grants. An unhappy customer recently threatened to damage her business. But the Kingfield neighborhood has been very supportive, she said. 

“People I don’t even know are texting my phone like, ‘Hey, I walked past your shop today, everything’s all good,’” she said. “People genuinely actually care.”

She’s skeptical of businesses that have never hired a black person and now display Black Lives Matter boards on their windows. She plans to keep her own store boarded until at least July.

“I’m kind of nervous about reopening. I kind of just want to wait and to see if they actually convict the police officers,” she said. “I know the truth that if they don’t, it’s going to go bad really fast.”

Sunny’s Hair & Wigs has operated at 2938 Lyndale Ave. S. for 28 years. Owner Lisa Memberr would like to continue to maintain the store’s presence in Minneapolis, and she’s working to secure insurance payment for items that were destroyed. 

“I just feel that the country has just reached a point where something drastic had to be done to hear the voices of those who felt voiceless,” she said.

She worries about her grandsons.

“I don’t want to have to be concerned that there’s a possibility that their lives can just be threatened just because they’re black,” she said. “It’s a true, honest fear that I have, especially for my 16-year-old grandson.”

Memberr’s father was a police officer in New York City, and she grew up with respect for police. It only takes a few people to put a community in dire straits, she said. The same is true for violence — protesters are earnest and committed to the cause, she said. Only a few people go out and cause harm.

“We all become complicit; we all have some responsibility. We either have not voiced our opinions loud enough, or we have not done the work that we need to do to bring about justice and change, especially in the police department,” she said. “Not only do we want the world’s attention, but we want, as a result, change to take place. Human decency. We’re not asking for anything more than human decency.”

Fundraisers for impacted businesses

Lake Street:



Midtown Global Market:

Artists Antione Jenkins (left, @antione_jenkins3) and Josh (right, @yungjustinanderson) paint at Spyhouse Coffee on Hennepin, drawing from their experience at a recent protest on I-35W.

Youth artists Kumari, Isuri, Kaelani and Tuula, pictured at Apoy.