Listen: In Focus: Stories Behind the Storefront

MPR’s Angela Davis hosts a North Star Journey Live special of an In Focus conversation “The Lake Street Recovery - Stories behind the storefront.” Recorded live in front of a live audience at the Hook and Ladder Theater and Lounge in Minneapolis, business owners and community leaders talk about what Lake Street's rebirth can teach us about making sure recovery is equitable and accessible to all.

Program also presents three short interview clips of stories from the Lake Street community.

[NOTE: Audio includes news segment]


2023 MBJA Eric Sevareid Award, first place in Documentary/Special category


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[MUSIC PLAYING] ANGELA DAVIS: Happy Monday, everyone. I'm Angela Davis. 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 businesses 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.

Today, you will hear a special In Focus conversation recorded 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 accessible to all.

YUSRA MOHAMUD: [CHUCKLING] We continue to be loud and show them that we still need the support, and it's really important to be a voice and continue to be a voice. I think they'll only lose interest if we dim our lights, and that's not going to happen anytime soon.

ANGELA DAVIS: More stories Behind the Storefront right after the news.

KORVA COLEMAN: Live from NPR News in Washington, I'm Korva Coleman. Former President Donald Trump will appear in a federal courtroom in Miami tomorrow to face charges of mishandling classified documents. The indictment has 37 counts. Trump spent the weekend defending himself and telling supporters that the charges are baseless. NPR's Domenico Montanaro tells us that while most of Trump's rivals for the GOP presidential nomination are defending him too, there are a couple of critics.

DOMENICO MONTANARO: We've seen some criticism from Chris Christie, the former New Jersey Governor, and former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson. Christie called the facts in the indictment devastating. Hutchinson says that Trump should drop out, but they're really in the minority in their party and, at this point, have pretty limited support.

KORVA COLEMAN: NPR'S Domenico Montanaro reporting. President Biden welcomes the outgoing head of NATO to the White House today. Biden and Jens Stoltenberg will discuss Russia's war in Ukraine. NATO members will gather next month in Lithuania to select a new Secretary General to succeed Stoltenberg.

Authorities in Philadelphia are cleaning up an underpass on Interstate 95 that collapsed yesterday. It buckled after a fire from a fuel truck underneath. The section of freeway is heavily used, and the closure will create headaches for motorists. From member station WHYY, Tom MacDonald reports, it will take time for repairs.

TOM MACDONALD: The fire from a tanker stuck beneath the affected section burned so hot, it left the roadway a mess of twisted I-beams and burned concrete. The segment that was roasted fell about 20 feet to the ground, leaving tons of debris that are being removed. Once the debris is completely cleared, engineering studies will have to be done to come up with a fix for the damaged section of highway.

State and federal officials are guaranteeing that money won't be the issue, but time will be. The morning commute is a crawl, and the detour could take an hour or more to complete. For NPR News, I'm Tom MacDonald in Philadelphia.

KORVA COLEMAN: Stocks opened higher this morning, as investors wait for news on inflation and the Federal Reserve's campaign against it. NPR's Scott Horsley reports the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose nearly 80 points in early trading.

SCOTT HORSLEY: The Federal Reserve begins a two-day policy meeting tomorrow, just as the Labor Department delivers a new report on inflation. Fed officials will have some time to study that report showing how much consumer prices rose in May before announcing their own decision on interest rates on Wednesday. Investors are betting the Fed will leave interest rates unchanged this month after raising its benchmark rate at each of the last 10 Fed meetings.

Rate hikes could resume in July, however, if inflation remains stubbornly high. Asian stocks were mixed overnight up in Tokyo and Hong Kong but down in Seoul and Shanghai. After a strong start to the year, China's economy appears to have downshifted amid softening retail spending. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.

KORVA COLEMAN: On Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is now up about 75 points. The NASDAQ is up 73. This is NPR.

SPEAKER 1: Support for NPR comes from NPR stations. Other contributors include the Lodestar Foundation, inspired by the principle that helping someone else less fortunate is a path to a happier, healthier, and more meaningful life. Learn more at

EMILY REESE: For NPR News in the Twin Cities, I'm Emily Reese. Drivers getting onto some of the busiest sections of freeway in the Twin Cities may have noticed a new fixture on the side of the road. MnDOT has installed gates on 10 entrance ramps. They're like the barriers that are used to close the interstates in rural areas during snowy conditions. MnDOT's spokesperson Anne Meyer says the new gates aren't weather related but have the same purpose.

ANNE MEYER: Incidents happen on the freeway, whether that be serious crashes or semi-rollovers. Sometimes, we have spills, incidents on bridges. So we wanted to have a means that we could really limit traffic to those areas maybe a little bit quicker than what we currently do.

KORVA COLEMAN: Meyer says truck blockades require multiple people and lots of equipment. Whereas gates can be operated by a single person. They've been installed on ramps to Interstate 94 at Cretin Avenue and 280 in St. Paul. In Minneapolis, there are gates from Hennepin and Lyndale to eastbound 94 and on 25th Avenue to westbound 94. Interstate 35W has a gate at 4th Street and University.

In Minnesota, independent repair shops are now able to order instructions and parts to fix phones, appliances, and electronic devices. Emily Baker is the director of Reuse Minnesota. She told MPR News host Cathy Wurzer, the law will help many people.

EMILY BAKER: And we feel that it's important to level the playing field for independent repair shops to be able to help folks, as well as people to do their own independent repair.

KORVA COLEMAN: The right to repair law takes effect July 2024. Minnesota is one of several states with similar laws. Road construction begins today on a stretch of US Highway 212 west of the Twin Cities, near Cologne. MnDOT says the four-lane highway will be reduced to one lane in each direction for at least a couple of weeks. Further lane closures are expected later this summer.

Crews will be repairing the concrete along that stretch of highway 212, making improvements to two bridges and installing cable median barriers among other work. The project is scheduled to wrap up this fall. The Rochester Arts Center is seeking an artist to partner with them in creating exterior window treatments that will prevent birds from colliding with the building's windows. The selected artist will get a $10,000 stipend, submission deadline is July 1. More info can be found by contacting the Rochester Arts Center. This is MPR News.

SPEAKER 2: Programming is supported by Hennepin Healthcare, a complete system of care, including HCMC hospital, eight neighborhood clinics, a clinical research institute, and a leading academic medical center, teaching Minnesota's future healers today. Learn more at Programming is supported by the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, a tribal nation that is the largest employer in Scott County and one of the largest charitable givers in Minnesota. More at


ANGELA DAVIS: Hello, everyone. I'm Angela Davis, and I am thrilled to welcome you to another live In Focus discussion that we are doing out in community. Again, so great to see everybody's faces tonight. Good to be able to meet so many of you as well. Yes, let everybody hear how excited you are to be here.


Right now, I am at Hook and Ladder Theater and Lounge in Minneapolis to discuss the recovery of Lake Street. As you all likely remember, with vivid detail I'm sure, Lake Street was ground zero three years ago for the racial uprising that spread around the world after the murder of George Floyd. In fact, the burned-out third precinct is literally right next door. But that's just one of the signs that remains, one of the markers that reminds us of the destruction that swept Lake Street back in 2020.

Today, many businesses have reopened. People are back. And the community-- it feels strong. But we also know that this recovery process has not been without a lot of challenges, and that's what we're going to discuss tonight. We will hear from business owners along Lake Street, as well as some of the community groups that jumped in to get this corridor back to life.

Let me introduce you to our guests who are here on the stage with me. So first, we are going to meet two business owners. Here on the end, this is Manny Gonzalez. And Manny is a pillar of the Lake Street business community. He and his sister Victoria co-own Manny's Tortas in the Midtown Global Market. Oh, somebody's been there, Manny.


I don't want to give away too much of a story, but I am excited to have him to share his story. Welcome to In Focus, Manny.

MANNY GONZALEZ: Thank you so much, Angela.

ANGELA DAVIS: Nice to meet you.

MANNY GONZALEZ: Yeah, nice to meet you.

ANGELA DAVIS: Next to Manny is Elias Usso. Elias owns Seward Pharmacy on East Lake Street. He has an amazing story as well. So glad you're here.

ELIAS USSO: Thank you, Alex. Thank you, Angela.


ANGELA DAVIS: And we also have two people who represent groups that are heavily invested in Lake Street's inclusive recovery. Yusra Mohamud is here, and Yusra is a business advisor at the Lake Street Council. And that is a group that has really changed dramatically since 2020. Welcome to In Focus, Yusra.

YUSRA MOHAMUD: Thank you for having me.


ANGELA DAVIS: And here we have Andy Hestness. Andy is the executive director of Redesign, and that is a community development corporation for the greater Longfellow area, which includes East Lake Street. Hi, Andy. Thank you for being here.

ANDY HESTNESS: Yeah, thanks for having me.

ANGELA DAVIS: Hi. So I, of course, would like to start with the business owners. So Manny, you've been on Lake Street for a long time. But tell us a little bit about how Manny's Tortas came to be. How did you get started here in Minneapolis?

MANNY GONZALEZ: OK. First, [SPEAKING SPANISH] Thank you for coming to South Minneapolis.


I'll tell you a little bit about myself. I study Hotel Administration in culinary school in Mexico City. But I need the English to come back to Mexico. I want to work for a nice hotel, Sheraton Maria Isabel [SPEAKING SPANISH]


But I need the English. So I came here to Minneapolis, and I live in Lake Street since 1982. So I see the changes and the whole avenue. I work in different restaurants all over the Twin Cities. I hear about a project on Lake Street, the first Mercado Central, the first Latino market in Lake Street. And they were looking for restaurants.

So I thought, oh, what a great opportunity. Maybe I should apply.

ANGELA DAVIS: I'm the guy.

MANNY GONZALEZ: Right, yeah. So I apply, and they want five restaurants in that space. And you have to come up with a menu. So I thought, well, you know, I know everybody is going to do enchiladas, tacos. So I thought, why not tortas? A lot of people-- they didn't know what tortas are.

Like, in South America, tortas are cakes. But in Mexico, they're sandwiches. So I thought, I'm going to make my menu about tortas. So I thought to do a gourmet Mexican sandwiches. So I apply. And 25 restaurants apply, and they choose me. I was one of the five, so I was so lucky then they choose me.

So I opened Mercado Central in 1999. That was my first location. And it was so successful because in South Minneapolis, the Latino population was growing. And it was the only Mexican market at that time, so it was really busy.

ANGELA DAVIS: So Manny, tell us how you then located or relocated into the new Midtown Global Market, because that happened in 2006 you moved into there.

MANNY GONZALEZ: Yes. So like I said, I opened in 1999. So Mercado was so busy, two years later, I opened a Lake on 27 across the street, just right there.


Yep. And I was there from 2002 to 2007. And then I opened Midtown Global Market in 2006. So I have three locations and Lake Street. I didn't want to go anywhere else. I love this avenue.


ANGELA DAVIS: OK, so this is how we arrived to-- well, we get to 2020. What happened in 2020 while you're located-- your location there in the Midtown Global Market? What did your restaurant experience?

MANNY GONZALEZ: OK, so I was-- that day, I was at home. And one of my employees called me, one of my girls. They say, Manny, I hear there is a big protesting and the police station right here. So I was watching TV. I was watching CNN, and I saw the protest. And they told me.

I said, well, the market say we got to close because they don't know what's going to happen. So I told, well, just wait a little bit. I'm watching the news. And just people just protesting. I don't think nothing is going to happen, just protesting.

And then the night came down. And that's when I started seeing, oh, my God, hell break loose. So yeah, they closed Midtown Global Market.

ANGELA DAVIS: And also, you were already suffering. Business was suffering because of the pandemic.

MANNY GONZALEZ: Oh, yeah. Well, I can tell you a little bit about the pandemic.


The governor told us, like, OK, every business has to close. So I remember Midtown Global Market has a meeting and say, OK, we got to close maybe for a week, two weeks. You guys want to be open just for deliveries or pickup? A lot of business in Midtown Global Market-- they say, well, now we're going to close. They thought, well, we wait for two weeks and see what happens.

I didn't want to close, because I-- I said no because people-- where are they going to go? Or at least they can pick up their food, or I can deliver. So I was there, probably like two business there, nobody else. And we were there for, yeah, not two weeks. It was months and a year. So I was-- yeah.

ANGELA DAVIS: And so we know that there was significant damages to many businesses. Windows were broken, fires. Did you sustained damage, or did a lot of your neighboring?

MANNY GONZALEZ: No. That day, somebody sent me a video when they broke the windows in the Midtown Global Market. And I see people coming-- coming in. And the next morning, I came over. And I still see cars on fire.

And I went to my place. A lot of businesses-- they were looted. The good thing about that is Midtown Global Market has security people because Alina is there. So somehow, they contained the people. But they did a lot of damage. In my place, they-- it was a lot of food all over. And they stole my tablets, the cashiers. So it was really bad.

ANGELA DAVIS: And as we look at today, many businesses did not return, did not reopen, did not come back. And so what is your make on those who did not return, were not able to reopen?

MANNY GONZALEZ: I think because the pandemic first, they thought they would be back in two weeks. But they didn't. So a lot of them-- they decided, like, why come back? Everything is closed.

And there's another thing. We have a lot of help from government, like PPL, just to keep-- they gave us money just to keep our employees, just to work. And I used that money just to do that, just to survive. But a lot of-- a lot of those business-- they do that. So it was hard for them.

Obviously, the employees that work in those restaurants-- they didn't come back. They find other jobs or something. So yeah, we closed a lot of businesses in the Midtown Global Market.

ANGELA DAVIS: And how is business for you today?

MANNY GONZALEZ: Oh, today is wonderful because I was there. Really, to tell you the truth, I never closed. I mean, I was there. Even when we closed, I was there, serving the community. We have apartments upstairs. So I thought, where are they going to go? So yeah, so I was there. And yeah, it's very good. Thank God. Yeah.


ANGELA DAVIS: Thank you, Manny. Thank you. And Elias, let's bring you in here. You probably heard some themes in what Manny just shared, but tell us your story. I know that you had just opened Seward Pharmacy in 2019, I believe. How did that come about, opening your own pharmacy?

ELIAS USSO: Well, I've lived a few other states I lived most of my life in Georgia, in Atlanta, Georgia. And right after that, I went to school in California. And literally, I make it-- I made a triangle and then just came here to Minnesota, Minneapolis of all places so--


And then I say, this is the best place to work. I graduated as a pharmacist over there. I got my PharmD in California, in Sacramento. And then once I started here with my wife and I convinced her and try to open the business, and I finally did. And we opened the business in September of 2019.

ANGELA DAVIS: And was the community thrilled to have you there?

ELIAS USSO: I believe so. I believe so. At that point, yes. And I was doing my best to garner any support that we can. It was right after that, COVID came. You can tell how business was struggling. We were one of the lucky ones during that time because health care provider-- we were able to open and continue business.

ANGELA DAVIS: I remember seeing video of the damage that your building experience-- it was destroyed. You had-- well, tell us about it. There was, during the civil unrest, broken windows, a lot of items stolen.


ANGELA DAVIS: Describe it.

ELIAS USSO: At that point, we lost almost everything. We lost everything that we built. And I looked at my wife and I said, I mean, I know I drag you into this. But I promised her that it's Minneapolis. We'll be back. So this is the city I believe in.


ANGELA DAVIS: Why did you feel that? Because you had been shown love prior to--

ELIAS USSO: Absolutely.

ANGELA DAVIS: --the pandemic--

ELIAS USSO: Absolutely. This is Lake Street where immigrants come and thrive, where you feel welcomed, where you feel home. And even if you lose everything, there are people in Minneapolis that keep you up, the silver lining always that just makes it true to you. And I do believe that 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. Lake Street looks like down there but right now thrives. And I believe that. And because of the city of Minneapolis, the people, the folks 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. But it's the most difficult time.

So I mean, to give you a story, right after our pharmacy got break in, and the next day, the next morning, we gather everything. And then we try to clean up.

ANGELA DAVIS: Wasn't there a fire set in the office?

ELIAS USSO: Absolutely. So the part of the pharmacy was burned down. And then right after we clean up, we went and protest at George Floyd Square.


So because people are protesting for something very important, and we're a part of it, too.

ANGELA DAVIS: So this is a lot to happen to experience in your first year of opening. What has the recovery been like for you?

ELIAS USSO: So recovery-- we were lucky enough, to be honest with you. We were doing OK now, and we're doing we're kind of-- progressively, we're doing much, much better now than we start-- than when we first-- we reopened. We reopened a year after September 2020, I believe, if I'm not mistaking the date.

So we reopened again after we closed, after the looting and after all the destruction. So the recovery has been much, much better now for us. But to be honest with you, there are so many businesses.

I think Lake Street can attest to that. Lake Street Council can attest to that. There's so many businesses were not able to open. They were still struggling. They were not able to open their door. And that is what we have to fight for as a business owner.

ANGELA DAVIS: So you talked about volunteers coming to help you clean up. But who else helped you? Did anyone provide you with grants? Did you get a break, a financial break in any way?

ELIAS USSO: Absolutely. Lake Street Council, one of the pillars of our Lake Street, which help us bring this business up. The African Development forces--

ANGELA DAVIS: The African Economic Development Solutions of Minnesota?

ELIAS USSO: Yes. And I had-- I had one of my patient came us and gave us a few-- almost $1,000 just to help us reopen.

ANGELA DAVIS: A patient gave you a donation.


ANGELA DAVIS: They wanted you to come back. They wanted you to know.

ELIAS USSO: I'll never want us to come back. Because if you can imagine that during that time, it was the most difficult time for all of us. It was the most difficult time for our neighbors. I've lived a couple blocks from George Floyd Square. And everybody worried, and our neighbor really want us to come back and reopen our business.

And I thought about, am I going to come back and reopen this business and then go through this again? And I say, 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 the most vibrant street that you can find in Minneapolis. And the world is watching us. That's the fact.


ANGELA DAVIS: And you're a business owner, but this is also your community that you're living, where you're raising your child.

ELIAS USSO: Absolutely. I have a two-year-old that I can tell a story at some point in life that what I have done, what I have done my best to bring back Lake Street and do my best in life to raise her in general. So it's what we do our life-- in our life and you do your best, what you can, not for yourself, for your community.

ANGELA DAVIS: This is a good place to bring you in, Yusra. You're with the Lake Street Council. And for people who are not familiar with Lake Street Council, tell us about the history of that group and, really, how it has changed so much in the last three years.

YUSRA MOHAMUD: Yeah, definitely. Lake Street really started off with just four people, and it grew into a team of 11 now because of that. I think during-- specifically during that time of the murder of George Floyd, we were-- it was go time. And we used a word a lot-- "triage." We had to really apply triage to all the small businesses in the area so--

ANGELA DAVIS: I remember the headlines that money poured in. Like, I think you all raised $12 million in just a matter of days as part of the fundraising effort. And so was that overwhelming?

YUSRA MOHAMUD: Absolutely. I mean, so we-- yeah, we had our We Love Lake Street initiative, where we raised $12 million. I'm still amazed [CHUCKLES] by how that happened. It was really overwhelming at the time. I was a board member, actually. And I just remember just reading all the emails and being a part of the meetings and being like, what the hell is going on?


But because of that is really why I think I transitioned into wanting to put my foot in and helping be a part of this difference, because of all of the amazing things that Lake Street Council was able to offer to the community and small businesses.

ANGELA DAVIS: So remind us in detail. What are some of the things that the Lake Street Council did do to make sure that the recovery would happen and also, that it was equitable?

YUSRA MOHAMUD: Yeah, absolutely. So I mean, during the time, as you know, buildings are displaced. Buildings are being burned down. Building owners have lost everything that they could imagine, everything that they built in. Like, Elias said, these are immigrant-owned businesses.

I mean, they've left war-torn countries to build here. And so we really had to start from scratch, and that could be anything from figuring out how we could help replace their inventory, help replace their equipment, build their exteriors, their interiors, figure out their insurances.

A lot of businesses were just missing so many things, and I think we had to figure out what every-- whatever corner that we could help, assist in, we had to do it. And we had to do it fast, immediately. There was no waiting for applications and weeks and months.

Like, it was like, no, this is gold time, right now. And at the time, Lake Street Council hired contractors because, I mean, it's impossible job just for a few people to do. And so we had to reach every corner that we could.

ANGELA DAVIS: And I have to believe that just the emotional despair-- so was that helpful just knowing that Lake Street Council existed, that somebody was there on the ground recognizing that the help needed to come now? Did that give some people incentive to stay with it?

YUSRA MOHAMUD: Absolutely. I think, once again, a lot of these businesses are immigrant-owned businesses. And Lake Street Council board staff represented the community, so we had to find Spanish-speaking helpers. We have to find people who can speak the language, or Somali-speaking. And we had to just let them know, we're here for you. And so I think it was a really good way to highlight because representation is a really important thing.

ANGELA DAVIS: Of course, as we mentioned, as we know, not all businesses along Lake Street were able to rebuild, to reopen. What's your understanding of why some businesses moved elsewhere or closed for good?

YUSRA MOHAMUD: You know, unfortunately, 12 million sounds like a lot, but it's nothing at the end of the day. Not everyone could get supported, and a lot of businesses were not able to get back up on their feet. And a lot of businesses were burnt to the ground. I mean, up until this day, there's spaces that are still just gone right across the street here, that haven't just cherished. And unfortunately, it wasn't anything that could be done for at the time.

ANGELA DAVIS: Andy, let's turn to you for another story of the recovery. You're with Redesign, and it has really been deeply involved in the restoration of the Coliseum, which is a really cool project that involves several businesses in one building along East Lake Street here. So let's go back again to 2020. What happened to this building, the Coliseum? What happened at that time?

ANDY HESTNESS: Yeah, so the Coliseum building is also just about a half block from here. It's an 85,000 square foot building built over the course of many years, starting around 1917. It's hosted really-- it's been a center of the community for a long time. It had a ballroom. It's had restaurants, offices, bowling alleys.

Just about you name it, it's been in that building at one point in time. It had been County Clinic at one point as well. And that building suffered pretty significantly in the uprising and was broken into a number of times, suffered three really significant fires during--

ANGELA DAVIS: It burned?

ANDY HESTNESS: --the unrest. Yes, significantly. So there was a Denny's location, which some folks remember in that building on the corner, had a really substantial fire. There was a restaurant on the opposite end of the first floor, Mama Safia's, had a fire so hot that a metal walk-in cooler incinerated, basically, completely gone.

So the first floor of the building was pretty much destroyed from fire. The second story of the building had really significant smoke damage. And then the miraculous thing, for a long time, you walked around the third floor, and you almost wouldn't have known anything had happened to the building.

It was such a well-built, strong, concrete frame building that even in that intense damage that happened, some parts of it were OK. So the property owner at the time looked at that building and essentially determined, we're just going to tear it down. This is a total loss. My understanding is they got a full insurance payout, that the building was completely unsalvageable.

And Redesign as an organization, we've existed in South Minneapolis for about 54 years now. We're a geographically based nonprofit developer, and we've worked in commercial real estate for a long time identifying projects that other parts of the market wouldn't take on.

And this was one when all the damage happened, and many of the buildings in this area burned, our team went out and really started assessing, what are those critical properties where our small businesses have existed that are going to be potential catalysts for the community? and rebuilding both from a physical standpoint, but also from a sense of hope and where there's potential to really show the community progress.

And in that assessment process, we identified probably 20 high-priority sites and started making calls to building and property owners, identifying what the opportunities were, and started a conversation with the owner of the Coliseum building at that time. And they were like, we're going to tear it down. We're going to sell it as vacant land. And our staff said, can we take a look?

So we had a team that went in. We, on our dime, brought in some consultants, started doing some analysis, brought in an engineering firm that was expert in post-fire structural evaluation. And they said, this building can be salvaged. So we worked with a lot of partners, a lot of our funding partners, the city, and LISC and others put together a package to acquire the building and purchased it, so essentially taking that into community hands and then worked to really put together a project that was community led.

So if we thought about rebuilding the physical structure, we also wanted to start shifting, who owns property in the neighborhood? Who makes decisions about property, and who can really benefit from real estate? So we've had small businesses in the community, community ownership, and diverse property ownership that wasn't always necessarily, who owned these larger structures?

So this was an opportunity for Redesign then to really put together a team of folks who were from the community, interested in being part of our team, and then putting together a really complicated financing structure. So we brought in a number of BIPOC businesses as partners, so they are going to both be tenants in the building, but also co-own the building with us. And--

ANGELA DAVIS: I'm going to pause there. Say that again?


ANDY HESTNESS: We we've got a number of partners in this project. We financed this together, and these are going to be BIPOC-owned businesses that their businesses are in the building. But they also own the entire building.

ANGELA DAVIS: So the Coliseum will reopen--


--as a Black-owned building.

ANDY HESTNESS: Yes. Yes, so Redesign will be a part of that ownership structure to start. And due to some fun things, like Federal Rules around new markets tax credits, we're going to stay with those folks in the partnership for a period of time. But then after seven years, we're going to get refinanced out. And they're going to own that building solely, so we can be a catalyst to property going into community ownership and having our businesses own the property they're in.

ANGELA DAVIS: All right.


So the staff at MPR News talked to a lot of people as we researched this conversation, business owners, stakeholders. And a theme that kept coming up was the need for more business owners to own their own buildings. And so Redesign-- you have a long history of doing this development work, Andy. Talk about what it would take for some of these business owners to own their own buildings. Because I know, I guess you really have to get creative with the financing.

ANDY HESTNESS: Yeah, I mean, there's a lot--

ANGELA DAVIS: Why don't we see more of that?

ANDY HESTNESS: There's a lot of different parts, I think. And kudos to our small business owners. We work with them all the time. Redesign does a lot of work directly helping businesses. We also, like Lake Street Council and a lot of the other partners on Lake Street, do a lot of direct-to-business technical assistance. We work with businesses to assist with small renovations and things like that.

But what you see a lot of the time is business owners are so focused on the business they're doing that assembling financing and really just thinking through all the nuance of purchase price and agreements. And if it's a multi-tenant building, now, all of a sudden, you're a landlord. And you've got tenants and leases and all sorts of other complexity that adds to what you're already having to do with your own business.

But the role we're playing here in Coliseum is we can really set up a situation where we can create a structure that allows business owners to be a part of that ownership group, participate in the wealth building potential of real estate, but also lower some of those barriers by bringing our own expertise in real estate development, our relationships and expertise in assembly and financing. And then we can really do this jointly with those shared goals of community ownership.

ANGELA DAVIS: All right, if you're just joining us, welcome. You are listening to an NPR News In Focus conversation called Stories Behind the Storefront, recorded in front of a live audience at the Hook and Ladder in Minneapolis. We're talking with business owners and leaders of community groups about how Lake Street has fared three years after George Floyd's murder, when much of it sustained significant damage.

My guests are Manny Gonzalez, the owner of Manny's Tortas, which is inside Midtown Global Market on Lake Street, as well as Elias Usso, the owner of Seward Pharmacy, also on East Lake Street. Yusra Mohamud is with us, a business advisor at the Lake Street Council. And Andy Hestness is here, executive director of the Community Development Corporation called Redesign.

Now, since this discussion is called Stories Behind the Storefront, we also want to share a few more experiences of Lake Street businesses and organizations. And this time we can do it via video. The first short story you're going to hear and see for our live audience is from Barlin Kadiye, the owner of Baarla's Boutique. Let's listen.


- I've been here for eight years, Lake Street. It's beautiful, [INAUDIBLE]. Have all diversity people coming through. We close at COVID-19. For George Floyd-- it hits us really bad. And we didn't get that much money. Even you apply for PP loan, they won't give you, because you have to have that much employee.


I think three four months, we have-- we just paid up the rent our pocket. There was no business going on, and we lost a lot of customer. They don't want to come this area. Two times they come in inside. They have a gun.

I have to be here seven days because I'm scared that if I hire somebody they can kill. We need more police be involved. Yeah, 42 is fine because she's tall. You can go and try it on.

- Try it on.

- Every night I have to go with the customer, make sure they're OK. They call me, we're scared. Are you scared? Are you scared? You have to find another location. This is not good for you. I said, you know why I've been here for a long time? It's not easy to move somewhere quickly. It takes time.

- This one. Let me see. Too light.

- I like Lake Street, honestly. As long we get more safe, I think it's the best place to be. I like it. I've been here eight years.

- Oh, I'm trying to do that. Thanks, [INAUDIBLE]. It was nice meeting you.

- Nice meeting you, [INAUDIBLE]. Anytime, and you're welcome. Yeah. [INAUDIBLE]

- It was nice talking--

ANGELA DAVIS: Now, you heard Barlin say there a couple of things that we heard from other business owners, first that PPP loans weren't accessible to them. And Yusra, there at Lake Street Council, did you hear that from a lot of people, that they could not get the loans that they needed?

YUSRA MOHAMUD: Absolutely. We heard that all the time. And I mean, unfortunately, I mean, there was a lot of disparities and gaps between that. I mean, there was also just the lack of knowledge of how to get the PPP loans.

It was hard for a lot of business owners directly to get in contact with someone at the bank or really be educated. So there was a lot of just missed opportunities, unfortunately. And a lot of people are eligible for it but just missed out.

ANGELA DAVIS: And so is an example of how some of these programs just don't work.

YUSRA MOHAMUD: 100%. I mean, the PPP loan-- I mean, it was-- if you don't understand-- once again, these are immigrant-owned businesses. So English is their second language. And someone who's even-- English is their first language, it's hard to understand these applications, these lengthy process. How do you get it? And so it was really unfortunate that there really wasn't a better process for these business owners.

ANGELA DAVIS: And Manny, we also heard Barlin talk about customers and other people saying that they were scared to come to the Lake Street area. Did you hear that, that people were scared to come to the area? And do people still say that to you?

MANNY GONZALEZ: Yeah, they do. And it's just amazing. I live in Eagan, and people around there-- I tell them when my business is, and they say, oh, Lake Street? I said, come on. It's the best avenue in Minneapolis. And yeah, but that's the truth.

A lot of people don't feel safe to come to South Minneapolis. But I think it's like the misconception about the area. I tell you, I've been here for so many years. And I think it's a beautiful avenue, a lot of diversity. And that's the beauty about it, and you can see all kinds of people from all over the world.

And I was talking with-- when we opened Midtown Global Market, I said, we have to make this avenue a tourist destination. And I think it's getting there because I got a lot of customers, and they come visit. And they come, and they say, where do you come from? Oh, Colorado, Los Angeles. And they come to see their families, and they come to Lake Street because it's so diverse and all kinds of opportunities, food. The food is unbelievable.


But yeah, there is a lot of misconception then, Lake Street. They feel afraid to come.

ANGELA DAVIS: And Elias, I know you live in the community, and a lot of your customers are locals. But do you hear that in conversations with folks who live in other parts of the metro area or other parts of the state, that they're afraid to come to Lake Street?

ELIAS USSO: There is one concern, especially when it comes to drug, where people get some kind of drugs that are laced with fentanyl, where the pharmacies across the street-- there's a lot of drug exchange. Those kind of stuff is something we have to work as a community.

And I've actually passed out some Narcan for folks that got overdosed. So there is those kind of concern and on Lake Street that we have to address. We have to work together. Drug overdose is a main issue that we all have to be concerned.

As a pharmacist, it's one of my main concern. I get a knock on the door when someone get passed away on the street because of overdose. So those are the stuff that really scares me more than any other crime, to be honest with you.

ANGELA DAVIS: All right, let's watch another story. This one features Mustafa Khchich, the owner of the Moroccan goods shop Dar Medina in Midtown Global Market. Let's listen.


- We are on Lake Street. The market's call Midtown Global Markets. I am Mustafa, the owner of this small business called Dar Medina. We have leather work. We have rugs, carpets. We have jewelry, all handcrafted. We have cloth, Moroccan traditional cloth for ladies, for men's.

First, it was COVID and then the murder of George Floyd. Good seeing you, though. Thank you so much. I mean, for me, I don't know a lot of things about grants or supports or whatever they call it. For me, the big supports I need is customers to come.

- And I didn't really even plan on buying a rug, but they're so gorgeous. Lake Street-- it's very wonderful neighborhood. So you go with this one here?

- Yes.

- Good choice. I mean everywhere in the world, there is places good and not sometimes. But here people-- they are trying to make it more nicer, and I don't know why people get scared.

Thank you all. Good seeing you, appreciate the support.

All Lake Street, there is many things, cultural, food, clothes, a lot of things good to visit and to share. Just coming in, and we hope to see more people here in the market and promise you, you won't get disappointed.


ANGELA DAVIS: I want to share a story that Mustafa shared with our producer. He said that grants from the neighborhood development center and Midtown Global Market helped him stay afloat during those first few months of the pandemic when he had to shut down completely. And he was so grateful for the support that he asked if he could send some grant money to his suppliers in Morocco, who were also suffering greatly from the global shutdown.

And so he was really determined to pass on the help that he received. And Manny, I think you have a story similar to that. I know that a GoFundMe was created for your business, and you had a little hesitancy about that in the beginning. But you know, what did it do?

MANNY GONZALEZ: Yeah, it wasn't my idea. It was my sister's kids, my nephew and my niece, because we didn't know what to do. It was very scary because no money, no customers. And they construct the GoFundMe thing, and it was so amazing because I didn't want to do it. I don't like to ask for money. And we raised $35,000, so yeah, done.


ANGELA DAVIS: That money at that time-- what were you able to do with that? What did that do?

MANNY GONZALEZ: We play the suppliers, like the food. We payed the rent, employees to keep it afloat. And then we give some money to one of the telephone company on Lake Street. We give them $5,000 from that money just to--

ANGELA DAVIS: Neighboring business?

MANNY GONZALEZ: Yeah, neighbor, yeah, just to help them out, too, because we hear about he lost everything, too. So we give him $5,000 from there, from that money. Yeah.


ANGELA DAVIS: Yusra, does that sound familiar to you, as you talk to other business owners along Lake Street?

YUSRA MOHAMUD: Yeah, absolutely. So I think the most beautiful part about all of this-- even though it was such a negative downtime, the beauty of it all was like, this really sad event brought everyone together, united every community. I'm talking about from every culture. And I think that was really-- the best part was watching everyone help each other.

I know I've seen many businesses giving food to their neighboring businesses and-- or even during the riots, watching over someone else's business like they were taking shifts because someone needed to sleep, or a mother needed to feed her child, or whatever the case was. So I think that was the best part, was watching how everyone really supported each other during this time.

ANGELA DAVIS: And I'm guessing to a sharing of information. Like, this was my experience with insurance, and here's some advice on how to navigate.

YUSRA MOHAMUD: Yes, absolutely, whether it came to insurance. Even the GoFundMe-- we saw a lot of that. And GoFundMe-- I mean, I think everybody saw like, there was-- and it was really the younger generations that were helping, like the kids that were starting these GoFundMe.

And it really helped because sometimes insurance and grants really couldn't cover everything. And so people coming together, and GoFundMe-- anyone from anywhere in the nation can help donate. And we were really at the global eye at the time, so it was really important. Social media played a huge effect to that. So it was really cool to share all the resource informations.

ANGELA DAVIS: And Andy, anything you can add? It sounds like you also were seeing, even in all this destruction, community being built and sharing and helping of one another.

ANDY HESTNESS: Yeah, absolutely. We're a commercial property owner, so we have about seven commercial properties where we have tenants and just incredible to support many of them and then watch them support each other and support the community. So we had organizations like Du Nord Craft Spirits, which is a tenant in our building just a couple blocks from here. They had founded a nonprofit to support other entrepreneurs' launch.

That organization pivoted and became a community food shelf. They started, like many of the distilleries, not being able to necessarily produce product in the same way, started making hand sanitizer and sharing that across different organizations. So there's so many examples of that. But it was one of those moments where the community just came together in so many ways, and we saw our business community really step up.

ANGELA DAVIS: Our final video tells a slightly different story. MIGIZY is an organization that serves Native American youth, and it was housed in a building that burned down in the 2020 uprising. It's taken longer than they'd like to return to Lake Street, but they are now hard at work on a new building in a new location. Let's listen to Tedi Grey Owl explain.



- We're a nonprofit. We've been around since 1977, and our goal was to make Native American students successful. Unfortunately, our building was one of them that burnt down during the riots around the killing of George Floyd. We had to find new space, and we started searching. And we came across this building here.

Here's going to be our kitchen. And then in front of that is our large community room that also houses our after-school programming as well, too.

- This is [NON-ENGLISH]. That's how you'd say it in Ojibwe.

- Hope Flanagan. She's with the organization dream of wild health, and she's going to teach our students today about what wild plants we use as medicines here.

- [NON-ENGLISH] has all sorts of gifts. If you don't know what your gift is yet, hang in there. It can be revealed. It's just like the plants. You might go like, well, I don't know what plant that is. That doesn't have any gift that I can see. This plant has all kinds of gifts. You could use this dogwood for making your herbal tobacco.

- Dream of Wild Health and MIGIZI have been partners for many years.

- So these flowers are some of the best you can get for pollinators. They're just making me happy.


ANGELA DAVIS: We could probably do a whole show on all the inspiring things that MIGIZI does. Its part of a long history of this cultural corridor, being a home for Native Americans and for immigrants. But MIGIZI-- still missing from Lake Street. It took them nine months to find that new building and even more time to raise the capital to overhaul it.

Yusra, I know they're not alone. What about the organizations or businesses that didn't reopen, like groups like this? Tell us more about what happened to some of them. Did they move to other places? Have they come back?

YUSRA MOHAMUD: Everyone, I think, had different stories. Some did move to other places I know. Like, places like Mall of America stepped up where they provided the community commons for displaced businesses around the George Floyd Square or anyone that was displaced to provide free rent for six months or whatever the case was. Or they had to move cities, and some of them unfortunately had to permanently close. And that's why it's really important.

It's three years later, but we're still fighting for the recovery of Lake Street. And we still hope and wish that these businesses come back. They want to come back. This is still their home. They still live here. And this is where they feel like that they would thrive, and they will thrive. And I think it's really important that we continue to find ways that we can support these small businesses and helping them come back.

ANGELA DAVIS: And so for my final question, I want to start about, what's next? The conversation so far, I mean, to me has felt very hopeful. But I know there's still a lot of work to be done, particularly when you look at equity for the businesses in this area.

So Andy, what do you think are the top challenges? What do you see that will be a challenge for development? And can development happen in new ways?

ANDY HESTNESS: Yeah, and I think that's really the model that Redesign is pursuing, is, how do we take this process of real estate, something that has built our cities over many years, but use that structure and that system of finance and construction in a different way and really change who benefits from real estate?

The challenge we have in front of us is, and particularly right in this area, is we had significant damage. And we have, as we've said earlier in the conversation, vacant lots. Those types of properties are very challenging. They're very capital intensive to rebuild.

And we've seen-- if you look nationwide, other places where significant civil unrest has happened, it takes long-term sustained investment to really build back. I mean, you can still see places where-- I used to live in Chicago for a time. In North Lawndale, you can see where the neighborhood commercial corridors that were burned after Martin Luther King was murdered.

So if we don't, as a community, step up, we may see these scars for a long time. So that's the challenge in front of us. And I think we've seen programs at the state, like the DEED Main Street program that thought about investing in our real estate, that we really need to see more of in a pretty significant legislative session. We didn't see any investment this year in the rebuilding of the structures. We had great investment in the businesses, and we're really grateful for that support.

But where are those businesses going to be? What are the structures they're going to be in? And how can we work as community then to rebuild the community and the buildings where our small businesses will grow and thrive in ways that really bring in many of those property owners, but also just community organizations and other community-minded investors into the ownership of real estate?

So we've got some big challenges here, just in this general area. We're working in coalition with a number of folks to really provide some wraparound service to emerging developers and trying to think about ways that folks who are new to the real estate development space can be supported. So in addition to doing our own real estate development, Redesign provides advising to new developers.

The city of Minneapolis has a program called the developer technical assistance program. That's been a fantastic way for us to be able to have the time as a nonprofit to really invest in teaching the skills we have in real estate development and bringing that next generation of folks from community and really much more diverse cohort of developers into the space.

And then we've got a lot of partners like LISC, who has their developers of Color program, and Greater Minnesota Housing and others that have really designed ways that they can create new structures of support and new funding tools. But all of that really speaks to the need for collaboration and the need for not saying, oh, the job is done on Lake Street. We're not done. We're still moving. We need some support still, but we can the job done with some help.


ANGELA DAVIS: So Yusra, it's clear the recovery is going to be long term. But have you found that some of the institutions and groups and people that step forward to help, who are very generous three years ago-- are they losing interest?

YUSRA MOHAMUD: I wouldn't say-- I don't think they're losing interest, no. I think that [CHUCKLES] we continue to be loud and show them that we still need the support. And it's really important to be a voice and continue to be a voice. I think they'll only lose interest if we dim our lights, and that's not going to happen anytime soon.

ANGELA DAVIS: What do you see as a big challenge?


YUSRA MOHAMUD: I think the biggest challenge is something especially that the small business owners shared, is bringing people back to Lake Street and really letting go of that fear. And I think safety is a huge concern. And the biggest way to, I think, mitigate that concern is the more customers and the more color and the more people that come back to Lake Street, the safer that the community is going to be, just like any other community.


ANGELA DAVIS: Elias, what keeps you up at night? What worries you about this recovery process? Besides your young daughter, what keeps you up at night?

ELIAS USSO: Yeah, I'm just afraid to get a phone call from alarm company sometimes. That's what keeps me up sometime, besides my daughter. But of course, crime and drug issue is the main issue that we've always have to work forward toward to make it a little bit more better.

I mean, our location where the pharmacy is-- it's right by the bridge, 22nd and right by the Hiawatha Bridge in Lake Street. It's where a lot of stuff happened. So it's something that as a city, that as a community, that we have to work together to make that area little bit more better, bring much more help that needed from the city, from the county.

And also, I forgot to mention one thing. The Hennepin County were able very helpful to us. They're the landowner of where the pharmacy is right now. They were able to give us a rent free during those difficult times. And I just want to plug that--

ANGELA DAVIS: That break on the rent.

ELIAS USSO: Yes, break. And then they fixed all the broken windows. And I'm very, very grateful to them.

ANGELA DAVIS: Manny, you've been here a long time, and it sounds like you want to continue to be here for a long time. What do you think is a barrier? What's going to get in the way of Lake Street being able to thrive and be what it has the capacity to be? What do you see as the big challenge?

MANNY GONZALEZ: We need to put a little more makeup to this avenue. And I talked to the Midtown Global Market. I showed them pictures. I'm from Mexico City. And in the cathedral and the government centers, they have illumination to the building.

And they told me, said, we can not put anything in the CR's building because it's a historic building. I said, I understand that. Don't paint anything, whatever. But you can put light in, and that will make a difference.

Sometimes, at night, when you come out of Lake Street, some parts are dark. So I think that's one of the main things that we should be doing. Put a light in.

ANGELA DAVIS: --solution, yeah.

MANNY GONZALEZ: Yeah, that's-- just put light in and make it pretty.


So yeah.


And one more thing I want to tell to my friends at the suburbs-- come this Saturday. We have open street. See how beautiful it is, Lake Street, yeah?

ANGELA DAVIS: Events-- so maybe creating also events that invite a wider circle of people to come, and then they have a good experience. They'll come back. You think that's part of it, too?

MANNY GONZALEZ: That's part of it, and we already doing it. Midtown Global Market has events every single week. Every weekend, we have schools. Then they come, and they-- which it's funny because I do a tour. And I talk about the building. I talk the history, and I do a cooking show, too, in the Midtown Global Market [SPEAKING SPANISH] English and in Spanish. So.


ANGELA DAVIS: This has been a fantastic conversation, very enlightening. And I want to thank all of our panelists. We've been talking with Manny Gonzalez, the owner of Manny's Tortas; Elias Usso, the owner of Sewert Pharmacy; Yusra Muhamud from the Lake Street Council; and Andy Hestness, executive director at Redesign.

And a big thank you to all the members of the audience here at Hook and Ladder Theater and Lounge in Minneapolis. Not only did I get to see your wonderful faces. I got to hear your applause. That's been wonderful. Thank you for being here, as well as to the folks at Meet Minneapolis, who partnered with us to have this conversation.

I also want to Thank the Lake Street businesses, Rectangle Pizza and [INAUDIBLE] Los Amigos for feeding us before we got started this evening. And to our listeners, look for us next in August, MPR at the Minnesota State Fair, where we will talk about equity and farming. Until then, enjoy your summer. And stay safe, everyone.


SPEAKER 3: Support for MPR News with Angela Davis comes from Sickle Cell Foundation of Minnesota, responding to a long-standing need for localized education, advocacy, and services that focus on and support the needs of the sickle cell community,

SPEAKER 4: Support comes from Barracuda. Businesses are under cybersecurity threats every day. Barracuda provides complete and scalable security for all, all threats, all businesses, all people. More at Barracuda-- fierce defenses for a world of complex threats.

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