MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- If you've been to downtown Minneapolis over the past few years, you've likely seen closed businesses and empty retail spaces.
But the Downtown Council is getting creative to fill some of those empty spaces.
As of late, the Nicollet Mall area of Minneapolis has been known for being a bit desolate. But new life is moving in by way of Bella Lam.
She opened Coconut Whisk, a vegan coffee and treats shop, across from Target's corporate office.
At 25 years old, the Vietnam native has a seen a lot.
"I actually have a vivid memory of landing in Minnesota and it was snowy, so that was the first time I ever saw snow or anything like that, so that was a very core memory of mine," she said.
She moved to Farmington at 6 years old.
"My mom had multiple jobs, my dad had multiple jobs, and we were always low income. We always had to do free or reduced lunch at school," Lam said. "So it was just a really big struggle with that growing up, but it really made us closer and it made me appreciate hard work and family."
And she started working hard herself while at college in Mankato. After studying public health, she decided to become vegan, giving up all animal products. She also started taking on plant-based baking.
"We started with baking mixes that we made in our college dorm room, and then just went to farmers markets and kind of just grew from there," she said.
She and her partner Myles launched Coconut Whisk baking mixes. And then at 25 years old, she took it to the next level, opening a storefront thanks to a new program by the Downtown Council.
"I would say we wouldn't be able to do it without them," Lam said.
The program, called Chameleon Shoppes, cuts deals with landlords to give sales-based rent to women and people of color who are launching businesses.
"I feel like it's an ideal way to say that downtown is for everyone," Dan Collison, who runs the program, said.
Collison said the Chameleon Program already has four businesses in place and another in the works.
"This is a great way to build community, relationships and activate those spaces with the kinds of businesses that we want downtown to be about," he said. "It's intentional that we are doing this for those businesses. They are incredible, they're wonderful businesses and we need more of them downtown."
And Lam is excited to be downtown. She's open Thursday through Sunday and is hoping business will pick up when more people return to work.
She's feeling hope and support for the area and her business.
"We are just enjoying it day by day," she said.
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