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Lake Street Businesses Still Bouncing Back After Civil Unrest Damage, Pandemic

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Sitting on the corner of Lake Street and Chicago Avenue is an empty lot where Midtown Eye Care used to be, after being destroyed during the civil unrest following George Floyd's murder.

It's left emotional scars for owner Ahmed Muhumud.

"Losing everything in such a sudden fashion has been a very dramatic and traumatic experience," he said.

He is grateful that he was able to re-open within months in new office in the nearby Midtown Global Market building, but his clinic hasn't fully recovered: business is down by more than half, he said. He cited COVID and public safety concerns in the area, but being displaced after riots adds to the difficulties.

"I know for a fact people say, 'we've been looking for you guys' and are now coming to us slowly but surely," he said.

Muhumud's story mirrors that of other businesses across the Lake Street corridor trying to bounce back after a pandemic kept customers at bay and civil unrest hit their community hard. Minneapolis alone sustained $350 million in damages. Nearly two years later, the vibrant neighborhood with many immigrant-owned small businesses is still rebuilding.

Lake Street Council, a nonprofit that supports the community and its entrepreneurs, raised $12 million in donations following the civil unrest and it's invested $8.5 million already, helping more than 400 businesses re-open. But executive director Allison Sharkey knows it's not enough to meet the need.

"The money we raised from individuals isn't nearly enough," Sharkey said. "It's really important that our government steps in to support rebuilding as well,"

The Minnesota Legislature approved $80 million for the Main Street Economic Revitalization program, which allows Lake Street businesses to apply for grants and loans for redevelopment, demolition, repair, or renovation. It targets property improvements, not other economic losses and the funds are split between Greater Minnesota and the Twin Cities-metro.

Program partners Minneapolis Foundation received $20.8 million and the Saint Paul & Minnesota foundation received $8.9 million last October and the organizations intend to use the funds for areas impacted by civil unrest, including Lake Street.

Sharkey hopes lawmakers will approve more money this year.

"That money is going to be spent down quickly so we're asking the legislature right now to renew that funding because there is much more demand than there is availability," she said. "As we rebuild, we really need to rebuild right. It's very important for us to provide spaces that are affordable for displaced entrepreneurs to come back."

Gov. Tim Walz heard from Sharkey, Muhumud, and other business owners during a roundtable discussion at Midtown Global Market today. He told reporters more funding for damaged businesses is a priority of his as he petitions the legislature to approve his supplemental budget proposal with some of the colossal $9 billion state budget surplus.

"It's not only the right thing to do, it's economically smart. So I'm going to make the case to the legislature that tax revenue, job creation, opportunities are created when we invest back in these corridors," Walz said of state aid to Lake Street. "We're going to be there Greater Minnesota, we need to be there for Lake Street."

Ruhel Islam's restaurant Gandhi Mahal burned and sustained $3-4 million in damages, he said. He moved to a temporarily location and now has dreams of rebuilding and reopening his old location at the corner of E Lake Street and 27th Avenue.

Lake Street Council is supporting his business in the way that it can, helping to finance predevelopment costs for a new building that would be a multi-story, multi-use space beyond just the restaurant. But his plan for the future will take significantly more resources.

"When immigrants' small business gets support by government. We rise. We do a really good job. We help government again collect revenue," he said.

Sharkey also added that more than additional state aid, showing support by patronizing businesses in the neighborhood would be a boost.

"Businesses have made it this far," she said. "But they're still at risk of closing, so they're asking for people to come and support them."

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