Minneapolis, Minnesota – The store closure never crossed Anna Bloomstrand’s mind, even during the worst days of the COVID-19 crisis and the civil unrest that followed the George Floyd murder. His family’s Scandinavian store, Nordic Market Place in Ingebretsen, has been on East Lake Street for almost a century.
“We’ve been in the same space for 99 years,” Bloomstrand told Al Jazeera. “We are really rooted.”
The Bloomstrand store was looted during the unrest this spring, but was spared fire and water damage. Her family is also luckier than most; they own the property that houses Ingebretsen.
“All of this stuff about multigenerational wealth and security, these are all the things we’ve been talking about for so long,” Bloomstrand said.
“There’s the practicality of rebuilding and figuring out what it takes to be a store again, and then there’s the real responsibility of speaking out and understanding the landscape we live in right now. This part of the job is the job, ”she added.
Small businesses like Bloomstrand’s represent 99.5% of businesses in the U.S. state of Minnesota, and they employ almost half of Minnesota’s private workforce. But the pandemic has hit the state’s 526,350 small businesses hard, and many find themselves shutting the books in the least profitable year in history.
Yet Minnesota is also known for its down-to-earth entrepreneurial spirit, and many small businesses in the state have not only found original ways to stay afloat during the turbulence of 2020, but have been successful in helping. others to do the same.
Adapt to survive
When the coronavirus pandemic began in Minneapolis, many small businesses focused on online sales and curbside recycling to place the state’s order at home, which ended up spanning March through May. .
Lindsey Cason owns a vintage South Minneapolis home goods store called Carousel and Folk with her husband, Mike.
The couple began stocking up on larger items with larger margins, like furniture versus smaller ones, and paid people digitally or left envelopes with cash at the doorstep. their suppliers to keep the goods coming.
“As the lockdown continued, it was harder for me to find goods,” Cason told Al Jazeera. “Basically I did what I could and dug deep into our stockpile.”
Fortunately, his herbal supplier, which also supplies grocery stores, was seen as an essential business, so Cason was able to continue selling herbs, which turned out to be a popular quarantine buy with customers looking to brighten up. their new home office.
“There’s a whole chain of businesses that people don’t necessarily think about because they’re behind the scenes, but they’re definitely essential,” said Cason.
She also relied heavily on the Instagram photo-sharing app to engage with customers and received a loan from the government’s Paycheck Protection Program to keep her doors open.
“A lot of people are at home right now so they’re more likely to sit on social media and for me that’s where my primary audience is,” Cason said.
She also hasn’t been shy about revealing how difficult it is to be a small business right now – something her Instagram followers have supported.
“Our community of followers is so behind us,” she added. “I think I gained trust through social media by being open and honest about the way we run things.”
Ngan Hoang has owned Cali Nails on West Lake Street for 25 years. It was loyal customers who kept her salon alive – and she’s bent the rules a bit to welcome them at times.
Hoang said that during the spring lockdown, she would sometimes let a client in through the back door for a secret manicure or pedicure. It was a way of seeing the casual familiar face that couldn’t sit and chat during a normal date.
“I’m so used to my clients coming in, hugging them, asking them how they’re doing. We talk and drink coffee or wine together, ”Hoang told Al Jazeera.
Hoang spent the state’s lockdown setting up appropriate security gear so that she could be ready for phase two of the plan to reopen the state on June 1.
Our community of followers is so behind us. I think I’ve gained trust through social media by being open and honest about the way we run things.
A week before it reopened, a white policeman killed Floyd, an unarmed black man. Thousands of people have taken to the streets to denounce police brutality and support the Black Lives Matter movement.
Vandals and raiders took advantage of the moment, causing extensive damage. In total, civil unrest has cost the Twin Cities more than $ 500 million in losses and nearly 1,500 buildings have been damaged, according to the governor of Minnesota.
The majority of the burn merged along the Lake Street corridor in Minneapolis that runs east to west through the city before connecting to St. Paul across the Mississippi River. Following the unrest, small business owners – including many business owners of color – were left to pick up the pieces.
The protests also highlighted the region’s long-standing racial and socio-economic inequalities.
In Minnesota, there are large disparities between whites and people of color when it comes to education, labor force participation, unemployment rates and poverty levels.
In 2018, the unemployment rate for whites was 2.9%, while unemployment for Native Americans and blacks was 13.9% and 7.6% respectively.
Minnesota’s income inequality between people of color and whites is among the worst in the country.
There’s the practicality of rebuilding and figuring out what it takes to be a store again, and then there’s the real responsibility of speaking up and understanding the landscape we live in right now. This part of the job is the job.
Households in White Twin Cities had a median income of $ 76,632 in 2016, more than double the median income of $ 32,819 for black families. Median household income was also lower for Latin American families ($ 46,093) and Native American households ($ 43,183).
Still, these groups play a major role in the state’s economy, according to research by Bruce Corrie, professor of economics at St Paul’s Concordia University.
Corrie found that businesses owned by black Minnesotans, Latinos, Asian Americans and Native Americans accounted for 27,000 jobs and $ 700 million in annual payroll in the state. And communities of color as a whole represent a $ 60 billion economy in Minnesota.
But it is these businesses that are most at risk of shutting down amid the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis investigation in May found that only 21% of minority-owned businesses expected to last longer than six months if current conditions continue, and nearly 6% were unsure whether they could keep their doors open beyond 30 days.
As the pandemic worsens and federal aid takes time to materialize, small business owners in Minneapolis are doing what they do best: protecting each other.
Lee Wallace, CEO and owner of Peace Coffee, a roaster dedicated to selling 100% organic and fair trade coffee, has always taken a fairness-based approach to his business. But the severity of the COVID-19 crisis has prompted her to do more.
After focusing on online orders, home subscriptions, and grocery partnerships, she realized she had something to offer the community: a physical space.
She donated two Peace coffees to Coca Butta Futures Food Pantry, a local volunteer-run food bank that has been feeding about 100 families a week since June.
As Wallace realized it was time for Peace Coffee to quit the retail coffee business altogether, she was introduced to Carley Kammerer, the executive director of Wildflyer Coffee, a nonprofit dedicated to providing stability. employment and skills development for young people experiencing homelessness. . Peace Coffee will now specially roast a blend that Wildflyer can sell in its former cafes, some of which have been taken over by Wildflyer.
“We are coming together in a partnership,” Wallace told Al Jazeera. “It feels good, it’s a win-win. We can continue to buy from the same coffee growers and take our space mission to the next level.
“It’s always been about community, but in an even more direct way,” she added.
This article is part of Al Jazeera Digital’s ongoing series that features small businesses around the world that have survived market disruptions from COVID-19 as well as economic challenges unique to their country.