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Friday February 21st 2020

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Latino Reflections on Lake Street

Interview by Alexandra Renken, university of Minnesota Student of Joyce Wisdom, Executive Director of Lake Street Council

What broad transformations have you seen occur with Latino businesses on Lake Street (as a result of Lake Street resurfacing, city ordinances, etc.)?

Just to be clear, it was not a resurfacing road project, but a once-every-50-years project that included replacing water, gas and electrical lines beneath the street. The street was dug out to the bottom, removing old cobblestones and rail track that had been buried for decades. While Lake Street was always open one-lane in each direction, there was no parking and huge holes to traverse from one side of the road to the other.

Ethnic businesses of all kinds fared better than most others during our recent road construction because of their customer loyalty. That held true for Ingebretsen’s Scandinavian customers as well as Saigon Garage’s Southeast Asian customers, but perhaps not so strongly for the Mercado and other Lake Street Latino businesses.

Since road construction, business has improved despite the recession. Unfortunately, now the cost of doing business has risen and all businesses, but especially many of our Latino businesses, are finding it harder to increase their revenue to match the increased expenses.

Regarding City ordinances and fees, Lake Street Council has worked diligently with City staff and elected officials to change City ordinances that negatively impact our small business community and especially our Latino and other ethnic businesses.
One example is hours of operation. Several of our Latino eateries have applied for variances to serve their 24 hour clientele. Not everyone works a 9 to 5 job.

Another is our support of businesses like El Nuevo Rodeo and La Vina. Dance and social halls have been mainstays of every new immigrant’s experience, going back to Scandinavian, Greek, German and every other major immigration to Minneapolis. Why the City and some of its residents see the upscale downtown entertainment district as the only home for these kinds of businesses is beyond our comprehension. In fact, these dance and social halls can be anchors for revitalization of our commercial corridors and neighborhoods as they were during past waves of immigration.

Finally, we’ve also addressed problems with small grocer licensing. Groceries occupying less than 2000 sq. ft. were limited to selling only imported product. So our ethnic grocers couldn’t also provide staples like bread, butter, eggs and milk. Again, immigrants have always depended upon their ethnic grocers. I can remember my mother sending me to the German grocer. Not allowing these grocers to sell the staples, forced customers to shop twice and was driving their business to retailers like Cub Foods. This ordinance has been revised thanks to our diligence.

There was an ordinance introduced this year to eliminate sandwich board signs. We fought it and won. Sandwich boards are the best marketing tool for our Latino businesses on this commercial corridor.

What do you think are the contributions that Latino businesses on Lake Street have made to the city economically, socially and/or politically? And how do you think the city has contributed to Latino businesses on Lake Street? In what areas are the businesses lacking support from the city?

Latino business owners have made substantial investment in the Lake Street commercial corridor over the past 10 years. Investment, without which, you would not see the dramatic positive changes we’ve experienced: more business, more residents, more events, and less crime.

Our immigrant entrepreneurs have made Minneapolis the great City it is and the timing for our more recent Latino immigrants could not have come at a better time. They’ve brought critical commitment and investment to a City that needed both their financial investment and their enthusiasm for revitalization. Most of our elected officials are well aware of what the Latino investment in this City has meant in terms of businesses, organizations and projects that are helping to define the future for Minneapolis. One area of concern to our members is the loss of low overhead places to start a business. The success of public investment is gauged by increases in property values, but a city with no low overhead places for beginning entrepreneurs will suffocate itself. Just as a commercial corridor needs businesses of all sizes, so a city needs areas of higher and lower overhead to meet the needs of all its citizens and provide places from which to grow.

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