What Happens to Dozens of Minority-Owned Businesses Destroyed in Riots?

It remains a mystery why Gov. Tim Walz, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter essentially stood by and allowed rioters to take control of huge swaths of the Twin Cities on four consecutive nights before deploying the necessary force to quash the violence on May 30. Little did Minnesotans realize they needed to take Walz literally when he repeatedly said at his media briefings that he was watching the rampage on TV with the rest of us.

We’ll probably never know how many businesses and organizations that existed to serve inner city neighborhoods have been destroyed in the looting and arson following the death of George Floyd in police custody a week ago. But the ever-expanding casualty list of enterprises that have been damaged or burned down compiled on the Bring Me the News website now runs to over 200 businesses and non-profits in Minneapolis, more than 50 in St. Paul and 8 in the surrounding suburbs.

A Star Tribune report conveys the stunning personal and financial toll on those who’ve seen a lifetime of work and dreams go up in smoke.

…Immigrant Luis Tamay saved for more than a decade to open his Ecuadorian restaurant, El Sabor Chuchi, seven years ago. His specialty was a soup called encebollado, made with tuna fish, yuca, fried plantain and onions. Tamay guarded his lifelong dream the first few nights of the riots, but stayed home on Friday night to abide by the curfew, assuming that he had nothing to fear with the National Guard in town.

He was aghast to see Facebook videos showing El Sabor Chuchi in flames — and even more so when he called 911 for help in vain. By the time Tamay got to his restaurant Saturday morning, it was burned to the ground, along with the establishments on either side. He didn’t have insurance, he said, because quotes for the neighborhood were too high. The father of two was already working hard to pay his employees and other bills.

“There’s the freezer right there; the kitchen was right there,” Tamay said, pointing as he climbed the pile of rubble. “Seventeen years of work is gone.”

Livelihoods wiped out, shop fronts boarded up as the pay-off for years of sacrifice and saving. Critical services and stores with names like Bismallah Grocery & Coffee, El Nuevo Miramar, Bole Ethiopian Restaurant gone overnight.

A building owned by Latina entrepreneur Maya Santamaria also burned down — and with it, the Spanish language radio station La Raza.

“Small, minority business owners found themselves with the businesses that they worked their fingers to the bone building destroyed, looted, vandalized and burned down,” Santamaria wrote on a GoFundMe page. “Some had no insurance. Others have no resources.”

Many have lost not only their businesses but confidence in the authorities to protect them.

Back at the 43 year-old nonprofit Migizi, which supports American Indian youth, Drummer recalled how she had helped raise $2 million to move into the new building on 27th Avenue South last summer. The restaurant Gandhi Mahal, a few doors down, sent over food for the grand opening.

On Friday afternoon, Drummer gazed at the charred Migizi building as 20 officers formed a phalanx to block off the street and a firefighters trained their hoses on the collapsed, smoldering Gandhi Mahal. That restaurant, too, had posted a minority-owned business sign.

“We’re policing ourselves,” Drummer said. “They didn’t care until after the building burned.”

Thugs didn’t even spare a north Minneapolis neighborhood finally thriving half a century after the last race riots here.

Though not the epicenter of the riots, West Broadway also saw a string of businesses raided and damaged. It had been the city’s pre-eminent commercial corridor in the mid-twentieth century but was devastated by the flight of white and black middle-class residents after the 1960s race riots and the burning of nearby Plymouth Avenue. Broadway has gradually seen progress as business and community leaders pushed for redevelopment.

“You got the sense that [West Broadway] was slowly making its way forward,” said Don Samuels, a former school board and City Council member representing the area.

The setback amounts to a double-whammy for businesses still in limbo due to Walz’s coronavirus restrictions. The question is whether there’s the will or way for them to come back.