When Minnesota’s government failed it, Rotary groups stepped up

Back in 2020, my colleague Tom Steward and I described how Minnesotans — and residents of the Twin Cities specifically — were failed so miserably that summer by their state and local governments from Governor Walz on down. While the cities burned for four nights, Gov. Walz and Mayor Frey dithered, anxious not to upset their activist base, pleading pathetically with the rioters to go home. As soon as they deployed the National Guard, the rioters did that.

In areas like Lake Street especially, many businesses, often owned by immigrants and members of minorities, were sacrificed by state and city leaders. Fortunately, when their government failed them, there were those who stepped up.

Last weekend, the Star Tribune reported:

Three years ago, as Lake Street burned and Minneapolis mourned, Rotary clubs across the metro mobilized to help. And they stayed. Still helping, they now hope their neighbors will see what they see in this vibrant commercial corridor that is home to so many small family businesses working so hard.

For three years, a network of metro Rotary Club volunteers worked to help small businesses recover from the pandemic that locked down their businesses and the riots that scorched their street. They hammered plywood over windows, helped small-business owners navigate the maze of grants and paperwork, and most importantly, connected Lake Street businesses with each other.

“It was tough, going month to month, trying to pay all the employees, trying to pay all the bills,” said Guillermo Quito, whose family restaurant, Los Andes Latin Bistro, had just moved into its new home at 607 W. Lake St. when the pandemic hit and then rioters smashed their way into the restaurant.

“Us, as owners, we didn’t get single check for at least 10 months,” said Quito, who owns Los Andes with his brother Christian and brother-in-law Victor Pacheco. “Just to make sure our employees were getting paid, just to make sure the business was up and working.”

His friends at the Rotary Club connected him with resources, they held meetings at Los Andes, they advertised the restaurant in Rotary publications and invited the mayor of Minneapolis over for a meal. Each time he learned about a new resource, Quito would share it with other immigrant-owned businesses in the neighborhood.

Eight Rotary clubs worked with nine Lake Street businesses, connecting them with outside assistance and with each other. That was how the Quito family learned that goat was a popular ingredient in many African dishes. Which gave them a chance to introduce some of their neighbors to a Los Andes specialty — seco de chivo — a savory Ecuadorian goat stew.

“We are trying to help revitalize this part of Lake Street and our community. It is so important for our business,” said Lynnette Lais, a registered nurse with Diamonds Home Health Care Inc., located in the shopping complex across the street from the former Third Precinct.

“We want to be part of the solution,” she said. “I live in Minneapolis and I’m proud of Minneapolis, and I want to get back to a safe and proud community that we can showcase.”

It is outrageous that these businesses were sacrificed to cowardice and political calculation in the first place. It is organizations like the Rotary — not government — which represent the “things we choose to do together.”