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Minneapolis businesses damaged during unrest still struggling to reopen

Posted at 4:48 PM, Aug 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-17 16:48:30-04

More than one thousand businesses in Minneapolis were damaged during the protests over the death of George Floyd. It’s been two months since the damage was done and for many of the businesses, little has changed.

“It’s terrible, you know to sit and look at this,” said Flora Westbrooks as she looked at what is left of her business in north Minneapolis.

After 35 years of owning Flora’s Hair Design, the business is no more. It was set on fire during the protests at the end of May and into June, specifically, just a day before she was set to reopen after coronavirus state-mandated closures.

“I’m already losing money and don’t have any money, then to see my salon go up in flames like that,” said Westbrooks, “it was devastating, the most devastating thing I had to witness.”

Since the fire burned the hair salon and another building that she owned next to it, she has been struggling to raise the $500,000 needed to rebuild. Unfortunately, many business owners in Minneapolis are dealing with a similar struggle.

“Everything up here, it is just gone. It’s just forgotten. We are forgotten and if I go down farther, there is nothing open,” said Westbrooks.

Taking a walk through north Minneapolis, especially along West Broadway Avenue, it is easy to see that if a business is not in rubble, it is still boarded up and closed.

For the businesses that have been able to reopen, many attribute their ability to do so to limited damage from the protest or help from their community and beyond.

“There’s been an enormous amount of help,” said Tito Wilson. “We saw a lot of people coming in from outside the community and maybe some people from within the community, they came in sweeping up glass and sweeping up other debris.”

Wilson is the owner of a barbershop in north Minneapolis. His business and other businesses on his street were able to reopen quickly after volunteers started a clean-up effort.

“There are some nonprofits and for profits and volunteers who are individually helping, providing technical support to help businesses rethink themselves, to help them fill out loan applications, to figure out if they qualify for things,” said Kenya McKnight-Ahad.

McKnight-Ahad is the founder of Minneapolis’ Black Woman’s Health Alliance and has helped more than 40 businesses with about $60,000 in grant money to rebuild and reopen. Her organization is one of many in the area trying to help. The West Broadway Business and Area Coalition is another. It has raised more than $3 million for businesses damaged and is set to soon allocate that money to the businesses still in need.

Beyond the city though, individual businesses around the country have donated millions to the GoFundMe pages of individual businesses. Some businesses have received a few hundred dollars, while others have received several hundred thousand dollars in donations. Even Flora’s Hair Design, has gotten more than $100,000 in donations on her GoFundMe page.

The one entity that has not showed up for the businesses damaged during the protests has been the federal government. Businesses in need are calling for a disaster recovery-like consideration from the government.

“You help Wall Street, you bail them out, but people like us, we just need a little fraction of the money that you give,” said Westbrooks. “I would beg and ask our government, do something.”

To the business owners here, letting their businesses struggle and die will only further systemic issues in their communities of color. The very thing that George Floyd’s death highlighted, and the protests were meant to undo.