A new microgrant program funded by the law firm Fredrikson & Byron Foundation is restoring hope to weary Twin Cities businesses still limping more than a year after riots and the pandemic decimated their small enterprises.
The grants, ranging from $1,000 to $5,000, are administered by the nonprofit Neighborhood Development Center (NDC) in St. Paul.
The law firm's $75,000 grant fund is part of more than $1.2 million that NDC has directed to small businesses in the past year. Other contributors include My Talk 107 FM, Meals For Medics, the Lake Street Council and Midtown Global Market COVID Survival.
Some 1,630 buildings across Minneapolis and St. Paul sustained an estimated $500 million in riot damage on top of economic challenges brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. The Lake Street Council raised about $11 million to help businesses along that corridor in Minneapolis.
Fredrikson & Byron has opened applications to small-business owners across a broader geographic area, including shops along University Avenue in St. Paul, West Broadway in Minneapolis, and near George Floyd Square.
"That is what I like about it," said NDC Community Engagement Director Earlsworth "Baba" Letang. "Fredrikson & Byron has a wider distribution" goal.
So far, NDC has applications for 60% of Fredrikson & Byron's new funds and expects to identify others soon by working with business groups such as the Northside Economic Opportunity Network, the West Broadway Business and Area Coalition, the Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association and other NDC partners.
Brandon Cole received a $2,500 grant last month and used it to repay back rent for his barbershop in the BROWNstone Lofts building on University Avenue in St. Paul. The COVID-19 pandemic shut down Cole's barbershop for weeks, and then rioters destroyed the retail shoe, dress and convenience stores next to his shop.
He scolded the looters and they left his shop alone. But the damage was done.
Now, he is one of only a few retail shops to have reopened in the building. The other shops closed for good or moved away. Some customers are still leery of stopping in for a haircut, Cole said, and his lease doesn't expire for another year.
"We still have some busy days but it is nothing like it used to be," said Cole, who, for the first time in his life, temporarily turned to food shelves to support his family of four. He said the grant money provided welcome relief.
"I had this location for four years," he said. "There are seven of us barbers and we were doing well until the pandemic hit."
Martena Jones, who owns Fabulous Diva Boutique at the Mall of America in Bloomington, used her microgrant to restock dress and shirt inventory and to permanently hire one part-time worker after she let go three when the pandemic struck last year.
"I was doing everything by myself so it feels so good to have help," she said.
Fredrikson & Byron Foundation President Dulce Foster said she and other Fredrikson shareholderskicked in their own money to make the fund a reality.
"A lot of people think these businesses have been taken care of. But the realization is that they have not. Theystill have costs that are not compensated and there is still a gap," Foster said.
"We were just trying to put in a small bit of assistance to help with some of those gaps."
Foster, who once lived near the now-burned Third Precinct police station on Lake Street, said the work to restore some of these small businesses is personal.
"We saw what happened on Lake Street," she said. "We wanted to do something to help these mostly minority-owned and small business owners get back on their feet."
The microgrant program is the latest philanthropic venue for the Minneapolis-based law firm. Fredrikson & Byron opened a free legal clinic inside Midtown Global Market on Lake Street in the wake of last year's riots to help small businesses with insurance claims, rent assistance and other disputes after their businesses were destroyed.