Jennifer Brooks
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It was Black Friday on Lake Street.

At the Midtown Global Market, vendors set out displays of holiday ornaments and balsam wreaths and gleaming rows of local honey. The air around the food court was fragrant with spices. A bright red sleigh waited for selfies with Santa. An artist called out cheerful instructions during a free craft demonstration.

The market is a business incubator, a live music venue, a community gathering space and the only place in town you can stroll from Moroccan rugs to Nepali dumplings to Minnesota cheeses all under one roof.

Shopkeepers and artists and chefs. The neighbors who kept the neighborhood in businesses through pandemic, riot, recession and inflation.

They held on for us. They're hoping we show up for them this season.

"They're not going to find this in the Mall of America," said artist and store manager Carla Brown, showing off the offerings at the Art Shoppe. Hand-painted greeting cards, quirky ceramic mugs, woolly knit hats and gorgeous embroidered robes. Works from 70 or more local artists who sell their pieces through the shop and volunteer as its workforce.

"They're all artist-made," said Brown, standing near a display case of her own jewelry. "Everything is unique."

The shop, a longtime tenant of the market, recently shifted to a more prominent retail space, and volunteers were putting the merchandise in order. Tempting displays of holiday ornaments beckoned to shoppers returning to Lake Street.

"The market's been very, very helpful to keep us alive. And now we're sort of on the rebound," Brown said. "Customers are coming back and so are the artists and volunteers."

Tens of thousands of shoppers rushed to the Mall of America on Black Friday. The shops of Lake Street were hoping the crowds find them for Small Business Saturday. And Cyber Monday. And all the days that follow.

"It's no secret that it's been difficult here on Lake Street," said Matt Tell, executive director of the nonprofit Friends of Global Market.

"These guys have worked so hard, and stuck it out, and done what they needed to do to stay in business," he said. "We're getting back to where we were. We've had some good days. They're not there yet, but they're on their way. It's so heartwarming to see the light come back in their eyes."

The Lake Street Council recently launched a promotional video to shine a light of its own on Lake Street. The video, airing before shows at the Lagoon Cinema in Uptown, features more than 25 businesses and organizations up and down the corridor.

The Lake Street they show us is colorful, musical, vibrant. People are smiling, shopping, riding bikes, painting murals, hopping on and off public transit.

It's nothing you wouldn't see on any other busy street in any other town. But Minnesota has gotten used to a two-year-old image of Lake Street on fire. Lake Street in pain.

Or, as one late-season political campaign ad put it, just before the fact checkers ripped the inaccurate attack ad to shreds: "Murder! Robberies! Assaults! Rapes!" Each word writ large across old footage of Minneapolis burning.

The real Lake Street is still hurting, still rebuilding, still worth saving. Worth a visit for the food alone.

"We are a family here," said chef Soleil Ramirez, smiling out from the counter of the only Venezuelan restaurant in the Twin Cities, the Arepa Bar. "We are doing everything we can to offer a great space to come with the family and travel all over the world in one place."

These have been hard years. Customers ask Ramirez if it's safe to visit Lake Street after 4 p.m. She's hoping for more support from City Hall. She's hoping we remember what a treasure we have on Lake Street.

"I'm very worried about how this year is going to end," she said.

For now, she has the support of the businesses beside her at the market, and her own stubborn determination to offer this community something authentic, something delicious, something true. That, she said, "is what keeps me alive."