The battleground that is Lake Street


Flowers grow in the beams of what was Bling Bling Beauty Supply and Cricket Mobile at Chicago and Lake. (Photo / Bruce Silcox)

Newton’s First Law of Motion, sometimes called the Law of Inertia, goes like this: An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion. When I think about rebuilding Lake Street, I think about this law. Perhaps the longer the rubble sits, the less likely it is that something will emerge from it? If an object is at rest it stays at rest? If nothing is moving forward, it is more difficult to start it moving again? Estimates are that it will take five to ten years for Lake Street to recover from the 2020 destruction. What will it look like? Be like?
In the wake of the murder of George Floyd, rioting destroyed or damaged approximately 1,500 buildings, 80 of them on Lake Street. About 20 buildings burned to the ground between Nicollet Avenue and 32nd Avenue. Gov. Walz’s July request (for $15 million) to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was denied, leaving recovery to the state (so far, the state has not participated in recovery funding), city, donations and grants. In his letter to FEMA, Walz described the event as “one of the most destructive civil unrest incidents in U.S. history,” comparing it to the 1992 Los Angeles riots. It is now over five months since the senseless murder and nights of fire, destruction and looting. Piles of rubble remain. Some of the big businesses are rebuilding, such as Target, Aldi, Speedway and Cub, but what about the small businesses? They are said to be the backbone of our economy, after all.
Some say the “character” of Lake Street is unlikely to return. Rebuilding will most likely be modern, clean, streamlined—and the historic quality will be lost. Lake Street has been described as “one of the last authentic places in a developing city where culture holds its ground against corporate retail and formulaic luxury” (Susan Du, City Pages). Historically it has been a field of dreams for the entrepreneurial. The uncertainty regarding the future of the MPD is a concern. If small businesses manage to rebuild, will they be protected? For those who were insured, the insurance check may be a ticket to retirement after years of investing on Lake Street. That is, they may want out. For those fortunate enough to still have a building, it may be difficult to sell, given the condition of the neighborhood, or difficult to get a decent price anyway. And what about those that were uninsured (estimated at over 50 percent) or underinsured? The Star Tribune (8/8/20) gives the example of 7Mile Fashion’s estimated loss of $2.5 million with insurance covering $600,000. Walz estimated a total loss of over $500 million. Insurance companies informed the Minnesota Department of Commerce that it will pay up to $240 million for riot-related damages. We have to remember that this is happening amidst a pandemic, which has already bled many small business owners and not-for-profits. As of August 2020, the Minnesota Department of Commerce reported that of 1,337 riot-related claims, 118 claims were closed without any compensation to the policy holder. The process is reportedly slow.
There are a growing number of organizations, companies and individuals committed to raising funds to assist small businesses and rebuild Lake Street, including the Lake Street Council, the Neighborhood Development Center, the Pohlad family (who own the Twins), Thomson Reuters, The Du Nord Foundation, United Health Group and multiple GoFundMe efforts, to name a few. offers support to small businesses and not-for-profits, including financial (recovery funds in the form of grants), legal, construction, energy efficiency, real estate, marketing, etc. The Lake Street Council ( has granted over $5 million to 300 businesses, 82 percent owned by Indigenous people, immigrants and people of color. Applicants can apply for up to $25,000, the average grant request being $15,000. The estimated damages reported by grantees are $28,000 plus $23,000 lost in cash, equipment and merchandise. To date 403 applications have been received and 328 have received grants. The Neighborhood Development Centeris also raising funds to assist in the restoration and offers ongoing support services to start-up businesses and those looking to expand. GiveMN ( links donors with organizations for charitable giving. Donations are also coming from out-of-state organizations and individuals.
Will it be enough? Demolition is very expensive, not to mention rebuilding. A major investment is needed; hopefully investors will understand the Lake Street “sense of place”—a place where dreams can and have come true for many entrepreneurs; a unique, historic, diverse part of the city offering an abundance of goods and services.
Beyond Buildings
Tabitha Montgomery, executive director of the Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association (PPNA) is hopeful and involved. She believes there still may be a way to get the state involved. PPNA is part of the Lake Street Recovery Leadership Coalition, a group of about a dozen organizations (Lake Street Council, Metro Consortium, etc.) who have come together to address and influence not only financial and policy matters, but also cultural, emotional and environmental aspects of recovery and renewal. This coalition is creating a Reach Twin Cities campaign and repository where information, updates and resources related to rebuilding and recovery can be accessed. Currently there are many news articles, websites and organizations involved, but no central resource for those seeking information and assistance as they recover and rebuild. Tabitha envisions a website, direct mailers, billboards, etc. Some of the goals of the coalition are: to influence policies; prevent asset extraction; develop racial equity; provide connections to needed services and resources such as technical, financial and mental health; and promote environmentally friendly building, architecture and infrastructure.
For many, there is an urgent need. Yet, in the big picture it is early in the planning and implementation of the Lake Street renewal. In 1994 the Lake Street Sears building closed after 80 years in business. At its height, this Sears business employed 2,000 in its store and catalog distribution center. Its closing was a blow to the community. The building stood vacant for a decade. Then, a coalition of businesses, community groups, government and not-for-profits came together along with Ryan Companies and created the Midtown Global Market that we know today, providing housing, food, produce, merchandise, government and health services to the community. The 2020 losses are huge and unique and will require a strong, strategic effort and solid funding to bring about the Lake Street the community so desires and deserves.

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