The Lake Street Council’s mission is to engage, serve, and advocate for the Lake Street business community to ensure the vitality and prosperity of the commercial corridor. Before George Floyd was murdered, the staff of the small non-profit organization was going about their work in a fairly straightforward way. In the six months that have followed, everything about their work has changed.
The formerly vibrant six-mile long Lake Street commercial corridor lies in ruins, but there is still cause for hope.
Lake Street Council Executive Director Allison Sharkey said, “As the organization overseeing the Lake Street Recovery Fund, we have received an outpouring of support. So far, almost $12,000,000 in donations has come in. More than 80,000 donors have contributed, from more than 30 different countries around the world. I saved a lot of the letters and notes that accompanied the donations. I would love to pass them around the office – but we don’t have an office anymore.”
The Lake Street Council shared space in the US Bank building across the street from the Midtown Global Market for years. Their building, like hundreds of others up and down Lake Street, suffered extensive damage in the civil unrest. The US Bank building was destroyed, but Sharkey said, “I really haven’t had much time to think about our lack of an office. It’s not at the top of my ‘to-do’ list.”
Working remotely, Lake Street council staff members have been busy beyond anything they could have imagined. Sharkey explained, “We had to double the size of our staff, including hiring professional accountants to handle the influx of donations. We now have outreach workers that speak multiple languages, including Spanish and Somali. They have knocked on the door of every Lake Street business, and discovered businesses we didn’t know existed before.”
First round of grants disbursed
The first round of grants totaling $5.5 million was disbursed this month to more than 300 businesses and nonprofits damaged or destroyed in the Uprising. Of those grants, 82% of the grantees were Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC), or immigrants, and had, on average, four full-time employees.
The average grant size was $15,000. Businesses or non-profits could apply for up to $25,000 to repair building damage, replace inventory, equipment, or furnishings. This first round of funding helps provide a lifeline for BIPOC and immigrant-owned businesses during this fragile time.
No state or federal assistance granted
Sharkey said, “None of us have ever done anything like this before. We were as unprepared as if a hurricane or an earthquake had struck. The state of Minnesota requested a disaster declaration from the federal government, which would have brought resources, but the disaster declaration was denied. At the state level, the Minnesota House of Representatives has introduced a recovery bill, but the Senate has not passed it.
“Once it became clear that FEMA wasn’t going to show up and tell us what to do, we created a coalition of other experienced community organizations like the Latino and African Developments Centers. When the donations started coming in, we knew we didn’t want to just get the money out quickly – we wanted to get it out equitably.”
The majority of independent business owners on Lake Street were renters. Of those, 59% were uninsured, and an unknown number were underinsured. Many of the businesses have reopened, but their owners face an uncertain future. Sharkey said, “I believe we will see a lot of businesses fail in the next few months, under the double threat of COVID-19 and the economic losses brought on by this summer’s unrest. It is imperative that those of us who live here support our Lake Street businesses.”
She continued, “Every dollar spent on Lake Street helps keep store fronts open, employs community members, supports families, and fosters creativity and entrepreneurship. Don’t forget to tell your friends and family that you’re supporting these businesses. Show your Lake Street pride!”
There will be a second round of grants disbursed, beginning in December. Application guidelines, procedures, information about the decision-making committee, and the grant process can be found at www.visitlakestreet.com.
The Lake Street Council (501c3) will use 100% of funds received to help rebuild businesses and nonprofits damaged or destroyed on Lake Street. Donate via www.visitlakestreet.com, through GiveMN.org, or by sending a check to the Lake Street Council at PO Box 7091, Minneapolis, MN 55407.