A series of commercial structures on St. Paul's East Side that began in the 1880s as a butcher shop run by a German immigrant is now being remodeled into a community resource center for a new generation of immigrant entrepreneurs.
When it is completed in September, the converted buildings will be known as the East Side Enterprise Center and will serve as a hub for current and would-be immigrant entrepreneurs who have trouble navigating the financial and legal requirements of setting up an American business on their own.
The East Side Enterprise Center, a coalition between the Latino Economic Development Center (LEDC) and Dayton's Bluff Community Council, is completing the job this summer by building out the interior with offices and meeting spaces, according to Mario Hernandez, vice president and chief operating officer of the LEDC.
"We were looking for a space that would both house our business development services and serve as a base to help farmers bring their products to market," he said. "It was a perfect fit. It's got space up front for offices and meetings, and a warehouse space for farmers to store their products."
His group, probably best known as the driving force behind the Mercado Central co-op and micro-entrepreneur training center at 1515 E. Lake St. in Minneapolis, is seeking to expand its services to the East Side's sizable Latino community, specifically serving small farmers who are looking for ways to get their foodstuffs into local restaurants.
Hernandez said part of the reason the LEDC got involved in the St. Paul effort was because of what it's doing in rural Minnesota, where the nonprofit is working with Latino farmers to supply much-in-demand organic produce to Twin Cities eateries — the Margaret Street building's warehouse will help with that.
But because the East Side is home to several other burgeoning minority populations, the LEDC joined forces with the Dayton's Bluff Community Council, which in turn has relationships with the Hmong American Farmers Association as well as African-American and Native American groups who each joined Enterprise Center effort.
"The East Side of St. Paul is now about 60 percent people of color," said Deanna Abbott-Foster, the community council's executive director. "A lot of the entrepreneurs here wanting to start businesses have no access to things such as banking — many of them operate businesses on a cash-only basis in their own countries," she said.
There's a big "information and access gap" that the East Side Enterprise Center will try to bridge with microloans and other types of help to tap a "strong entrepreneurial spirit" in the neighborhood, Abbott-Foster said.
The oldest part of the red-brick structure at 798 Margaret St., just off E. 7th Street in the Dayton's Bluff neighborhood, was built by butcher George Pabst in 1885. By the 1940s the business had expanded into an adjacent one-story grocery store.
Sometime in the 1960s a subsequent owner added a large warehouse behind the historic structures as the buildings went through stints as a wholesale tire dealership, a paint shop and other uses. In 1990, the complex was purchased by Cleo Kelly, the brother of former St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly, who for 20 years ran his ServiceMaster home cleaning franchise from the spot.
Kelly made a series of improvements to the structures before selling them in March to an alliance formed between the Dayton's Bluff Community Council — which has its headquarters right next door — and the Latino Economic Development Center, who together are seeking to emulate George Pabst's journey into the American middle class.
Key portions of the funding for the $1 million project came from the city of St. Paul's Neighborhood STAR program, which is fed by city sales tax proceeds.
Don Jacobson is a freelance writer in St. Paul and former editor of the Minnesota Real Estate Journal.