About midnight on May 27, security officer Ken Reese Jr. heard a plate-glass window shatter on the E. Lake Street side of the Allina Commons-Midtown Global Market complex, east of Chicago Avenue.
Reese, monitoring cameras at the security desk, told a Securitas colleague to stay put as he ran toward the sound of looters streaming through the broken glass to nab bicycles that had been collected by a youth-nonprofit tenant for low-income neighborhood kids. Beyond that were food and merchandise shops owned by 50 small businesses.
"The first looters through the window were surprised," recalled Reese. "I started yelling. There was six of them inside. They backed out.
"Then somebody busted out another window and I told them to get out. I told them this was small businesses, minority businesses and people living upstairs here. They stopped and listened. They left. Looters and arsonists want empty buildings."
Reese, 54, a 20-year security professional who works two jobs, is known by business owners, tenants and employees for his easy smile, courtesy and professionalism. He is also built like a linebacker.
"Ken was standing in the window the first night, fending off looters," said Mihailo "Mike" Temali, chief executive of Neighborhood Development Center (NDC), the majority owner and manager of the global market.
"The protesters had righteous anger over what they perceive as a racist system. And in here we have small businesses owned by neighbors of color," Temali said. "And for two nights after that, Ken was supported by other security and residents and business owners and neighbors who ringed the building all night. We need to do more [on race and equity]. But we first needed to preserve what we have achieved."
The complex emerged from a $190 million redevelopment 14 years ago of an abandoned Sears Roebuck warehouse and store. Its success became part of a broader storefront-by-storefront reclamation of E. Lake Street in recent years, often by immigrant entrepreneurs.
On the third night of the protests over the police killing of George Floyd, with the market portion of the complex covered by several Securitas guards and volunteers, Reese watched video monitors from the security desk. He noticed several people with backpacks slip into the Allina portion of the building through a broken door. He confronted them just as they pulled tools from the backpacks.
"They were arsonists and don't like to be seen," Reese said. "I told them to get out and they left."
He said no one in the building was hurt during the four nights of protests and subsequent violence May 26-29.
"We had old ladies in the lobby praying," he said. "We had people protecting their own building. We were like an oasis."
Across the street to the east, a Family Dollar Store and furniture shop went up in flames. A U.S. Bank branch burned across Lake Street, after looters emptied the ATM. A nearby liquor store was vandalized and looters drank and sold inventory on the street.
Next door, a new Los Ocampo restaurant, the latest of several owned by Mexican immigrants Armando Ocampo and wife Lilia, who started 27 years ago with a hole-in-the-wall taco shop, was damaged on the ground floor of a new apartment building.
Raja Ziadi, a native of Morocco and co-owner with her husband of Moroccan Flavors restaurant in the Global Market, was one of the perimeter defenders in late May. Ziadi lives above the market with her family.
"I was frightened," she said. "But this is our dream … since 2016. We work hard. And we love these people.
"Some teenagers broke in one night. We asked them why they did this? They put their heads down and left. On Friday night, we observed two guys and a lady drive an old car up to the [Global Market]. It had a can of gasoline in it. They left. We pushed the car away from our building."
Earlsworth "Baba" Letang, NDC's director of the Global Market, met last week with tenants about improvements and with the owners of other shops that were burned about leasing space in the building.
Damages from the riots and fires are estimated to be around $500 million across the Twin Cities, with at least $200 million of that along Lake Street. The Lake Street Council has started to make grants from a fast-growing fund of several million in donations.
My late mother, who grew up on Lake Street, remembered as a girl in the 1920s the construction of the magnificent Sears complex. After the Sears store shuttered there in the early 1990s, a chain-link fence, symbolizing blight, went up around the vacant hulk.
In 2006, Ryan Cos., Allina, NDC, the city and dozens of entrepreneurs, financial and other partners opened the Allina-Global Market Center. Two-thirds of its visitors come from outside Minneapolis.
It will take more of the same vision, heart and significant investment to rebuild E. Lake Street.
Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.