Julie Ingebretsen, whose Scandinavian shop opened on E. Lake Street 99 years ago, and Elias Usso, an Ethiopian American pharmacist who opened his Seward Pharmacy on the same street last year, watched the destruction of their businesses on the night of May 27 the same way: on their smartphones while at home.
“It was agonizing to see people wandering in and taking drugs and merchandise,” said Usso, 42, whose business was torched. “We didn’t sleep that night. It was very difficult to go there in the morning.”
Last week, workers restrung electrical wires. Usso expects to reopen the neighborhood pharmacy that was welcomed in the Corcoran neighborhood, near the Midtown YWCA.
Usso is rebuilding, covering an estimated $500,000 in damage and lost inventory thanks to insurance, a benevolent landlord and savings.
He and his wife, a lawyer who also helps in her free time with regulatory and administrative work, have been buoyed by volunteers and customers anxious for reopening on a street that still boasts dozens of damaged and boarded-up buildings.
“Our idea is a neighborhood pharmacy where I have time to talk to my customers,” said Usso, who provides free delivery. “I’ve worked for CVS and Walgreens. I didn’t have time for customers. I felt like a machine. And I want Lake Street to come back as robust as it was.”
Ingebretsen’s, started by Julie Ingebretsen’s grandfather, incurred $100,000 in damage, though it was not set on fire.
“A lot of businesses are still boarded up,” Ingebretsen said, but she was able to reopen Ingebretsen’s last month.
“My customers, who come from all over the Twin Cities, are starting to come back,” she said. “My impression is many owners are waiting to see what support there is for reopening.”
She had considered moving the store elsewhere in the 1980s and 1990s, when Lake Street had many vacant storefronts and rampant drug dealing. “Most of our customers didn’t live in the neighborhood anymore,” she said.
One of the biggest stores on the street, the two-block square Sears Roebuck complex, closed in 1994 and stayed that way for 12 years until it was redeveloped as Midtown Global Market. The car dealers and other retailers also split for the suburbs.
Ingebretsen stayed partly because there was little market for her building. Eventually, Lake Street began to turn around and she eventually expanded the 40-employee specialty butcher shop, specialty foods and gift store.
She said Ingebretsen’s benefited from the development of the Midtown Global Market, which attracted shoppers from all around, as well as the adjacent Allina Health headquarters, where 1,800 people work in what used to be the Sears distribution center.
Lake Street is still gritty in stretches. But outfits such as Taqueria de Los Ocampo, Safari Express, East Lake Brewery, Mercado Central and Moroccan Flavors brought new products, recipes and fresh coats of paint.
And even amid the destruction of late May and early June, there are signs of new life.
A residential-commercial renovation project is underway at Bloomington and Lake. Mercado Central and its many Latino tenants are open. Wellington Management plans to develop a bigger affordable housing complex than the nearly completed one that was torched near the burned-out Third Precinct station.
Midtown Global Market last week launched the Indigenous Food Lab, an education and training center headed by James Beard Award winners Sean Sherman and Dana Thompson, also known as the Sioux Chef.
Baba LeTang, the global market’s manager, is moving in some small businesses that need temporary space. That includes a 1,000-square-foot shop for Midtown Eye Care. Its nearby building was destroyed by rioters.
John Wolf, owner of Chicago-Lake Liquors, will open a new store in November. Wolf, who was burned out on May 28, said the cleanup-and-rebuild tab will top $4 million.
“I must be crazy, but I’m invested in the community,” Wolf said.
Armondo Ocampo, whose Mexican restaurant chain operates several sites in the Twin Cities, has reopened as the anchor commercial tenant in a nearby apartment building that Wolf opened in February.
And yet, a full recovery could take years. Allison Sharkey, veteran executive director the Lake Street Council, expects some businesses to stay closed or move away.
“I only know of one business so far that is probably not planning to rebuild,’’ Sharkey said. “I think others may follow once the cost to rebuild becomes more clear. It’s very expensive.’’
The tab for the destruction of hundreds of businesses along Lake Street and W. Broadway Avenue in Minneapolis and University Avenue in St. Paul could be around $500 million.
The Minnesota Department of Commerce projects that private insurance will only cover about half of that. The Lake Street Council has raised about $10 million from donors. Gov. Tim Walz has pledged the state will be part of the rebuilding solution, but the Legislature hasn’t allocated anything yet.
Many of the tiny family businesses were underinsured and lack excess capital.
Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at email@example.com.