The storefronts in the Seward neighborhood of south Minneapolis last Friday each bore a makeshift sign explaining how business was anything but usual.
Welna II Hardware on Franklin Avenue says it was temporarily closed (it has since reopened for parking lot pickup). Big River Yoga says its in-person sessions are canceled. At Tobacco Plus, a short message scrawled on a sheet of paper reads: "We are closed for COVID-19."
The pandemic has forced the local businesses of Seward to get creative to survive, and they're benefiting from their location in a neighborhood with a history of political activism and local pride.
Business owners are cooking free meals for furloughed workers and customers, starting fundraising campaigns and offering free services when they're able to reopen.
The financial burden on these businesses will be severe, and some will likely close for good, said Brigid Higgins, the creative enterprise manager for Seward Redesign, a local community development corporation. But residents and business organizations that see them as an integral part of their community are standing by them every step of the way, she said.
"I've already seen so much love that folks are throwing out there for the people they want to support," she said. "The Seward community is amazing in that way, in that they're dedicated to support local."
Some might see Seward as a "crunchy, granola type" of neighborhood, Higgins said, but she finds strength in that description. With it comes a variety of identities and backgrounds, she said, including several immigrant- and female-owned businesses.
At Birchwood Cafe, a restaurant and market surrounded by homes on E. 25th Street, owner Tracy Singleton had to furlough 56 of the cafe's 62 employees after closing its dining area, she said. Those employees are able to buy food at the restaurant with money collected from a 15% service fee charged to each order.
Although sales are down by about 70%, Singleton has added new grocery items to the market and begun selling restaurant shares to bring in more revenue.
"My hope is that there'll be enough business that we will be able to hire all our employees back," she said. "That might sound unrealistic at this moment, but that's my goal."
Down the street, six people are working in the kitchen of Café Racer, which shifted to curbside pickup. The restaurant is still giving a free meal at the beginning of every month to customers who need it, owner Luis Patiño said.
Patiño said his own upbringing prepared him to handle the severity of the virus. His home country of Colombia closed its borders in response to the pandemic, and two of his favorite books — "Love in the Time of Cholera" and "One Hundred Years of Solitude," both written by Gabriel García Márquez — deal with disease and misfortune.
"I can't just sit idly by and hope that things are going to get better," he said. "I have a responsibility to take these resources and skill sets … and do the little bit that I can for my community, for my employees."
Other businesses that had no choice but to stay closed are looking for alternative sources of revenue.
Nomadic Oasis, a barber shop on Franklin Avenue, shut down under Gov. Tim Walz's executive order. Owner Faysal Osman said clients have asked him to cut their hair in their homes, but he has turned them down to avoid potential exposure to the virus.
Osman, who is from Ethiopia, has filed for unemployment and small business loans, and considered delivering food to support his family for the time being. When he reopens, he said, he plans to follow strict sanitation procedures and to offer free haircuts to medical workers across the highway at Fairview Clinic.
"I have to keep in mind we're not the only ones who are jeopardized," he said. "Everybody needs an uplift right here."
Seward Cafe, a coffee shop and performance venue owned by its employees, has been in the neighborhood for 45 years. While it is currently closed, it has nearly met its fundraising goal to cover its monthly bills, with neighbors and former employees donating and sending messages of support, barista Jo Facklam said.
"I've kind of inherited this legacy, sort of. We all have. And it's on us to keep it going through this," Facklam said. "It feels like a lot of pressure, but in a good way."
Seward Redesign and other businesses organizations have fielded countless calls and e-mails from business owners, many of them immigrants, asking how they can pay their employees and cover immediate expenses. Higgins shared a bingo board populated with neighborhood businesses on social media, where customers can send in their receipts and enter a raffle for a gift card.
As of Tuesday, more than 600 businesses had applied for forgivable loans from the city, according to the mayor's office. The businesses must be located in targeted areas for special assistance; only the northwest quadrant of Seward is in an eligible area.
Although most businesses are just trying to survive the pandemic, Boneshaker Books is working to open its doors once again.
Facing insurmountable debt, the volunteer-run bookstore had announced it was closing for good at the beginning of March. Rather than let it go, volunteers decided to form a new collective, launch an online fundraiser and help pay off the debt, volunteer Quinton Singer said.
"It's giving me hope. I finally have, like, a purpose," Singer said. "We're all super encouraged by it, and the fact that there's a pandemic going on is giving us a little bit of life."
The collective hopes to sign a new lease with the building owner in July. It has set up a site to sell books and will restart its bike delivery program.
They're also starting two new book clubs, Singer said: "Pandemics" and "Anything But Pandemics."
Staff writer Liz Navratil contributed to this report.