Eastlake Brewery owner Ryan Pitman is seeing business boom at other breweries, but customers still don't order rounds into the night at his spot in the Midtown Global Market on Lake Street.
"Once it's dark, people leave," Pitman said. "Things have been slow to come back to the level before the riots."
After being in the center of the unrest after George Floyd's murder by a Minneapolis police officer two years ago, Lake Street still faces an image problem.
"I think the perception is going to have to change and that's going to continue to happen with the rebuilding of Lake Street," the brewery owner said.
Minneapolis crime has been up in most categories since spring 2020. In the first three months of this year, criminal incidents on Lake Street held steady against the year-ago period and considerably below the day after the slaying of George Floyd two years ago.
Suburban customers may be reluctant to drive to the Midtown Global Market, said Mostafa Khchich, owner of the rug and accessories store Dar Medina.
"They hear the news about it and they're scared," said Khchich, who's launched a website to market his goods. "But Lake Street is recovering. It's a very big change since that time. Things look much better. The streets are cleaned up."
At Ingebretsen's Nordic Marketplace, mail-order business shot up during the pandemic and has remained strong even as its longtime customers are returning to the store at nearly 2019 levels, said Julie Ingebretsen, the third-generation owner.
"Sometimes we'll get a phone call asking if it's fine to come down and we say it is. There is still trepidation for sure," she said. "Our core customers live in the city. People farther out keep getting the message that the city is a very scary place."
On Lake Street, protective plywood boards long ago came off buildings. Cub Foods and Target reopened within months of the unrest. U.S. Bank rebuilt an even larger branch that opened earlier this year.
A spokeswoman for Minneapolis-based Target Corp. said that its store at Lake Street and Hiawatha has experienced increased traffic and revenue since it was rebuilt after the riots.
Many smaller businesses reopened after receiving some combination of insurance money, rent forgiveness, grants and loans. Some owners dug into savings to rebuild.
The 7 Mile Fashion store in the Hi-Lake Shopping Center reopened this year and Gina Ahn is relieved that customers are only trickling back because she's still trying to get her staff trained and determine schedules as employees face childcare and transportation challenges.
She's also seen a rise in shoplifting even as the family-run business works on longer payment schedules with vendors to stay afloat. Ahn suspects that the fresh, new look of the store is attracting thieves. "I'm OK with the slow rollout, but it's a little unnerving with the thefts and all the money we have to pay back," she said.
Despite a high fence around the lot, a steady stream of cars pull in to fill up at the Stop N Shop at 31st Street E. and 1st Avenue S.
Owner Joe Zerka said he was determined to rebuild. The corner market reopened last September with security measures such as a high fence, which he calls "hideous," and bulletproof glass. Many of the neighbors don't have cars and walk to the store.
"I feel it's a personal duty of mine to stay here and serve this community," said Zerka, who took over the store in 2018 from his father, who has since passed away. "There's no way anybody is taking this away from me. My father started this business. It fed my family for years."
Pharmacist Elias Usso of Seward Pharmacy, on Lake Street near Hiawatha, feels the same sense of commitment.
"I live a couple of blocks from where George Floyd was killed," he said. "It was a tough time as a neighbor and as a business owner."
The pharmacy opened in December 2019, then closed in June 2020 because of damage during the unrest. Usso was able to work from another clinic location before reopening in September that year.
"I'm a member of this community. If I don't roll up my sleeves and open up this pharmacy I thought, 'Who's going to do it?' I'm responsible for being strong and reopening it," Usso said. "That is what really kept me going."
Even an attempted robbery at knifepoint by a man demanding drugs hasn't altered his resolve, though he keeps the front door locked now. "Security is my main concern," he said.
Every day, he sees the numbers of prescriptions going up. "I can't complain, to be honest with you," Usso said.
The Lake Street Council expects that more openings and the return of street fairs and festivals will attract more traffic.
"We have seen a lot of summer outdoor events that are coming back so we're hopeful that will bring customers back to the corridor, especially those who haven't been back since COVID or the civil unrest," said Marie Campos, a council spokeswoman.
At Eastlake Brewery, owner Pitman offers free delivery and distributes four-packs of his beer to liquor stores to make up for the drop in visitors. He is encouraged by the new food options at Midtown Global Market and other openings in the neighborhood, such as the new U.S. Bank branch across the street.
"If people just came, they'd be surprised by how vibrant Lake Street is," Pitman said. "We still have some of the best Mexican food in the whole metro, all on one street, and anything else you can think of, too."