Last December, the owners of Common Roots Café in south Minneapolis put a sign in their restaurant window that said: “Hate Has No Business Here,” in response to anti-immigrant talk from then-candidate Donald Trump and others.
“In the face of the xenophobic, hate-filled rhetoric that has entered the mainstream, we put up a sign to make it clear to Muslims, immigrants and refugees in our community that they are welcome … and that we stand by their side,” Common Roots owners Danny and Elana Schwartzman said.
The Schwartzmans, who employ 60 full-time workers in their restaurant and catering service, sparked something of a movement.
The Main Street Alliance, a progressive-oriented national association of small businesses, has adopted the theme as part of its “All Are Welcome Here” campaign, complete with posters that can be downloaded at mainstreetalliance.org.
“Thousands of businesses across the country have downloaded that poster,” said Corinne Horowitz of the Minnesota chapter of Main Street Alliance.
Horowitz said 125-plus state businesses have signed up recently as part of a related campaign, “Shop Your Values,” at shopyourvaluesmn.com. The businesses stand against “hateful rhetoric and violence” and encourage customers to work for racial and economic justice.
Elana Schwartzman said customers, employees and others, whether born in America, Mexico or the Middle East, deserve respect and fair treatment. Moreover, immigrant labor plays a critical role in the growing Minnesota and national economy.
“We’re involved in a cohort of business owners that believe in doing well by doing good,” Elana Schwartzman said. “We have a role to play.”
A kickoff of the Shop Your Values campaign Monday at St. Paul’s Lake Monster Brewing featured Twin Cities business owners, including Elana Schwartzman, Jason Rathe of Field Outdoor Spaces, Kayf Ahmed of Capitol Café and Todd Mikkelson of Sprayrack in Orono.
A statement from Main Street Alliance business owners said: “This swell of hate and fear permeating our national dialogue both during and after the most recent election is dangerous. We believe it must be met head-on with clear statements of principle from local business owners because we are leaders in our communities.”
Incubator expands on W. Broadway
The Northside Economic Opportunity Network (NEON) business incubator on lower W. Broadway Avenue is growing.
CEO Marcus Owens, 36, who leads the grass-roots economic developer, said there are now 17 small businesses operating that range from one to several employees. And he’s expanding the space to meet growing demand.
This less than a year after NEON opened the incubator on the main commercial artery of the near North Side. Broadway is undergoing a slow, building-by-building commercial revival in the Minneapolis neighborhood with the lowest incomes and highest unemployment.
Moreover, NEON was just awarded $50,000 by the U.S. Small Business Administration, one of 85 winners among 400 applicants to the SBA’s annual “Growth Accelerator Fund Competition” through its Office of Investment and Innovation and other partners.
“This grant will allow NEON to help even more small businesses in north Minneapolis start, grow and succeed,” said Nancy Libersky, the SBA’s district director.
Owens, a North Side native who worked a decade in corporate America, said he’s invigorated by the expanding and new businesses.
“I’m encouraged and see the possibilities, and now we’re growing, adding staff to support the entrepreneurs and we’re getting prescriptive to serve community needs,” Owens said. NEON, charged with business growth along and around the W. Broadway corridor, works with nearby Appetite for Change, which operates a food-company incubator, Kindred Kitchen, as well as the successful Breaking Bread restaurant. Several restaurants, such as WholeSoul, Lavender and Sage Eatery, including food trucks, have launched from the incubator.
“We’re really focusing on food businesses in this community,” Owens said. “We’re working with Appetite for Change to develop and grow them. We still have $7 million [annually] leaving the community for food, along the W. Broadway trade area from the Mississippi River to Robbinsdale. But when we had food trucks selling on W. Broadway, they did just as well as they did downtown.”
Low-cost business incubators with shared administrative services, conference rooms and technology, are critical to reducing the high rate of failure among fledgling businesses that often are overwhelmed by rent, first-time errors, slow revenue growth and no mentors. Owens, who served on NEON’s board before becoming executive director in 2015, graduated from nearby North High, and is a savvy MBA who connects well with business and community partners invested in a strong North Side business community.