George Floyd Square businesses just want things back to normal

On any given day at the intersection of 38th and Chicago Avenue in south Minneapolis, people can be seen walking to the memorial in front of Cup Foods where George Floyd was murdered by police officers two years ago today.

They take photos or capture video of their visit on their cell phones. Others leave flowers, cards, paintings and other mementos. Some stand silently.

Renamed George Floyd Square, the intersection has become an internationally known site visited by people across the globe.

But for the people working at the roughly two dozen businesses around the intersection, it’s another day at work. To some of the business owners there, there’s a growing feeling of being invisible and overlooked two years after riots after Floyd’s murder caused more than $ 500 million in damage.

“We’re not the reason they come to the area,” said hair stylist Natasha Clemons, who owns Clemons Conscious Salon on Chicago Avenue, just a few yards away from the memorial side. “They come to see everything around us.”

While they support the memorial and honoring Floyd’s life, business owners say the city has not done enough to make customers, and themselves, feel safe. They want increased law enforcement presence and greater attention to making the area business-friendly, such as expanding the And they’d want to see a plan in action instead of merely on paper.

The city said it is committed to helping the businesses survive and has a plan to remake the area.

“All the businesses in that intersection are still struggling,” said Erik Hansen, director of economic policy and development for the city of Minneapolis. “We’re going to continue to participate in seeing how we can drive resources to that intersection.”

To help struggling businesses at the intersection, last April, the Minneapolis City Council voted to approve a one-time forgivable loan program. The loans, forgiven if spent within a year for business expenses, are $ 50,000 each. Thirty loans were awarded for a total $ 1.5 million.

Some businesses, like Dragon Wok, closed despite the $ 50,000 loan. Cup Foods also was a recipient. Calls to the business were not returned. A clerk at the market had called police about Floyd because of a possible $ 20 counterfeit bill.

Clemons’ salon and Mill City Autobody also were among the recipients.

The owner, who asked not to be identified because his case is still not resolved, was assaulted at The owner, who asked not to be identified because his case is still not resolved, was assaulted at his shop and severely injured.

Though his attacker is in police custody, the altercation has left him uneasy about keeping his business there.

“When I get here in the morning, I don’t know if I’m going home,” the owner said.

The safety worries are on top of his business concerns. He already was facing COVID-19 downturns when Floyd was murdered. After the riots — and with the square so close to the shop — he had fewer customers. Some of his mechanics, worried for their own safety, quit as well.

“I need things to come back to normal,” he said.

Clemons used the loan to pay the rent for her salon, which she opened in June 2020 on Chicago Avenue, just two doors down from Cup Foods.

Clemons signed a multi-year lease a month before Floyd’s murder, and in the weeks that followed, invested time and money into renovating the space.

When Floyd was murdered, Clemons didn’t consider finding a new location. The costs of breaking her lease would have been too expensive and she was booked with appointments for the next two months.

“The whole city was on fire at the time, but being in that area was the safest place in the city,” she said.

Soon, however, clients became hesitant about coming to the salon square, Clemons said.

Criminal activity was up in the area, acknowledged by Minneapolis police. Also, business was down because of the pandemic, lack of parking on Chicago Avenue and a rise in people doing their own hair.

To stay open, the hair salon needs to triple its client base, Clemons said. She uses vegan and animal cruelty-free products, which helps attract customers, but it’s not enough.

“Right now, it’s not financial stable to continue as I am,” she said. “My business can’t thrive currently. I don’t know if its location, or COVID, or what.”

Carmen Valdes, owner of Caval Servicios, a tax preparation service on 38th Street that mostly serves the Latino community, also struggled with the twin challenges of the pandemic and increased crime.

COVID meant many of her clients were unable to file their taxes in person. Moreover, bus service through George Floyd Square has since May 2020 been rerouted around George Floyd Square, forcing many of Valdes’ clients to walk several blocks to get to her office.

Valdes said the rise in criminal activity also has affected her business. She used to keep her office open until as late as 10 pm, but now closes at 6 pm

“I arrived in south Minneapolis in 1999,” Valdes said. “It was very quite and a nice place. I liked it. I still like it. But lately, it has been hard for me and my clients.”

Since 2018, her revenue has dropped about 40%, she said. In that span, she’s cut back on expenses, including eliminating assistant positions. The forgivable loan has helped, but Valdes said she’s worried the current economic conditions will lead to more financial troubles ..

“I don’t know what’s going to happen with the economy in the next year,” she said. “Maybe a recession is coming? I’m concerned about it.”

Dwight Alexander, who owns Smoke in the Pit, and Sam Willis, the owner of Just Turkey on Chicago Avenue, say immediately addressing traffic flow around the memorial would increase customer activity. Both businesses received the forgivable loans.

The concrete barricades that still surround the sculptures, paintings and other items at the memorial site has hindered customer traffic the last two years, and made it difficult for delivery trucks to drop of supplies, Alexander said.

The former Speedway gas station on 38th Street, gutted during the riots, is now covered in murals and was renamed the “People’s Way” by activists. According to updates from the city, officials talked with the property owner last year and is reconnecting with them this spring with the intention to evaluate options to possibly purchase the site.

Alexander respects the significance of the site, but wants the city to at least make it look presentable.

“Why does it still look like a war zone?” he said.

Like Alexander, Willis said the city should work to make the site more presentable like parts of Uptown, downtown Minneapolis or Lake Street.

“It looks like a third world country when you come here sometimes,” he said. “If this is a memorial for the world to see, wouldn’t you want it to look attractive?”

Still, many business owners there say they aren’t giving up.

“We own this,” said Alexander, whose family-run barbecue restaurant has been on Chicago Avenue for 20 years. “I’m here for the long haul.”