As Police and Protesters Stand Off, Uptown Businesses Struggle
Entering Uptown from 31st and Hennepin on Tuesday afternoon, it felt like a fairly normal June day: Buses running, cyclists pedaling, and pedestrians on the sidewalks.
But a block away at Lake Street and Hennepin Avenue, around 20 protesters stood peacefully on the crosswalk between Juut Salonspa and Seven Points (formerly Calhoun Square), blocking traffic from going eastbound on Lake towards the parking ramp where Winston Smith was shot and killed by law enforcement on June 3.
For the retailers and restaurants that call Uptown home, these disruptions to traffic flow are just fanning the growing flames. The past year-plus has been unwaveringly challenging, many business owners say. Between Covid, unrest and looting after George Floyd’s death a year ago, and now, Winston Smith’s death and the subsequent protests, Uptown businesses are on rocky ground.
During the early afternoon Tuesday, protesters and police took turns controlling the Seven Points intersection. The hand-offs were fairly quiet. Police would show up, clear and re-open the intersection to traffic, and leave the area; then protesters would regain control and occupy the intersection. The tango continued throughout the afternoon. While tensions appear to be heightened any time protesters and law enforcement face off in Minneapolis these days, the scene in Uptown this afternoon was fairly peaceful.
Since June 3, protesters have been a near-constant presence at Lake and Hennepin, demanding justice for Winston Smith and other victims of police violence. During a protest in the early morning hours on Monday, protester Deona Marie Knajdek (other sources have identified her with the last name Erickson) was killed by a drunk driver who plowed into the barricade of civilian cars set up by protesters to protect themselves.
Over the weekend, 35-year Uptown tenant Juut Salonspa announced it was closing its Uptown location at the northeast corner of Hennepin and Lake citing “continued escalation of crime and violence in our neighborhood.” Other businesses are feeling the reverberations.
Some of Juut’s Uptown neighbors expressed disappointment in the salon’s abrupt exit.
“They didn’t even take into consideration all of us who are still here,” said Amy Tupper, a design associate at Roam Interiors across the street on Hennepin. “They could have chosen their words more carefully, in a more supportive manner.”
Following a Covid closure that was extended by social unrest last summer, Roam reopened its modern furniture showroom in October but keeps the doors locked. The showroom has been robbed during the day, Tupper said. A homeless man was living in Roam’s vestibule for several months before a police officer helped to move him. “It’s so uncomfortable,” Tupper said. “We want to support the community. At the same time, we’re trying to run a business. The police have been almost nonexistent. It feels very unorganized. Who do we call?”
Flower and gift shop Indulge & Bloom opened its current Uptown location in February 2020, one month before Covid swept Minnesota.
“We are concerned about foot traffic being so slow right now,” said Hailey Peterson, floral designer and the only employee in the store on Tuesday afternoon. “It’s just really slow, especially compared to our Mall of America location. Before all this, this area was a hotspot for shopping. It’s a domino effect as businesses around us close. The fewer businesses are here, the less traffic there is for everybody else.”
The doors to Seven Points shopping center remained locked on Tuesday. Tenants like Indulge & Bloom that also have street access were given the option of remaining open by the mall manager. A flow of online orders was the only thing keeping Indulge & Bloom’s Uptown location open Tuesday, Peterson said.
Next door, kitchen supply store Kitchen Window had a similar story. Manager Kennedy Harrington said that there are fewer customers coming in because the mall’s main parking ramp—the one where Smith was killed—isn’t accessible to customers due to protests and a memorial on the top floor. But Harrington said the store has been keeping busy with curbside pick-up and shipping orders.
Across the street, Amazing Thailand is struggling to hold onto hope. The restaurant is currently open for take-out and delivery only in order to keep staff and customers safe, said general manager Yin Muangmode. She added that what’s happening in Uptown now is especially disappointing because small businesses were just beginning to feel like they had survived Covid and were going to make it.
“We made sure that all of our staff are vaccinated, … and we thought, ‘Yes! Now everyone can enjoy the summer!’ But now this. Other businesses around here have franchises or other locations, but we do not. We cannot shut down this place. We are immigrant and minority owned. We come from Thailand. We’ve been open for 14 years. We support justice and everything, but not like this. We want peace and healing—unity,” Muangmode said. “This restaurant is the only place we have. We are rooted here. Uptown is our home. We can’t imagine ourselves somewhere else. The Uptown that we had seen before is nothing like this. It used to be a place where we were so proud to tell our parents and family in Thailand that we were in Uptown, but now they see the news and they’re so worried about us. … How much more do we have to deal with?”
TCB was unable to reach the Uptown Association or Minneapolis Council President Lisa Bender for comment.