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A tour of BIPOC Business in Crystal and the brooklyns

ACER hosted a tour of business corridors featuring BIPOC-owned/operated businesses located in the cities of Crystal, Brooklyn Park, and Brooklyn Center.

BIPOC Business Tour attendees photographed in front of a mural at the Crystal Retail Center
BIPOC Business Tour attendees photographed at the Crystal Retail Center

ACER hosted a tour of business corridors featuring BIPOC-owned/operated businesses located in the cities of Crystal, Brooklyn Park, and Brooklyn Center. The purpose of the tour was to highlight how these businesses in the Northwest suburbs provide cultural goods and services and operate as the economic engine of BIPOC communities. Tour participants consisted of about 40 policymakers, business leaders, and community leaders who visited these cultural business corridors, toured the businesses, and met the business owners along the route. ACER hopes this tour gives leaders a better understanding of the successes and challenges faced by BIPOC-owned businesses, so stakeholders in the Economic Development Ecosystem can be more intentional about creating and maintaining policies, tools, and resources to support these businesses.

Crystal Retail Center

The strip mall is fairly old with some parcels containing buildings built in the 1950s. The businesses located at this strip mall include restaurants, tailors, salons, and more. FTK Properties inc. owns the property but It is currently on the market for sale. It is located in a prime retail area of the city, near the future Bass Lake road Blue Line station area and the redeveloped Becker Park—a destination park that brings traffic to nearby areas. The City of Crystal has already made some pre-transit-oriented development in this area. The new Becker Park (originally called Crystal Park since it opened in 1948) is across the street. The city has invested $3.5 million in the park as well as new parking and streetscaping right along the strip mall, making the businesses more visible and accessible as well as attracting nearby traffic from the event space at Becker Park.

The tour group visited Egg House Cafe, a family-owned breakfast dine-in and takeout restaurant that has operated for more than a decade. Egg House manager Wilson and other staff shared their experiences with the attendees. Of interest was the Egg House’s experience operating during the pandemic. The Egg House has a small staff of employees, including the owner's daughter. However, the Cafe did not experience labor shortages like other restaurants, keeping all their employees on their payroll. The staff says this is partly due to the Cafe closing at 2:00 pm every day, reducing the number of labor hours needed. During the onset of the pandemic, The Egghouse Cafe also did not take PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loans because the owner felt they were financially stable enough to keep their employees on staff. But continuing to do business during the pandemic required the Cafe to utilize food delivery apps like Grubhub, which often charge hefty fees to restaurants. Despite such difficulties, the Egg House Cafe continues to be a staple of dining in Crystal.

Park Square Shopping Center

The community knows this as the Dragon Star strip mall because the Dragon Star Supermarket parking lot caters to one of the largest farmers' markets in the city. The entire shopping center is owned by Dragon Star Enterprises LLC—a minority-own firm. The 60,000 sq ft Dragon Star Supermarket itself is a cultural hub that carries Asian, African, Indian, Hispanic, and Middle Eastern products. The Shopping Center hosts a large number of BIPOC-owned and operated businesses including restaurants, salons, and more. The space is an example of a cultural ownership model in which BIPOC entrepreneurs own commercial properties that host BIPOC-owned and operated businesses. This model can be pursued in tandem with a cooperative and shared ownership model in a number of spaces throughout the Northwest suburbs.

Dehcontee Brown has been working in the salon industry for about 20 years. She owns and operates the Unique Beauty Salon located in the Park Square Shopping Center. Dehcontee’s business offers a variety of salon services in addition to selling hair products and African clothing. She also contracts several stylists who use a few booths in her salon. As Dehcontee explained to the tour attendees, she would like to start a beauty school, using her experience to train hair stylists. However, she has found that the process of obtaining a license is not always fair to black immigrant stylists like herself. While she feels she has the years of experience to educate others, the rules, regulations, and licensing processes—which seem to be an insiders game for a mostly white clique—have been hard for her to navigate.

Located also in Park Square Shopping Center is Pho 99, a Vietnamese/Chinese fusion restaurant owned and operated by Vietnamese immigrants. Tour attendees met with restaurant manager Ahnson who shared his experience with them. Ahnson is incredibly passionate about cooking. His father was also a passionate cook and Ahnson has taken after him by becoming a restaurant manager and cook. Pho 99 has been in operation for about 3 years, opening right before the pandemic. The business owners saw a need to open a Vietnamese restaurant in the area where there are not many restaurants catering to this particular palate. Ahnson was happy to engage with the tour attendees. He felt it was great to help with any kind of community engagement in Brooklyn Park. Ahnson sees community engagement as the restaurant’s way of giving back to the community that supports their business.

Brooklyn Executive Plaza

This is an office building that once housed professional and clinical services. The crash of the housing market created large vacancies in office buildings in the suburbs. Landlords discovered a niche catering to micro-sized retail space, renting typically 200 to 400 sq ft of space for about $300 to $600 per month. The City of Brooklyn Park alone has about 4 to 5 buildings like these including the Brooklyn Executive Plaza. In August 2021, the Plaza buildings were sold. Seven months after the purchase was made, 12 businesses—the entire first floor of the 7710 building—were asked to vacate to make way for a new tenant. The recent business disruption to the tenants of this building required the support of the entire community. After a public demonstration and written complaints by ACER and the business owners, the landlord decided not to vacate the remaining 6 businesses and provided them the option to have longer-term leases going forward. The short campaign garnered the support of the City of Brooklyn Park which provided micro-loans to the impacted businesses to help cover relocation costs. ACER continues to work with the businesses in both buildings on moving toward the feasibility of a co-ownership model in the near future.

Favor Creation Fashion is located on the second floor of the 7714 building at the Brooklyn Executive Plaza. Business owner Josephine Hovers leases two separate spaces in the building. In her first space, Josephine sells a variety of men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing, many of which feature traditional African design patterns. In the second room Josephine leases, she runs a bridal shop featuring wedding gowns that she designs herself. She has a working relationship with tailors and clothesmakers overseas who make her specially designed dresses. She began her bridal shop as a way to rent wedding dresses to those who can’t afford to own a dress. Starting out Josephine had to operate both her shops by herself until she could afford to hire part-time staff. Right now she has about 100 wedding dresses, 30 of which she rents to brides. In the long term, Josephine hopes to continue expanding her wedding business.

Humboldt Square Shopping Center

This shopping center is at the heart of the Daunte Wright protests. The residents and businesses have been impacted by this tragic event. Across the street from the strip mall is the Brooklyn Center police station where protests and civil unrest impacted nearby businesses and residents. However, this community has remained resilient. Some of these businesses have been located at this strip mall for over 38 years. They are the economic backbone of the community. In January 2021, a new owner purchased the strip mall for a low price. There are currently 13 businesses in Humboldt Square with some vacancies remaining. A few updates have been made to the strip mall. However, it is primed for redevelopment and the businesses that remain are at risk for gentrification and displacement. This is a great opportunity for the City of Brooklyn Park and Legislators to support businesses around a shared ownership model to prevent displacement and move towards community wealth building.

Handz-on-Barber is a staple of the Humboldt neighborhood. The business owner and operator, Phillip Musa is also the main barber. He has been operating his business for 13 years. Philip became a barber after he was laid off from his construction job. He was encouraged by a friend who owned a barbershop to go to school and become a licensed barber. Discussing with the tour attendees, Mr. Musa described how during the protest surrounding the death of Daunte Wright his barbershop became a refuge for community members against the civil unrest. Handz-on-Barber serves as more than just a barbershop, it is also a community meeting place. Especially on Saturdays, a lot of people come for the haircuts, but most people come for the conversation.

ACER and community partners, and business stakeholders will be bringing forth policy to establish cultural destinations in the northwest suburbs. We hope to lead conversations at the city level, starting with the cities of Crystal, Brooklyn Center, and Brooklyn Park to pass resolutions around these corridors as cultural destinations. This partnership will develop innovative solutions to connect businesses to lasting resources. ACER hopes the state, county, and city, in preparation for the future development of the Blue Line LRT, will come together to support funding for this work

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