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Combination of civil unrest, pandemic leaves downtown Minneapolis struggling

Businesses are struggling due to the pandemic and multiple instances of vandalism.

MINNEAPOLIS — Street ambassador Phill Jeffries and his outreach team from “MAD DADS” walked side-by-side down Nicollet Avenue on Monday, wearing bright green shirts and carrying clipboards that contained information about jobs, housing and educational opportunities for young people.

Five days after crowds smashed windows and looted businesses in downtown Minneapolis, MAD DADS has made it a mission to restore peace to the heart of the city and ensure the unrest does not happen again.  

“This is our home. We want to protect it at all costs that we can,” Jeffries said. “I think those involved in the riots – I talked to a bunch of those kids – they actually do feel bad. I explained to them how that wasn’t the right way, and [how] destruction of our city is only hurting us, and they apologized to me. But I said, ‘man, you gotta apologize to Minneapolis.’”

With most of the 200,000-plus downtown employees still working remotely during the pandemic, the combination of COVID-19 and civil unrest has left businesses struggling on a daily basis.

Ted Farrell, the president of Haskell’s liquor store on Ninth Street, replaced his doors and windows with plywood after a group of looters destroyed the front of his business on Wednesday evening.

“Challenging doesn’t even begin to describe what we’re going through. Business is totally slashed, the downtown [land]scape has totally changed, offices are closed. It’s properly a ghost town,” Farrell said. “Other business owners, we almost have a support group of chatting with one another. After the next disaster happens… what can we do?”

For now, it does not appear that businesses are shutting their doors or leaving the city in huge numbers. The owners of Dahl Medical Supply on Nicollet say they’re no longer moving despite a large break-in on Wednesday, and the family that runs Lotus Vietnamese Restaurant has promised resilience after vandals struck their business three times during this summer of unrest.

“We come from a war-torn country,” Yoom Nguyen said. “Rebuilding and putting things back together is nothing new [to my mom and dad].”

The MAD DADS ambassadors like Phill Jeffries, meanwhile, plan to continue their street outreach to ensure the safety of visitors, businesses and the more than 50,000 people who live year-round in downtown Minneapolis.

They are also working day and night to intervene in street disputes across the city. The homicide total in 2020 has already surpassed last year’s, although overall violent crime in downtown’s First Precinct has actually fallen slightly.

“We want to keep it clean, keep it safe for anyone to walk down the street, for kids to play down here,” Jeffries said. “We want to take Minneapolis back.”

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