S M A L L B U S I N E S S E S. Providing a model for vulnerable corridors to survive any major infrastructure project

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1 S M A L L B U S I N E S S E S along the GREEN LINE U7 project / small business along the green line Providing a model for vulnerable corridors to survive any major infrastructure project The U7 Project April, 2013 Saint Paul, Minnesota 2013

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3 small businesses along the GREEN LINE Table of Contents Introduction Glossary of Terms U7 People and Partners Case Studies May s Market Master Framers Foundations Health Career Academy Thai Café Mi Linda Tierra Embodied Health University Furniture Ultimate Look Flamingo Restaurant Ha Tien Grocery and Deli Capital City Auto Electric Ashama Grocery and Meat & Ashama Auto Repair Universal Hair and Travel Big Daddy s Old Fashioned Barbeque Transformation Salon East African Bakery

4 Introduction HISTORICAL BACKGROUND (The Green Line/Central Corridor - St. Paul, MN) BUILDING A TRANSIT SYSTEM A major section of the Central Corridor, University Avenue, was the early to mid-20th-century thoroughfare connecting Minnesota s two major cities: St. Paul and Minneapolis. It was an entertainment and retail destination as well as a major industrial corridor. Everything from Model T s to airplanes, caskets to refrigerators was built along the avenue. It had a welldeveloped streetcar system that residents used to shop, work, and play. Soon after World War II, those tracks were pulled out and the newly-built Highway 94 carried much of the east-west traffic from then on. The face of University Avenue and its businesses changed from the inevitable march of progress. Today, the Twin Cities have the 16th largest metropolitan population in the United States. Still vibrant, the faces and businesses along University Avenue have changed dramatically from a half-century ago with the arrival of immigrants from Africa and Southeast Asia. Yet for its size, and considering the success of its global business climate, the Twin Cities currently can claim only a few miles of light rail (LRT) or commuter rail tracks. The Green Line will connect with the existing Hiawatha Line, also known as The Blue Line, at the Metrodome station and will terminate at the Minneapolis MultiModal station. This station will also serve as the base for the new Northstar Commuter rail line which runs to South Central Minnesota. small business profile / light rail infomation The 11-mile-long Green Line links five major centers of activity within the Twin Cities region: DOWNTOWN MINNEAPOLIS, THE UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA, THE MIDWAY AREA, THE STATE CAPITOL COMPLEX, AND DOWNTOWN ST. PAUL. The corridor represents an estimated 280,000 jobs. LIGHT RAIL TIME LINE: June 2006 The Metropolitan Council approves construction of the Central Corridor Light Rail Transit Line, also known as the Green Line. March 2010 Construction began December 2012 Heavy construction concluded Spring 2014 First train expected to run 1

5 small business profile / light rail information 2

6 S MAP THE GREEN LINE [Central Corridor Light Rail Line] STATION AREAS & CULTURAL DISTRICTS 94 5TH ST 394 Minneapolis MultiModal Station Warehouse District Station Northstar Commuter Rail Nicollet Mall Station Government Center Station 35W East Bank Station Downtown East / Metrodome Station Stadium Village Station 280 CENTRAL STOPS & Downtown Minneapolis WASHINGTON AVE 29th Ave Station Westgate Station Hiawatha LRT 55 West Bank Station Raymond Ave Station UNIV E R S ITY AVE A S Fairview MINNEAPOLIS KEY Existing Hiawatha Station U7 Service Area Rondo Historic District Rail Line Central Corridor Station Creative Enterprise Zone U7 Service Area Downtown / Lowertown Capital Area, Architectural Zone Rondo Historic Miles Existing Hiawatha Station Series: 01_overview_color2 Rail Line Little Mekong Little Africa University-Raymond Commercial Heritage Preservation District Creative Enterprise Zone Downtown / Low Capital Area, Ar 3 Central Corridor Station Miles Series: 01_overview_color2 Little Mekong Little Africa University-Raym Heritage Preser

7 OTHER GREEN LINE DETAILS: Trains: 31 new light rail transit vehicles, each with 66 seats and comfortable standing room for an additional 70 people Stations: 18 new stations, plus five stations shared with the Hiawatha Line in Downtown Minneapolis (see map of the Central Corridor LRT route) Service: Trains operating every 7 1/2 minutes during peak travel periods, with a travel time of 39 minutes between Downtown St. Paul and Downtown Minneapolis Projected Weekday Ridership: More than 40,000 by 2030 Cost: $957 million CENTRAL CORRIDOR LIGHT RAIL LINE [green line] STOPS & CULTURAL DISTRICTS Lining the corridor by the hundreds are small, ethnic Ma and Pa businesses ion te Station aymond Ave Station IV E R S ITY AVE Fairview Ave Station Snelling Ave Station Lexington Pkwy Station Hamline Ave Station Victoria Ave Station Dale St Station Western Ave Station Rice St 35E Station Sta te Capitol 94 ST PAUL Rondo Historic District Capitol East Station 10th St Station 6th St Station 4th St & Cedar Station CEDAR ST Downtown/Lowertown St. Paul Union Depot Station Downtown / Lowertown Capital Area, Architectural Zone 4

8 U7 MISSION: SURVIVE AND THRIVE St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman charged Mihailo Temali, CEO of Neighborhood Development Center (NDC), with executing this mission. NDC invited a group of seven community development organizations to form the University Avenue Business Preparation Collaborative (U7). Each partner had a long, successful history of supporting the growth and development of small businesses, collectively originating over 800 loans to over 700 small businesses. Together, these loans represented capital of over $10 million. These members also provided over 28,000 hours of technical assistance to more than 1,200 small businesses. Many Minnesotans including city planners, environmentalists, and citizens believe that public transportation is a logical course for the state s major cities. Yet unless a project of this nature is builton a new or abandoned road, businesses are likely to suffer due to disruption from construction and loss of parking. And University Avenue, home of independent and family run shops, many of which are owned by Minnesota s newest immigrants, was on fragile footing to begin with due to the recession. In the early stages, planners knew that this project would be a delicate operation; in addition to construction, it was critical to keep existing small businesses surviving and thriving before, during, and after the Central Corridor Light Rail project. Lining the corridor by the hundreds, are the small, ethnic Ma and Pa businesses that make up The Green Line today. With this in mind, it was the strong belief of each partnering organization that it would take a two-part equation to achieve the best possible results: small business profile / about u7 & profile project 1. Prepare each business owner, with help from U7 and other business support providers, with careful financial planning, expansion of a customer base, and an increase in sales through more effective marketing before LRT. These improvements would create financial reserves prior to the expected drop in sales due to the inability to reach customers. In addition, it would generate sales even during the construction. 2. Provide additional solutions by Metropolitan Council and other government entities. The on-street parking losses, decreased customer access, and predicted loss of sales during and after construction would, in some cases, be so extreme that individual business owners would need access to well-funded loans and grants in order to ride out the construction storm. 5

9 ABOUT THIS PROJECT The following essays profile 16 such Green Line businesses. All are small and independently owned; all felt the effects of light rail construction and all have received some level of assistance from U7. These individuals represent the diversity that make up the face, economic heart, and social vitality that University Avenue is today. There are seven women and ten men: two Hispanics owners (a couple), four Asian owners, three African owners, four Caucasian owners, and four African-American owners with storefronts that span the Green Line from Lowertown/Downtown St. Paul to Highway 280. These storefronts include four hair salons, three markets, a furniture store, a framing shop, a restaurant, a yoga studio, a bakery, an automotive shop, and a health care academy. These owners were asked about their history as business owners, the effect of light rail construction on their bottom line, how they met representatives from U7, what services they were provided, and how those services made a difference in their ability to stay alive during construction. Through a combination of business assistance from U7 and an enormous amount of perseverance, patience, and sweat equity, all that are profiled here have survived the worst of the construction some better than others but all with U7 s assistance with a stronger infrastructure than when they went into construction. From the very start of this project, it has been U7 s goal to think of University Avenue and St. Paul Lowertown/ Downtown businesses through multiple lenses. Each business is unique, each claims its own distinct character, history, and needs. To this end, we believe we have made a positive impact on these businesses, and therefore the U7 mission has been a success. BUSINESS OWNERS CITED: ( about assistance from U7 ) New logo, branding, marketing, and an understanding of social media Printed materials, such as flyers, menus, business cards, stationary, and wayfinding signs Loans that covered some or all of the losses suffered during construction, as well as loans for façade improvements, new parking lots, energy improvements, and business expansion Working with U7 Small Business Consultants (SBC) to learn new accounting systems, business management tools and financial record keeping. small business profile / about u7 & profile project 6

10 Glossary of Terms small business profile / about u7 & profile project U7 A group of seven community-based development nonprofits, formed in January 2008, to officially make up the University Avenue Business Preparation Collaborative (U7). The mission of U7 is to help existing small businesses survive and thrive before, during, and after construction of the Green Line through stronger management and marketing practices. Emphasis is placed on independent businesses within the areas of Rice Street to Emerald Street, and Lowertown and Downtown in St. Paul. SBC A Small Business Consultant provides outreach and direct services (such as financial and accounting reviews and/or marketing recommendations) to small businesses along the Green Line. He/She coordinates with the U7 Graphic Design department to establish marketing, branding, and social media services. NDC SMALL BUSINESS TRAINING An 11-week course designed to help graduates of NDC s small business training build vibrant practices that create employment opportunities, provide goods and services, serve as role models, and establish community gathering places that contribute to community revitalization. The program is offered in 20 neighborhoods and ethnic communities throughout the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area and focuses on teaching entrepreneurs how to create a viable business plan. CITY OF ST. PAUL READY FOR RAIL FORGIVABLE LOAN Created to be a modest safety net for for-profit small businesses with no more than $2 million in annual gross sales and that show a loss in sales due to the construction of the Central Corridor Light Rail Transit Line. The forgivable loan may be used for basic business expenses, including payroll, inventory, rent/mortgage, utilities, taxes, marketing, and insurance. Up to $20,000 is available per business. Distributions are structured as 0% loans that are forgiven at the rate of 20% for each year for a total of five years the business stays on the Central Corridor Light Rail Line. CITY OF ST. PAUL STAR (Sales Tax Revitalization) Neighborhood STAR awards loans and grants for capital improvement projects in St. Paul neighborhoods, and is funded with 50 percent of the sales tax proceeds. FACADE IMPROVEMENT MATCHING GRANT Funded by federal award and the City of Saint Paul s 2010 Neighborhood STAR fund and Living Cities Grant dollars, these monies are used to provide opportunities for physical improvements and revitalization of commercial properties along University Avenue before, during, and after the Central Corridor Light Rail Transit (LRT) construction. METROPOLITAN COUNCIL The Metropolitan (Met) Council is the regional planning agency serving the Twin Cities seven-county metropolitan area and providing essential services to the region. The Council works with local communities to plan for future growth. The Met Council is the governing body of the Central Corridor/Green Line LRT project and provide key outreach staff to the project. 7

11 SPARC Sparc collaborates with community members, developers, and organizations to provide services and plan for our neighborhoods future. LIVING CITIES Living Cities provided U7 with loans and a grant for facade improvement projects. Living Cities harnesses the collective power of philanthropy and financial institutions to improve low-income cities and the lives of the residents who live there. The Living Cities Loan fund is a new tool to help NDC achieve its mission and is a powerful tool for change. LIVING CITIES LOAN FUND PURPOSES: SMALL BUSINESS EXPANSION FUNDS Assists a small, select group of targeted businesses on University Avenue who have a significant long-term growth opportunity and who can serve as a more visible anchor for the avenue, symbolizing the strong, longterm potential for ethnic and minority-owned businesses in this district. SMALL BUSINESS BUILDING OWNERSHIP FUND Assists locally- and minority-owned small businesses in purchasing their own building for the sake of promoting a long-term presence along the corridor. U7 PEOPLE, PARTNERS, AND FUNDERS NEIGHBORHOOD DEVELOPMENT CENTER President and CEO Mihailo Temali U7 PROJECT STAFF Project Manager Isabel Chanslor Small Business Consultants (SBC) Jason Allen, Maria Kuria** Sia Lo*, Marilyn Porter* and Pangia Vang NDC Loan Officers Perla Mayo and Sai Thao NDC Training and Communications Maren Misner* Design Team Ryan Kidder (Lead), Steve Olson* Kirsten Zache**, Kim Urban** and Nou Vang** Small Businesses on the Green Line Author Emily Blodgett** *former employees at U7 ** contractors U7 BOARD MEMBERS AND PARTNERS Gene Gegelu, African Economic Development Solutions Nieeta Presley, Aurora/St. Anthony NDC Jill Henricksen, Greater Frogtown CDC Dave Chapman, Metropolitan Consortium of Community Developers (MCCD) Matthew Ides, Sparc Mihailo Temali, Neighborhood Development Center President and CEO U7 FUNDERS Central Corridor Funders Collaborative The St. Paul Foundation F. R. Bigelow Foundation Small Business Administration Assistance Support (federal loan secured by U.S. Representative Betty McCollum) Living Cities Catalyst Fund and Facade Improvement Grant City of St. Paul STAR funds for Façade Improvement Program Business Resources Collaborative (BRC) CITY OF ST. PAUL Craig Blakely, Economic Development; Parking Improvements Nancy Homans, Policy Director; Ready for Rail Forgivable Loan Ellen Muller, Economic Development Manager, Ready for Rail Forgivable Loan Craig O Brien, STAR program METROPOLITAN COUNCIL Robin Caufmann and Outreach Staff Metropolitan Council Central Corridor Project Offfice small business profile / Glossary and U7 People, Partners and Funders 8

12 35W May Yang, left and his daughter Tiffany May s Market University Avenue May Yang, Owner Business Location May s Market... is the oldest Asian market in the Twin Cities. Hiawatha LRT 55 WASHINGTON AVE May s Market, located just east of the Western Avenue Green Line stop, is the MINNEAPOLIS oldest Asian market in the Twin Cities. For 22 years, it has sold groceries, medicinal teas, and items for Asian celebrations. May s carries hundreds of dried herbs that when properly combined, will produce remedies that are thousands of years old, yet still in demand today. Many within the Asian community use May s Market as an apothecary for medicine. If it is a complex remedy, May requires a prescription from a Chinese herbalist. UNIV E R S ITY AVE Snelling Ave. 94 ST PAUL Lexingoton Ave. University Ave. Dale St. 35E Sta te Capitol CEDAR ST including a non-profit, retail, service, and a restaurant. May purchased the building unaware of the impending light rail construction project. Rice St. Downtown/Lowertown St. Paul May Vang, the Hmong owner, is patient with curious customers. He speaks English and Chinese, as well as some Thai and Laotian. May purchased the 18,500 square foot building on the corner of Western and University Avenue in He has multiple tenants, The summer of 2012, was the most difficult time for him. University Avenue was torn up and Western was closed, making May s Market nearly impossible to get to. In a normal month, May said his revenues averaged $18,000 to $19,000. During construction, he averaged about $13,000 a 31% loss. 9

13 MEETING U7 & BUSINESS SOLUTIONS PROVIDED BY U7 In 2010, May said that SBCs Sia Lo and Sai Thao stopped by to talk with him about the imminence of the light rail construction and to discuss the services U7 could provide to help him and the other small businesses in his building. He signed on eagerly and said he was open to any help they could offer. May said that U7 has been a consistent presence these last two years. Present SBC Pangia Vang stops by two to three times a month or whenever I call. May has received approximately 120 hours of services, most of which was financial and façade improvement advice. Other projects included: Offering financial advice, and giving information about an inventory tracking program. May was told to collect addresses to contact his customers about detours and sales and specials within the market. Consulting on local media advertising options. Helping restructure his mortgage with his bank. Helping with loan application to the Small Business Administration. Provided a $60,000 façade grant and $50,000 Living Cities loan from NDC. These loans enabled him to upgrade his façade with new exterior signage reflecting the Little Mekong district design guidelines In fact, the May s Market project has served as a model for Little Mekong and other cultural districts along the corridor. The façade project improved the signage and windows for several businesses located in May s building: a grocery store, a tax office, a hair salon, a non-profit organization, and a restaurant. Facilitating a Ready for Rail Forgivable Loan, which went toward business expenses incurred during construction. Designing a new simplified logo. He and U7 are in the process of launching a May s Market website. THE BOTTOM LINE Though May saw a decrease in revenue during construction, the uniqueness of his store, his stature in the community, and the services he received through U7 has given him confidence that he will thrive. The loans U7 helped facilitate to increase his property values, and May s investment in both his business and his tenants, has far reaching implications for how businesses in economic distress and in a cultural district can survive a major infrastructure project. DOING BUSINESS IN THE TIME OF THE LIGHT RAIL After initial hesitation about the project, May is excited about the prospect of a train stopping right outside his door. He hopes that a more ethnically and regionally diverse crowd will discover his shop and be interested in the herbal medicines and products May s Market has to offer. After more than two decades and a challenging construction project, May is confident that May s Market can survive anything now. small business profile / may s market 10

14 Hiawatha LRT 35W 55 WASHINGTON AVE Master Framers 262 E. Fourth Street Roger Nielson, Owner MINNEAPOLIS 280 UNIV E R S ITY AVE 94 Business Location Snelling Ave. Lexington Ave. University Ave. Dale St. 35E Sta te Capitol CEDAR Downtown/Lowertown St. Paul ST PAUL Roger Nielsen s Master Framers, located a block from the beginning of the Green Line in Lowertown, couldn t be more different from the typical strip mall poster framing shop. Though the front room has a retail feel, step in back and it feels like a workshop at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. The intricate, ornate, and substantial frames hanging in the front are created in the craftsman s workshop in the back, where shelves of sharp steel molding forms, gilding and painting stations, and board lengths of flawless milled oak and basswood wait to be transformed. It is a unique, niche business, where well-established artists, private collectors, and art museums are his likely clients. Restoring existing frames is about 30 percent of his income. Master Framers has been operating out of the 4th Street location since 1977, on the street level of a large, drafty 27-unit building (primarily art studios) he owns with two partners. In 2010, Nielsen felt like a guinea pig for the Green Line project. They dug up and repaved 4th Street three or four times. At its worst, there was a two-month period in 2012, when no one could get to the shop. Nielsen said that Master Framers has had to lay off two people in order to be leaner and meaner. The loss of 6 to 10 parking spaces in front of the business has been very difficult because customers are usually carrying a heavy load when they leave. As a landlord, he went from having a waiting list of tenants to one or two vacancies. With the economy and light rail construction, and changing demographics of a new generation content to display art with pre-made frames, revenue is down 20 percent. All of these factors led to finding himself $35,000 in the hole a sum he s had to cover with his personal retirement account and fortunately, a Forgivable Loan. MEETING U7 & BUSINESS SOLUTIONS PROVIDED BY U7 Roger heard about U7 because he went to a lot of early light rail informational meetings and raised hell with other business owners toward city planners and engineers about the route of the train and the subsequent disruption of construction. Isabel Chanslor, U7 Project Manager, approached Nielsen at one of those meetings and told him about programs she thought would be useful for his business. I found them pleasant and surprisingly easy to work with, he said. She brought in a checklist and said what do you need? U7 has spent more than 35 hours working with Nielsen s business and building, primarily providing financial advice before, during, and after construction. Without the forgivable loan and U7 s help, I wouldn t be here today ST 11

15 Roger Nielsen, Owner Other projects included: Facilitating the City of St. Paul Ready for Rail Forgivable Loan to offset huge losses Nielsen suffered during construction. Arranging for an Xcel Energy audit to address the enormous gas and electric bills of his building. Nielsen is weighing whether the expense of fixing a beautiful but warped front door and replacing the windows throughout the building is a cost-effective project. Chanslor is investigating options for low-interest loans for energy improvements for Nielsen. Erecting wayfinding signs to direct customers to parking and their shop. Though it didn t help the parking situation though once they found us, he said. THE BOTTOM LINE Nielsen believes that without the financial assistance U7 helped coordinate We had two killer years. Without the Forgivable Loan and U7 s help, I wouldn t be here today. Just now (late 2012) things are coming to fruition. DOING BUSINESS IN THE TIME OF THE LIGHT RAIL Nielsen does not believe that light rail is going to directly benefit his framing business. He said that his clients would rather pull up directly to the building and are unlikely to take a large framed piece of art home on a train. He does believe that it will create a demand for more downtown housing, which creates a demand for his housing rental business. small business profile / master framers 12

16 Foundations Health Career Academy 225 University Avenue Rachele Simmons, Owner healthcarejobsmn.com Graduate of NDC s Small Business Training Foundations Health Career Academy (FHCA) is an inexpensive, no-frills school founded to teach students the skills to pass the certification test to become a nursing assistant or home health aide. In 80 hours spread over 16 days, Rachele Simmons trains an average of six students for $950 a person. A similar program through the Red Cross costs upward of $1,500. With the vast majority of her clients lower income, immigrant, and minority women, the difference is significant. Located in one large room on the top floor of the Hmong Professional Building, at the corner of Rice Street and University Avenue, Simmons has created a clinic laboratory with beds, blood pressure cuffs, and other nursing equipment. The academy is a labor of love, she said. Once a specialist nurse making six figures, Simmons dipped deeply into her savings and retirement accounts to make FHCA happen. Her graduates have a 97 percent success rate in passing the certification tests. She loves telling her students, many of whom come from challenging life situations, after this class, you ll have something no one can ever take from you an education and job skills. Simmons moved to her site on University Avenue in March 2012, literally weeks before bulldozers tore apart the street. It was a difficult start, to say the least. Though her building has a parking lot, she estimates that approximately 65 percent of her students take public transportation. Though convenience was her goal in choosing the University Avenue site, there were months this summer when she couldn t cross the street with her class to get to the nursing home where they intern. Rachele Simmons, Owner U7 branded FHCA to a whole new level. 13

17 Hiawatha LRT 35W 55 MEETING U7 & BUSINESS SOLUTIONS PROVIDED BY U7 280 Simmons went through NDC s Small Business Training to learn the next steps after deciding to open FHCA on University Avenue. Wanting her to succeed with such a positive business plan, they put her in touch with the U7 staff. At their first meeting, Simmons was advised of all of U7 s services MINNEAPOLIS and was told what she had to do on her end to receive help, particularly getting all the financials in order to be eligible for the Ready For Rail Forgivable Loan. WASHINGTON AVE UNIV E R S ITY AVE Snelling Ave. 94 ST PAUL Simmons believes that her students and graduates are potentially her best advertising for more students, but the 320 hours U7 has put in toward her business have been incredibly important in promoting FHCA s name and services. Lexingoton Ave. University Ave. Dale St. Business Location Rice St. 35E Sta te Capitol CEDAR ST Downtown/Lowertown St. Paul Other projects included: Facilitating a $1,000 micro-grant in 2011 that she used for relocating costs. Creating a website that has attracted new students, kept them informed, and created a community by congratulating and encouraging her graduates. U7 staff have photographed some graduations and posted photos to her site. Both Simmons and her students are grateful for the attention and recognition. Instructing Simmons on the importance of social media setting up her Facebook and Twitter accounts where she has been an active poster and tweeter. Helping digitalize all FHCA instructional and administrative materials. Helping secure a grant from Valspar Paint to repaint the interior of the large, one-room classroom and a matching grant of $400 for façade improvements. Advising Simmons to approach her landlord about reducing her rent during construction. Though this never happened, she said the building owners agreed to creative lease payments. THE BOTTOM LINE U7 branded FHCA to a whole new level. They helped her with legal issues, flyers, branding, her website, Google Maps, a Facebook page, and printed materials with address changes. These, in turn, have brought in new students and greater visibility within the Twin Cities medical community. DOING BUSINESS IN THE TIME OF THE LIGHT RAIL Simmons thinks the light rail will definitely be good for her students, but also good for the Twin Cities. We re not two cities. This makes us one city. There are so many more options for people to get to where they need to go, she said. small business profile / foundations health career academy 14

18 Ya Poophakumpanart, Owner Quickly built a great reputation online and in the community for excellent Thai dishes. Hiawatha LRT 35W Thai Cafe 371 University Avenue Ya Poophakumpanart, Owner and Chef thaicafemn.com WASHINGTON AVE MINNEAPOLIS UNIV E R S ITY AVE Business Location Snelling Ave. Lexingoton Ave. 94 University Ave. Dale St. Rice St. 35E Sta te Capitol CEDAR Downtown/Lowertown St. Paul Located on the north side of University Avenue in the Frogtown neighborhood, Chef Ya Poophakumpanart is taking a well-deserved rest at a sunny table after the afternoon lunch rush. Through sheer will, 95-hour 7-day work weeks, and assistance from U7, Ya finally believes that Thai Café will survive. U7 was able to provide for the immediate needs so she could continue her work in the kitchen and with customers. And this is where Ya shines: Thai Café has already earned a reputation on Yelp for delicious Thai food and thus a loyal clientele willing to brave light rail construction. ST PAUL Ya is a professionally trained chef who traveled her country of Thailand to gather unique recipes and flavors. She opened Thai Café in early 2011, two years after she arrived and just a year before construction started in earnest. She speaks Hmong, Thai, and only a little English. We conducted this interview through an interpreter. ST 15

19 MEETING U7 & BUSINESS SOLUTIONS PROVIDED BY U7 Ya was visited by Sia Lo, a former U7 Small Business Consultant, who stopped in a month after she opened to explain what services U7 could provide. Sia, who is Hmong, was able to communicate in more detail the light rail construction schedule, other pertinent information, and what it might mean for her business. Immediately, the U7 team introduced Ya to general business management, marketing, and graphic design projects. Ya received approximately 120 hours of U7 s assistance, including the full complement of U7 s marketing and branding expertise. Other projects included: Creating Thai Café s colorful and modern brand, working with her on the design and pricing of her menu and business cards, and building a website using a City of St. Paul s Ready for Rail Forgivable Loan. Facilitating a $1,000 micro-grant in 2012 to follow through with more marketing and branding. Maintaining, along with Ya s high school-aged daughter, her Facebook page and website. Though clients must pay annually for the domain name and hosting, all other backend services are provided by U7. Lo suggested early on to gather addresses of patrons so she could contact them with the most up-todate parking and detour information. Pushing catering to survive the times when getting to her restaurant was nearly impossible to get to. Posting wayfinding signs that pointed patrons to her restaurant and parking. Creating 500 flyers that were passed out in nightclubs and church parking lots (though the return was very small on this). Maintenance of her website, which was completed before construction, encouraged phone orders for pick-up. Coordinating façade improvement and new signage through her landlord May Yang, owner of May s Market. THE BOTTOM LINE Ya believes that the expectations of bad business due to construction were worse than the reality. Even at the height of disruption, her income and sales count were greater this summer than last. Part of this, no doubt, is due to Thai Café s reputation, but Ya credits U7 as well, a service she said that has saved her time and money. DOING BUSINESS IN THE TIME OF THE LIGHT RAIL Ya is confident about the future and thinks that ultimately the light rail will be good for the Twin Cities and very good for her business. She knows that she provides delicious food that people will seek out; a train running by her door can only help but bring them to her. With the light at the end of the tunnel, she believes that she can hire more employees. She d like to make the modest restaurant feel more high-end, and thus more attractive for business lunches and a more affluent clientele. small business profile / thai cafe 16

20 il Hiawatha LRT 35W Mi Linda Tierra WASHINGTON AVE MINNEAPOLIS UNIV E R S ITY AVE 585 University Avenue Lucio Parra & Rosie Santos, Owners Snelling Ave. Business Location Lexingoton Ave. 94 ST PAUL University Ave. Dale St. Rice St. 35E Sta te Capitol CEDAR ST Downtown/Lowertown St. Paul Mi Linda Tierra is an Hispanic grocery store just east of Dale Street on University Avenue. The façade is a brilliant green, inviting, and fun. Inside, like many of the businesses on this corridor, are two independent business owners wondering if they ll be able to survive, even now that the worst of the construction is over. Lucio Parra and Rosie Santos owned a restaurant in Lima, Peru before emigrating to St. Paul 12 years ago. They initially started a cleaning service, then found this struggling Hispanic grocery and thought it would be more conducive to a better family life. For a while that was the scenario. They have two children, a 14-year old girl who helps out on the weekends and 3-year old son. When they began, they worked hard to market their grocery, create relationships with U7 and with the nearby Hispanic community, stock popular items, and create a meat counter customers found worthy of traveling long distances for. They were soon bringing in up to $1,500 a day. Construction and the recession knocked them back to square one and now they are averaging roughly $200 to $300 a day. Rosie believes that all Mi Linda Tierra s financial problems stem directly from the trucks, noise, disruption, and blockages caused by the construction. She said that many of their customers have more than one job, so they re always in a hurry. They run in and then they run out. They say I can t wait in traffic to get to your store, she said. Some of those customers have come back now that the worst of the construction is over, but unfortunately many have not. MEETING U7 & BUSINESS SOLUTIONS PROVIDED BY U7 Lucio and Rosie underwent some legal and banking issues with the previous owners of the grocery store, which was a further financial hardship. NDC Loan Officer Perla Mayo stopped by soon after they took over to introduce herself. She talked them through the financial obligations left by the previous owners and told them about NDC and the services they could provide. They were unaware of the impending light rail construction when they purchased the store. Mayo introduced Isabel Chanslor to them and their relationship with U7 began. Lucio and Rosie, who did not have retail grocery experience before they opened Mi Linda Tierra, also did not take the NDC entrepreneurial class. I think we probably should have, Rosie said. Despite financial difficulties Lucio and Rosie have used their help from U7 to survive another day. 17

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