By Reg Chapman

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Businesses in North Minneapolis are hurting to get customers in the front door.

Some blame COVID-19, others blame a recent spike in gun violence, but an organization is working with many Northside entrepreneurs to keep them going.

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Business has been up and down for Teto Wilson, from Wilson’s Image Barbers and Stylists.

“One with the corona situation and then two, people feeling uneasy coming into North Minneapolis if they live outside of North Minneapolis,” said Wilson.

COVID-19 shut his business down for two and a half months, and then George Floyd and the uprising afterwards caused buildings to be boarded up. An increase in gun violence, however, has kept many away from Wilson’s Northside business.

But Wilson says the assistance he gets from NEON, the Northside Economic Opportunity Network, is helping keep his doors open.

“The violence makes what we do more urgent because if people have an alternative, then they don’t have to result to violence,” said Warren McLean, President of NEON.

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McLean says helping Black entrepreneurs with starting and maintaining businesses not only helps eliminate disparities, it also provides opportunities for people who otherwise may turn to crime.

“If we have businesses that can flourish, provide jobs, and some of the activities can be redirected into constructive activities and many of these young men can be engaged in creating businesses,” said McLean.

“Warren helped me with getting information about a grant, Steve helped me out when I was putting together a non-profit for my scholarship organization, all of this happening during this corona period,” said Wilson.

McLean hopes to help transform North Minneapolis into a sustainable and diverse community of entrepreneurs, one potential business owner at a time.

In recent months, they’ve been able to increase the number of grants they are able to provide. About $1.4 million has been dispersed in grants and loans over the past three to four months. “Prior to that, any single year the most we’ve dispersed is about $10,000,” said McLean.

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NEON’s mission is to build wealth for low to moderate income entrepreneurs in North Minneapolis and surrounding communities.

Reg Chapman