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Photo: Open Streets in northeast Minneapolis.
Featured Article filed under Independent Business | Written by Olivia LaVecchia | No Comments | Updated on Feb 23, 2015

The Do-It-Yourselves Downtown

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at http://ilsr.org/do-it-yourselves-downtown-investment-cooperative-model/

A new investment co-op model lets communities own and develop their commercial spaces. Though new, this model holds potential for the many neighborhoods whose business districts are decaying, controlled by distant landlords or faraway retail chains.

This article was co-published with Yes! Magazine.

The intersection of Central and Lowry Avenues in northeast Minneapolis is bustling. On the northwest corner is a trifecta of local businesses: A bike shop, a cooperative brewery, and a bakery, in buildings with eye-catching exteriors of rough-hewn wood and silvery porcelain bricks. The neighborhood grocery coop is one block up the street.

This commercial stretch didn’t always look like this. In 2011, where these three businesses sit, there were two vacant buildings. The empty space was not uncommon along Central Avenue, a long corridor that was created to be the Main Street of the neighborhood, but that had suffered from decades of disinvestment. While a few businesses dotted the avenue, many other storefronts were neglected.

“A lot of people looked at it as too big to tackle,” explains Leslie Watson, who lives nearby.

In 2011, a group of dedicated neighbors came together to change that. In November of that year, five of them, including Watson, became the founding board of the Northeast Investment Cooperative, a first-of-its-kind in the U.S. cooperative engaged in buying and developing real estate. NEIC created a structure where any Minnesota resident could join the coop for $1,000, and invest more through the purchase of different classes of non-voting stock. The group began spreading the word to prospective members, and started looking for a building to buy.

One year later, NEIC had enough members to buy the two buildings on Central Avenue for cash. The coop quickly sold one of the buildings to project partner Recovery Bike Shop, and after a gut renovation, which it funded with a 2 percent loan from the city and a loan from local Northeast Bank, it leased the other building to two young businesses that had struggled to find workable space elsewhere, Fair State Brewing Cooperative and Aki’s BreadHaus. Today, NEIC’s impact spreads beyond the intersection of Central and Lowry. It’s catalyzed the creation of new jobs, engaged its more than 200 members in reimagining their neighborhood, and given residents a way to put their capital to work in their local economy.

“Collectively, that wealth will stay in our community,” says Watson. “If you want to take the long view, that’s the goal.”

While NEIC is unique in the U.S., similar investment cooperatives are sprouting up in Canada, where they’re aided by programs designed to help them grow, as well as favorable policies. Though the model is new, and small, it holds outsize potential for the many communities struggling with northeast Minneapolis’s familiar set of problems, from business districts languishing half-vacant, to essential commercial spaces being controlled by far-away landlords or big retail chains with no regard for neighborhood needs. In the vacuum left by both traditional economic development and Wall Street’s approach to finance, community real estate investment cooperatives offer a glimpse of a better way to channel capital, with benefits that include new jobs in the neighborhood, strong incentives for people to shop locally, local sources for key goods, closer ties with neighbors, and a return on investment.

And it represents a way for these communities to do it themselves. Continue reading

Photo: David Carr.
Featured Article filed under Independent Business | Written by Stacy Mitchell | No Comments | Updated on Feb 18, 2015

Remembering David Carr, and His Writing on Monopoly Power

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at http://ilsr.org/remembering-david-carr-writing-monopoly-power/

What will we do without David Carr, the brilliant media columnist at the New York Times who died last week? At ILSR, we will especially miss his writing on monopoly power, Amazon, and the book business. We’ve excerpted and linked to a few of his best recent pieces on those subjects. Continue reading

Photo: San Francisco.
Featured Article filed under Independent Business | Written by Stacy Mitchell | No Comments | Updated on Feb 5, 2015

The Labor and Small Business Alliance Behind San Francisco’s Landmark Retail Workers Bill of Rights

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at http://ilsr.org/labor-small-business-alliance-san-franciscos-landmark-retail-workers-bill-rights/

The political interests of labor and small business are often seen as pitted against each other — a perception corporate lobbyists work hard to perpetuate. But the two groups actually share broad common cause these days. Both stand to gain from building a more humane economy in which ruthless efficiency does not trump all else. Continue reading

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Featured Article, ILSR Press Room, Resource filed under Independent Business | Written by Olivia LaVecchia | No Comments | Updated on Feb 11, 2015

Buoyed by Public Support, Independent Businesses Report Strong Sales Growth, National Survey Finds

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at http://ilsr.org/2015-independent-business-survey-independent-businesses-report-strong-sales-growth/

Independent businesses saw strong sales growth in 2014 as more consumers embraced the “buy local” movement and ditched big companies in favor of supporting local retailers and small-scale producers, according to a large national survey released today. Continue reading

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Featured Article filed under Independent Business | Written by Stacy Mitchell | No Comments | Updated on Feb 4, 2015

ILSR Joins Independent Business Groups in Pushing for Disclosure of Corporate Subsidies

The content that follows was originally published on the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website at http://ilsr.org/ilsr-joins-independent-business-groups-pushing-disclosure-corporate-subsidies/

ILSR joined other members of the Advocates for Independent Business coalition in submitting a joint public comment letter in support of a landmark proposal to require local and state governments, as part of their financial reporting, to annually disclose the tax breaks and incentives they have provided to corporations in the name of economic development. Continue reading