West Bank stores recieve city funding

The West Bank Business Association received $25,000 last month for tech upgrades and could get an additional $40,000.

Barry Lytton

The West Bank Business Association was recently awarded specialized tech help for some of its businesses through a city-funded aid program.

The city of Minneapolis awarded 300 free hours of technical assistance hours to the WBBA as part of a larger citywide initiative called Business Technical Assistance Program.

The Minneapolis City Council will on Friday also discuss $40,000 for area storefront improvements, which could help Cedar-Riverside businesses thrive.

Though the money for both the grants comes from the city, it’s distributed through the WBBA and is accessible to any of the more than 100 small- and medium-sized businesses that populate the West Bank area.

In the coming months, West Bank businesses can pay for technical improvements, like a new website. And after they’ve spent a combined maximum of $25,000, the city will refund them for the improvements.

For example, if a shop owner wants a new website, it could request funds from the WBBA and use the new grant money for up to 10 hours of tech service, the WBBA’s executive director Jamie Schumacher said. The grant also should help area businesses create a better, more tech-savvy brand so community members can better relate to them, she said.

The grant will specifically help area businesses break through the language and cultural barriers between community members and shop owners, said Daniel Bonilla, a senior project manager of business development for Community Planning and Economic Development

“They are taking Somali businesses that might not do that well with Americans,” he said. “With a marketing campaign, they can reach a market they are not usually able to reach.”

But for now, Schumacher said, the WBBA has yet to approach area businesses or field inquiries about the new funds, though she expects to in the coming months.

On Friday, the council will discuss the $40,000 grant, called the Façade Improvement Matching Grant, which will be put toward aesthetic improvements in the area, said the Great Streets Program Manager, Rebecca Parrell.

In 2008, the Great Streets Program labeled the Cedar-Riverside area as an “intervene” area — meaning businesses struggle to flourish in the area because they aren’t physically attractive enough to draw in customers, Parrell said.

If the WBBA gets the façade grant, Parrell said area store owners could spend it on storefront updates like mural painting, new signage, stucco repair or a new awning.

To use the funds, a shop owner would have to put up half the total cost of the project, and the grant would cover the rest up to $7,500 per business until the funds run out.