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Entrepreneur working to grow his small business plan even bigger amid COVID-19

Houston White Photo: KSTP. Houston White

Brandi Powell
Updated: April 01, 2020 06:47 PM
Created: April 01, 2020 05:43 PM

The novel coronavirus is creating challenges for entrepreneurs across the state because of Gov. Tim Walz's stay-at-home order. Small businesses have been among the hardest hit by the spread of COVID-19; As many have been forced to completely close their doors amid no cash-flow, they're left figuring out how to survive, and grow, in the future.

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But some big Minnesota businesses are helping small ones at just the right time. 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS spent time with a small business owner in north Minneapolis to find out how he's working not only to stay afloat, but to grow, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Inherently, I'm a creative ... I'm disciplined. And I work really hard," Houston White said, when asked to describe himself. White is the owner of Houston White Men's Room, known as HWMR, in the Camdentown neighborhood of north Minneapolis.

"At some point, people are going to come back together ... We've had to shut down completely ... I've been using this time to think through what's possible," White explained.

Full KSTP COVID-19 coverage

White already built his own clothing store filled with his own clothing line, as well as Mixed Tape coffee bar with its own blend of Dogwood Coffee, and a barbershop. Normally, the chairs are filled, but because of the novel coronavirus, many small businesses have had to close.

It hasn't slowed White's vision: "I'm an optimist, right. And I think that we are all in this together."

White has been working to grow his business into an entire mixed-use district, creating more housing and shops along the 1500 block of 44th Avenue North.

Now, with COVID-19, he's facing a roadblock, just like so many other small businesses across the state.

But Minnesota-based U.S. Bank is presenting him with a grant in a couple of weeks to help with pre-development costs. Greg Cunningham, Senior Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at U.S. Bank said, "For U.S. Bank to support a small business like Houston's, is really about us investing in those people ... it is a continuation of our support for small businesses. This virus, this whole pandemic, is a place that we've never been."

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said U.S. Bank is right to recognize Houston White's potential.

"I'm wearing his jacket actually right now, with the emblem on it - HWMR," Frey said.

Mayor Frey said grant money can be crucial in a crisis.

"If we can just keep that pilot light of our economy on, and running, and functioning, then as soon as we are through this we can reignite the flame ... what Houston White is doing is creating a vision for an extraordinary cultural and commercial corridor ... and it's not just about his business, which by the way is wildly successful, it's about the surrounding community as well," Frey said.

White said he won't let the COVID-19 stop his goals.

"Every barbershop and salon is shuttered. That does hurt revenue, but what it does do is it gives us the opportunity to rethink and reinvent ourselves," said White.

The grant from U.S. Bank is not earmarked under coronavirus funding but they all say the timing is perfect and it emphasizes the need of big businesses working with small businesses to keep communities like Camdentown thriving.

Mayor Frey said he hopes families will keep supporting small businesses during the stay at home order by purchasing products online.


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