Prosecutors investigate 2 north Minneapolis businesses at center of crime hotspot

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At a north Minneapolis strip mall at the corner of West Broadway and North Lyndale avenues, there are growing concerns about crime and safety.

“People are scared,” declares Bishop Harding Smith, a pastor and local activist. “People are living in fear. It shouldn’t be this way.”

“I mean, this used to be a thriving community at one point in time, and crime was low,” adds Iris Graham, who grew up in the neighborhood. “Now we have drugs, the fentanyl epidemic has taken over.”

Smith — founder of Minnesota Acts Now, a youth empowerment nonprofit — says he’s especially concerned with what’s been going on outside Merwin Liquors and Winner Gas.  

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“Open-air drug dealing. We’ve got to find something for our kids to do,” he says. “We can’t have this. There is no way you can have people coming through a business when you are having these things happening on a regular basis. It just kills the progress within a community.”

But authorities say there are other problems.

Minneapolis police say they’ve responded to nearly 3,500 calls for service at the two businesses since the beginning of 2019.  

Everything from minor traffic calls to shootings and assaults.

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Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison says the liquor store and the gas station have “been the sites of numerous acts of gun violence,” including two separate shootings earlier this month totaling eight people shot and one fatality.

Ellison calls the area between the two businesses “one of the city’s largest open-air drug bazaars.”

“Everything from shootings to drug dealing,” he explains. “Public consumption of alcohol, public consumption of drugs, drug dealing.”

Ellison says he’s launching a civil investigation with the assistance of the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office to see if the liquor store and the gas station are “maintaining or permitting an unlawful presence on their properties” and to see if they are taking steps to address any unlawful behavior.

“It’s important for the safety and security of the neighborhood that these two businesses step up and take responsibility for that corner,” he said, adding he doesn’t want to shut anyone down.

Meanwhile, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey says his licensing team is making sure the city’s laws and ordinances are being properly enforced.

“We are taking every possible avenue to keep our community safe,” the mayor says. “We’ve obviously got to do that in the purview of the law itself, and making sure we’re exploring every option out there.”

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But now Merwin Liquors says it has a new partnership with the anti-violence group We Push for Peace.

Store co-owner Tommy Cohen says the group will assume all staffing, security and community engagement at the store and will have a presence there.

Trahern Pollard, the founder of We Push for Peace, says he wants to do more than just clear the corner — he says he wants to actively engage with youth there. He says he is already in the process of setting up an office hub.

We Push for Peace is hoping to have at least five people on patrol in the strip mall, between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m., when the store closes, Pollard says. He expects to start that effort in about a week.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS reached out to Winner Gas but was not able to get in contact with staff.  

Harding says he hopes all of this will help make the area safer.

“We really need to change the culture,” he says. “We need to have presence, boots on the ground. We need to invest in our community, and the time is now.”

Ellison says he wants anyone who sees crime happening in the area to come forward with information.

You can reach the Attorney General’s Office by calling 651-296-3353 or completing an online complaint form.