Rebuilding after riots: Pillar of Hmong community looks to future

It’s been six months since the riots left numerous businesses on St. Paul’s University Avenue damaged.

New windows went up on Wednesday morning at St. Paul’s Century Plaza, replacing ones damaged in the summer’s civil unrest.

"With the windows up, we feel more alive, and looking to the future,” said Century Plaza co-owner Gloria Wong.

The last six months, Wong said, have been emotionally draining, helping keep some dozen-plus businesses inside the plaza stay afloat after the damage while also feeling the lingering economic pain of the pandemic.

"We’re willing to do that to sacrifice for some of the rent that they cannot pay,” Wong said. “Their business [isn’t] doing well either."

But those windows, well, they needed repair.

"It’s a pillar of the Hmong community on University Avenue," Executive Director of the Midway Chamber of Commerce Chad Kulas said.

The chamber is part of the ‘We Love Midway/We Love St. Paul’ funds that have awarded more than $615,000 to businesses damaged by the unrest, including funds to help with the windows at Century Plaza.

“There’s so many different aspects of somebody’s life that can be connected to somebody in that building [Century Plaza]," Kulas said.

Kulas anticipates it could be another six months to see other damaged businesses get back on their feet in the Midway Neighborhood.

"I think we’re going to see these other locations back up and running, some in new locations and it will be fun to see," Kulas said.

St. Paul city officials said looting, fires and vandalism in late May caused approximately $82 million in damages in St. Paul, in mostly the Midway and Frogtown neighborhoods.

Report: Damage to St. Paul businesses during riots totaled $82 million

Wong said others have stepped forward as well to help with the repairs along with the ‘We Love’ Funds, NCS Emergency Fund, Apogee, Casillas Glass and Mortenson.

"All the donors that helped me through this, without them, we’d struggle," Wong said.

The family plans a celebration down the road to thank all of those groups that stepped up to help their plaza survive.

"It’s just like a heavy, heavy load we’ve carried on our backs for the last six or seven months," Wong said. "I hope to put everything behind and move forward to the future."