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Minneapolis business owners express mixed feelings about National Guard presence

More than 3,000 Minnesota National Guard service members are activated as part of Operation Safety Net.

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota — From Hennepin Avenue to Lake Street, there's an increased presence of Minnesota National Guard service members outside businesses in Minneapolis. 

Last Wednesday, more than a dozen soldiers were set up outside Two Bettys Green Cleaning Service's Refill Station on East Lake Street. 

Their presence came as a surprise to the staff member who was working at Two Bettys at the time. 

"The guardsmen have big weapons, like across the outside of their body with their hands on the weapon, and the staff member that was here turned off all the lights and ran and hid because it was really frightening," said Anna Tsantir, owner of Two Bettys. 

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When Minneapolis had a 10 p.m. curfew last week following the killing of Daunte Wright, Tsantir said their cleaners who work late expressed not feeling safe. 

"Cleaners who are out past curfew because we do commercial buildings expressed how it felt to be out at night when there's nobody out on the roads except police and National Guard. So they asked, 'If I get pulled over, there's nobody to witness. I don't want to be out with only police and guard right now,'" Tsantir recalled. 

Credit: Devin Krinke
Anna Tsantir, owner of Two Bettys.

Tsantir, who said they employ a diverse staff, is now changing schedules around. 

"We're bringing them all back before 10 which has been a big disruption but we'll happily do that to keep the cleaners feeling safer too," Tsantir said. 

While some business owners are not happy about the increased police presence, others are comforted by their visibility throughout the city. 

Moh Habib, owner of STUDIIYO23 on Hennepin Avenue in Uptown, said his art gallery and sneaker+apparel boutique has been hit three times by looters since last May. The shop was looted twice after George Floyd's death and a third time after Daunte Wright's. 

"The entire evening sets of one, two, three cars would pull up and look at us. Some people actually got out thinking we were also looting to try and get in," Habib recalled. 

RELATED: Looted, then looted again: businesses hit in 2020 unrest now cleaning up a second time

After last year's looting, it took him seven months to rebuild. The store opened about two weeks ago only to have to close again last Sunday. 

As far as how he feels about the National Guard's presence in Uptown, Habib said, "Had you asked me over a week ago my reply would've been different. At that time, I would've said... having a militarized presence and army personnel in full gear is a little unsightly." 

But after being looted again, Habib recalled how he and five friends protected the boutique and the rest of the block for the remainder of the night. 

Credit: Devin Krinke
Moh Habib, owner of STUDIIYO23.

"I feel much differently. I think the National Guard presence here is a stabilizing force," Habib said. 

More than 3,000 National Guard members are part of Operation Safety Net's Phase 3. According to OSN, a majority of the members activated are from the Twin Cities metro area. 

"If we don't learn from history, we are foolish. If we look at the history of May and June, we had some challenges with our public safety, emergency services," said Major General Shawn Manke, Minnesota National Guard Adjutant General. 

Governor Tim Walz also addressed the extra law enforcement during a press conference on Monday. He talked about the systemic racism in Minnesota that needs to be addressed and said, "We need to fix those other things so we don't have to end up with National Guard on our streets but I cannot allow those businesses to burn."

RELATED: Walz condemns ousting of Guard members

Tsantir said, "I just think we really have to be careful when we're only talking about the property. Sure there's 20 property owners on this block but there are hundreds of employees that have to go in and out and that I'm asking to go out into the city. So we really need to balance property and people." 

Habib said he's unsure when STUDIIYO23 will be able to reopen but they are committed to staying in the neighborhood. Since last May, they've launched a scholarship program to help high school students pursue either higher education and/or a skilled trade. 

From his boarded up shop, Habib said, "We just need to come together to try and move past all of this."