Walking the Green Path: Another Brick for the Path

Lyndale Neighborhood Association Community Award

One early March morning almost ten years ago, I was awakened by a call from my opening baker that a brick had been thrown through the window of our front door at the café.  While it seemed that only some coins had been taken, the mess on the floor and the cold air streaming through the door made for an uncomfortable start up that day.  

About a year after Butter’s move to Nicollet Avenue another brick was used to break through our front door that led to the loss of our shop’s safe.  It was disheartening, and while I didn’t want to take it personally, it felt like an attack on me for no particular reason at all.

Last summer, a very different kind of brick was presented to me.  The Lyndale Neighborhood Association has been using the symbol of a brick as a foundation piece in community building.  I felt honored, appreciated and uplifted by the support shown through the offering of a community service award from the neighborhood.   

As I move into year twelve with Butter Bakery Café, I’ve created a new set of supports that feel very different from my first years.   And, in doing so, I think I’m learning more about myself as a businessperson and about the role of my business within this community.

In the beginning, I felt very isolated.  There were a few owners I had met while completing my “research” for the purchase of the café.  There were a few owners I got to know while being their supplier for our bakery items.  But mostly, I had little contact with other small business owners and felt inadequate around them.  

There was so much information to take in that I put on a set of blinders to just try to get through those first couple years. Unfortunately, those were probably the years I could have used the most mentoring from other small business owners who had learned a way to become stable.  

My first connections came through a set of neighboring businesses. As the fledgling Nicollet-East Harriet Business Association started up, I found myself able to gather information, resources, and support from these familiar people who just so happened to own small businesses.  It was a great way for me to learn from others, and to share my experiences with people who had faced many of the same struggles I was having.   I learned to appreciate the wide variety of models out there and to appreciate my own way of making my business work.

An introduction to the advocacy work of Metro Independent Business Alliance widened my network across the Twin Cities and connected me with people who I had come to admire from afar: business people with many years of experience who had the heart for speaking up about the needs of small businesses.  

But up until a couple of years ago, I still felt a bit isolated.  My mission-oriented model of running my business had been able to connect me with other like-minded, value driven owners, but only in the bump-into-you-while-at-an-event kind of interactions.  While I knew I wasn’t alone in some of my public stances about sustainable and progressive efforts for businesses and communities, I felt alone.  I certainly didn’t have the energy to try to organize a group to support my ideals.

And then, a couple of summers ago an organizer appeared. When Corrine Horowitz approached me during a chance visit to the café, it was with a very intriguing invitation.  How would I like to get together with other business owners to provide a voice for progressive, healthy communities, and vibrant businesses?  Would I be interested in advocating on a larger platform for the kinds of efforts that I put into my small café?  

Suddenly, I found myself among my peers.  It was a group of business owners with common goals and visions, and from those, a desire for action.  As the Main Street Alliance of Minnesota, we became a loud enough voice to stand up for running businesses that are not just about profits, but about caring for their employees, the environment, and the communities they serve.  

We were thrust into action around the Earned Sick and Safe Time ordinance in Minneapolis.  We found a way to lift up our voices to support state-level legislation for emerging businesses and to build relationships with the city of Minneapolis as it re-imagined its method of providing services to small businesses.  

We joined worker and faith-based organizations to push for living wages for our lowest income workers and we spoke out against the rhetoric of hate through our own Hate Has No Business Here campaign.  When our alliance accepted a leadership award from Take Action MN this past winter, it was very clear to me that I was not alone anymore.   

The many strong connections to other business owners help me see my place in a larger community and indeed even a place in our state and national politics, as I’ve added my shop’s name to a Sanctuary Restaurant movement offering welcome to ALL people.  I couldn’t have imagined that was possible when I was just trying to see my place in a small shop in the corner of the Lyndale neighborhood so many years ago.  

But, through the small steps, the little nudges, the examples of community activists within Lyndale’s neighborhood organization, I have found the path to speaking up for a way of doing business more sustainably and more justly.  Thank you for the support you’ve provided.

It occurs to me that bricks aren’t of much value singly.  It is their ability to form interlocking rows that give them strength and purpose.  And, yes, I do think of each of you, here, working for a vibrant, safe, welcoming community as the other bricks in this wall.  And, I think of the single brick set upon my counter at the café as very valuable as I make this walk along the green path.  I look forward to our meetings along this path in the days and months and years to come.

Walking the Green Path is a series of stories by Daniel Swenson-Klatt, the owner of Butter Bakery Cafe, about what it’s like to run a small business focused on sustainability and building community.

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