Mike Sherwood of Pizza Nea calls it “coming out of the closet for caring.”
Small business owners have a conundrum that cuts both ways: They don’t have the money or the clout to change laws or legislation the way big business does. All they have are their voices. But if they use their voices, certain customers could turn against them.
“It’s a big risk,” says Sherwood, who came out as proudly anti-Trump on his business social media pages early and often. "Minnesota is 50/50 [politically]."
But, as another small business owner put it in a grassroots meeting on Tuesday night, “Sometimes you just have to do what’s right.”
John Sugimura owns PinkU, the modern sushi restaurant that recently opened in northeast Minneapolis. He chose the name, which means "pink" in Japanese, because in that language, it also has connotations of "peace" and "democracy." He wanted to always gently remind himself of where he came from. Sugimura is a longtime social advocate and activist, but his recent conversion to restaurant owner has taken him out of his usual circles.
"But I really can't stand behind the counter chopping green onions all day and say I'm too busy," he says. There is no getting away from what America looks like through his eyes right now, he says.
"I haven't been this scared since high school -- being different and being of Japanese descent. [As an adult] my differences have typically been celebrated. But here I am having this flashback, and I'm wondering -- because I'm gay, too, am I going to have to tone it down? Do I have to start softening my message?"
Sugimura adds that his grandmother was living in Sacramento during World War II and went "straight from her restaurant into the internment camp."
"And I'm scared myself," he says.
Sherwood and staff from local vegan butcher shop Herbivorous Butcher had casually chatted about starting a business coalition of like-minded individuals after “crying together” on election night. Early this week, Sherwood put up an invitation on Twitter to gather at Pizza Nea after Tuesday’s march against Donald Trump’s ban on immigration.
Sherwood was shocked to see representatives from over 30 businesses show up, and the cause is growing.
The mission of the coalition, thus far: "We are a group of Twin Cities small businesses against the rise of hatred being directed at the Muslim, Black, Latino, Immigrant, Disabled, and LGBTQ+ communities. We believe that Minnesota is only stronger when we embrace ALL people."
The businesses are planning work around social justice through fundraising, networking (at the next meeting, every business owner has pledged to bring in a representative from an immigrant- or minority-owned business), and with help from Mainstreet Alliance, an organization that works to provide small businesses a voice on public policy issues.
“The most patriotic people in that room were non-U.S. born immigrants,” says Sherwood. “Everybody wants to do something [in order to] organize to fight for social justice.”
And, he said, the risk factor of speaking out is ameliorated by the fact that so many of his customers are reaching out to find out “where they can shop.”
Here is the current (growing) list of businesses:
Amelia & Holly's
i like you
Main Street Alliance
Minnesota Businesses for Humanity
PinKU Japanese Street Food
Robertson Law Office
Smart Set, inc.
Social Visibility Counseling
The Beez Kneez
The Good Acre
The Herbivorous Butcher
Two Bettys Green Cleaning Service
World Street Kitchen