In the mid-1980s, St. Paul’s Rice Street neighborhood, once a vibrant working class community with scores of mom and pop businesses, was suffering. One by one the shops along the corridor were closing. Muntean’s Department Store, Schwankel Drug Store, Schiller’s Grocery—to name a few—gone with the rise of giant big-box stores in neighboring suburban communities. The slow trickle turned into a torrent—former bakeries, law offices and markets were closing, replacing the glass in the windows with plywood.
A young Mihailo Temali, energized by a passion for neighborhood revitalization, knew one key to a prosperous community was a strong business district made up of locally owned shops. A son of immigrants from Yugoslavia and Denmark, Temali had grown up on St. Paul’s East Side and knew the neighborhood well. Hired in 1984 as Executive Director of North End Area Revitalization Inc. (NEAR), he worked to design and implement dozens of storefront improvements along Rice Street, and then he got the Yellow Pages and a phone. Temali made more than 2,000 calls to encourage established businesses in other parts of the Twin Cities to move or open another shop. It was a tough sell – after six years of effort, NEAR had landed eleven new businesses for the district.
It wasn’t until he shifted his focus on Selby Avenue in the early 1990’s, another corridor with an ailing economy, did he and the folks he was working with have their “light bulb moment”: What if the auto mechanics and day care providers and beauticians working out of their homes and basements could fill the vacancies on Selby? Revitalization, they realized, shouldn’t come from one big corporate employer coming from outside the neighborhood. The best way to change the direction of a neighborhood would be by investing in those people who were already there – the neighborhood residents.
“These folks had endless skills and ideas for business activities, and often used them “out the back door” for some extra income. Plus, they embodied the culture and personality of their neighborhood and liked where they live. What would it take to bring this local ‘underground economy’ into vacant storefronts along Selby Avenue?” he wondered.
Temali had been hired in 1990 by Western Bank Chairman Bill Sands to extend the bank’s already considerable community impact. With a group of community advisors, they created the Western Initiatives for Neighborhood Development (WIND) as a bank community development corporation, to help neighborhoods like Selby Avenue build their own development capacity. WIND’s efforts paved the way for Neighborhood Development Center, launched as a non-profit in 1993 to address pressing needs in the community, with Temali as the first president.
Today, NDC is a thriving organization with 24 employees and an ever-expanding mission to provide more services in more communities. As a nationally recognized model of community development done right, NDC’s programs have trained more than 5,000 low-income neighborhood residents write a business plan for their own idea. Currently more than 500 are open for business, employing over 2,300 people at an average wage of $12 an hour. Disadvantaged entrepreneurs have gotten a shot at prosperity while the quality of life in their communities has increased.
NDC builds strong entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs build strong neighborhoods.