Diversifying downtown, bettering our businesses
Three minority-owned businesses have one focus: Make downtown even better.
ROCHESTER — Downtown Rochester has faced more than its fair share of turnover the last several years. This can be attributed to a number of factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic, significant downtown construction projects temporarily hindering downtown foot traffic, and the winter season.
Despite these tribulations, a variety of businesses have either endured the difficult times, or new companies have sprung from the ashes of a vacant space downtown. Many of these are women or minority-owned businesses, further diversifying the vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem in Rochester.
Destination Medical Center, a 20-year economic development initiative designed to support public infrastructure and other projects that amplify Rochester and Mayo Clinic as a global medical destination center, is working with the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development to provide grants for companies trying to open or expand downtown.
The Main Street Economic Revitalization Program, a grant program designed to cover up to 30% of a company’s costs for repairs or renovations, new construction, landscaping, demolition, design work, engineering, and other expenses associated with constructing facilities for a new business or renovating aspects of a current physical location. Applicants typically need to provide an estimate of project expenses such as a general contractor estimate, and documentation of secured funding for the other 70% of the project, according to DMC communications manager Geno Palazzari.
Three businesses — Popus Gourmet Popcorn, True Queen Boutique and Rowan International Grocery — are examples of downtown Rochester businesses that have received approval for this grant. Popus Gourmet Popcorn and True Queen Boutique are new tenants in downtown Rochester that applied for funding to help support their startup costs, and Rowan International Grocery requested funds to help with an expansion project. They are expected to finalize their grants and receive funding for their projects in the near future, Palazzari says.
“We’re really excited to support all of these great locally owned, women-owned and minority-owned businesses,” Palazzari says.
Rowan International Grocery
101 N BROADWAY AVE • 507-202-0228 • rowanintgrocery.com
Gafar Hamza opened Rowan International Grocery in 2015 to help meet the needs of people who come from overseas, primarily the Middle East and Africa, to visit Mayo Clinic for their medical care. Hamza came to the United States nearly 20 years ago from Egypt and Sudan, and became a Rochester resident in 2006.
Hamza and his young family sometimes miss the comforts of home, and so they decided to help bring treasured household items and foods here for others who might yearn for such items they would only find in their home country.
“There are things that they need, or that they miss from home,” says Hamza. “About 90% of our products are imported from overseas.”
Rowan International Grocery carries products from all over the world, including everyday necessities such as hummus, spices, sugar, cheese, yogurt, ghee, coffee, tea, rice, and beans. Many items have labels in multiple languages, primarily English and Arabic.
Hamza carries some items in bulk to help those who need to stay for an extended timeframe in Rochester. He has pallets of Basmati or gluten free rice that is best suited for those with diabetes, helping maintain their blood sugar. He has foods specifically acquired from the countries of customers he meets, including Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and many other countries.
“Rowan International Grocery is a longtime Rochester business and a great community member,” Palazzari says.
“They miss things from home,” Hamza says of his customers. “They can get them here.”
Popus Gourmet Popcorn
25 2ND ST. SW • 507-226-8299 • popus-rochester.com
D’Angelo Tines opened his Popus Gourmet Popcorn location in 2022. He’s a Rochester native who graduated from John Marshall High School in 2016, attended the University of Minnesota, and worked in sales for several analytics and consulting firms. He enjoyed some success for several years in these roles, but he couldn’t help but think about becoming an entrepreneur. Soon after, Tines decided to strike out on his own, back home.
“My cousin founded Popus back in 2017,” Tines says. “While I was out there making other companies millions of dollars the last few years, I started to think about what I could do on my own. I approached my cousin about franchising — I thought I would be a good leader and steward of his brand.”
Popus offers more than 70 different flavors of popcorn, with flavors rotating in and out daily. Patrons might find ranch, garlic Parmesan, Oreo, and everything in between.
“We also offer unlimited samples,” Tines says. “So you can try before you buy. Customers get a great experience when they visit our store.”
Tines says he has plans to cultivate partnerships in Rochester to support school fundraisers and other local initiatives, which will roll out in the coming months.
“They opened at a prominent spot on Second Street and First Avenue,” Palazzari says. “And their product is absolutely phenomenal.”
Popus is anticipating DEED grant funds to support its startup construction costs.
True Queens Boutique
113 BROADWAY AVE • 507-206-6124 • firstname.lastname@example.org • www.facebook.com/TrueQueensBoutiquellc
Christina Jones gradually worked her way up from running small pop-ups in Minneapolis to now having her own physical location in downtown Rochester, True Queens Boutique.
“I used to work in retail and did modeling for about three years,” Jones says. “Through the modeling world and my retail background, I discovered my passion for fashion. I loved the confidence modeling gave me — I knew that I would love to give this feeling to all women.”
Jones is a young entrepreneur who grew up in the inner city of Minneapolis. She moved to Rochester in 2016 to attend Rochester Community and Technical College. As she progressed, she kept gravitating toward fashion and considering what else she could do in that world. She opened True Queens Boutique in Minneapolis as a pop-up store and hosted pop-ups in various cities to promote the brand and clothing, including Rochester.
“We offer top trending quality clothes and various styles for every event,” Jones says. “We also provide style services for events, helping our customers to look and feel their best and show up to their event ready to impress.”
As more women visited True Queens Boutique and enjoyed its message, Jones realized the need to graduate from pop-ups to a full-time spot customers could visit for their style needs. True Queens Boutique officially opened at the corner of First St NW and Broadway on July 1, 2022.
When it arrives, grant funds will be used to help purchase business signage, flooring, furniture, lighting, tables, and shelving, and perhaps an extra employee or two to help run the business.
“Christina has done a fantastic job,” Palazzari says. “She found a great location and opened during a difficult time, and has been successful finding new customers for her business.”