Black printer’s business thrives amid COVID-19 and social unrest

Submitted photo Frank Brown

Few small businesses have been able to withstand the aftermath of COVID-19 without taking a serious financial hit. In a fluctuating and unstable economy such as ours, the idea of a business sustaining itself, let alone thriving, may be an equivalent to capturing lighting in a bottle.

Enter Frank Brown, involved community member and owner of Minuteman Press, a print shop located in the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis.

Franchised across the country with multiple locations in Minnesota, Minuteman Press offers essential printing services that rival mainstream competitors FedEx and Office Depot. For Brown, the company’s commitment to excellence derives from his early days as a printer, which began in the Seattle, Washington area.

“I’ve been in printing since 1988 and just moved around in the field, “said Brown. “At the time there was a glass ceiling, and I became stuck in my career. Then I moved to Minnesota and did some work in Albert Lea before moving to the Twin Cities in 2004. In 2008, when companies were doing layoffs, I was able to step up and do some organizing.

One of the things I was able to help organize was Ban the Box [a law that prevents employers from asking about criminal history during job interviews and on job applications], and we were able to get that passed at the state level. I also worked with a local organization and helped to lead a 300-person rally at Target Headquarters, which was very peaceful.

“People know me in the community and know the work I’ve done. It’s helped to grow my business.”
As one of few Black franchise owners in the state of Minnesota, Brown, who purchased the Uptown location in 2015, makes it clear that his business is distinct from other Minuteman Press locations based on his values. These include a commitment to unions, livable wages, and second-chance opportunities for individuals who may have had issues with the law.

His desire to run an ethical business is based on lived experience working in printing shops across the Twin Cities, where he witnessed inequity firsthand. “Years ago, I worked for a printing company in Shakopee, and it was one of the largest companies in the world,” recalled Brown.

“I met this woman who had been there 20 to 25 years, and she was training all these men how to run presses. Problem was, they were paying the men more than they were paying her, and that didn’t sit right with me. So, when I purchased my shop I wanted to treat people fairly.

Submitted photo “We had members of the community that were looking out for us, which gave another layer of protection,” said owner Frank Brown

“Before I purchased the shop it was not a union shop, and soon we made it into a union shop. We were also able to raise wages from where they were before. I try to run my business ethically.”
Although the pandemic of COVID-19 has brought a level of uncertainty to most businesses, Minuteman

Press, while encountering its share of setbacks, has been able to sustain itself due to its essential function to the community.

“First of all, we’re an essential business, so we were able to stay open,” said Brown. “But during the first two months of COVID, sales were down significantly and we were also down to three employees. Then in May, June, July and August, things picked up and we were able do more business than we did this time last year, especially June through August.

“Still, this was supposed to be our banner year because it’s election season. With this, we’ve gotten many requests for yard signs and other printed election material.”

Like most businesses that were in proximity to the protests and uprisings following the murder of George Floyd, Minuteman Press did what it could to protect itself during the height of unrest while still demonstrating support of the movement.

“When everything was going down, we heard on the news that people were busting up the Walgreens up the street,” recalled Brown. “My employees did not feel safe as all of this was going on, so I sent them home.

“Other businesses around me began putting up boards on their windows. I wasn’t set up to do this, so instead I put signs on my windows that let people know this was a Black-owned business that was in support of justice for George Floyd. Plus, we had members of the community that were looking out for us, which gave another layer of protection.”

Support for Black-owned businesses have increased in recent months, with Minuteman Press being no exception. Brown, who is grateful for the support, hopes that this trend will result in more people realizing the impact that Black-owned businesses have in the community.

“Recently, we’ve had a lot of people purchasing Black Lives Matter signs and masks, and I think people want to go to a Black-owned printer to get these things done. I appreciate people doing this, but also want them to realize that supporting Black-owned businesses is an essential part of supporting the community. It’s been said that $1 doesn’t last a minute in the Black community, which stresses the need to support our businesses.”

Minuteman Press is located in the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis at 2101 Hennepin Avenue, Suite 112, Minneapolis, MN 55405. They are open Monday-Friday 7 am-5 pm. For more information, call 612-870-0777 or visit their website www.mpuptown.com.

About Marquis Taylor

Marquis Taylor is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He welcomes reader responses at mtaylor@spokesman-recorder.com.

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