Minneapolis

G & L Furniture on Lake Street rebuilds, powered by solar

Owner Abe Demmaj inspired by community & cost savings

Rebuilding Green

 

On June 1, 2020, just days before Abe Demmaj was set to move into his newly constructed three-story multi-tenant office and retail building at Grand and West Lake Street in Minneapolis, it was damaged in the shockwaves after the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police. The developer and 15-year owner of G & L Furniture on Lake Street had already planned to add solar onto his energy-efficient building. Abe had to delay moving in to the new building and decided to make some additional changes, including increasing the amount of solar—a project financed with PACE and supported in part with a City of Minneapolis Green Cost Share program grant.

 

This is my community. I’m not leaving. I want to make a difference here. It’s my home.

Abe Demmaj, owner of G & L Furniture in Minneapolis

A focus on community

Abe was saddened by what was happening in his community, a place he has called home for nearly 30 years. Originally coming to the U.S. from Ethiopia to attend the University of Minnesota Morris to study chemistry and sociology, he ended up in south Minneapolis in the 1990s. He built his business, G & L Furniture, selling mostly customized furniture to the local (mostly minority) underserved community of residents. He worked hard and sent money to his family, and considered the vibrant and ethnically diverse south Minneapolis his new home. Abe cares about the businesses and people in his community. For instance, he wants to see single moms that rent in his community own their own homes.

While there was damage to the building—with over 30 broken windows and fire damage from Molotov cocktails found in the building—he was thankful they had not yet moved their furniture inventory into the building. Though he had insurance, like many businesses that were damaged, it was not quite enough. He did get some money from the Lake Street Council’s We Love Lake Street Fund [https://www.visitlakestreet.com/welovelakestreet] in the summer of 2020 that helped with some initial repair costs. 

 

After the new building was damaged, Abe decided he needed to do something to help the community. He had an idea to offer small office spaces to local businesses (including Electro Solar, the company that installed the solar on the building) and community organizations. He also had a really big idea: use the third-floor space in the building to train youth for jobs in solar installation and sales. “I wanted to create jobs for kids,” Abe shared. He thought that he could help the youth in his community to become part of the new clean energy economy. He has received offers from developers to move to other communities, but he is staying: “This is my community. I’m not leaving. I want to make a difference here. It’s my home.” The building is now 95% occupied. On the morning of the day we talked, he had testified at the Minnesota State Legislature for funding to rebuild businesses along Lake Street and the other areas damaged in the summer of 2020. 

Abe is very gregarious and seems to know everyone. It’s clear that he creates community around him. While we spoke, he suggested people I should talk to about the work CERTs does, and how we could get our new home energy guides and information about the additional energy assistance available to members of his community to help them pay their energy bills. He called Samir Bouzrara from Nova while we sat there and put him on speaker to talk about the youth training idea. While we were chatting, a gentleman dropped by from the African Immigrants Lake Council Abe helped create after the civil unrest to bring his community together and provide resources to help them survive the climate created by the pandemic and the civil unrest. The man had come by to pick up some information to share about resources available.

I thought about the daycare next to the building and wanted to do it for the future generations. I wanted those kids to see solar when they look over at the building right next to them. I wanted to do it for my community. I also wanted to reduce my electricity bill and advertise that my building has a solar system.

Abe Demmaj, owner of G & L Furniture in Minneapolis

Inspired to go solar

When I asked Abe about the inspiration for the solar on the building, he said, "I thought about the daycare next to the building and wanted to do it for the future generations. I wanted those kids to see solar when they look over at the building right next to them. I wanted to do it for my community. I also wanted to reduce my electricity bill and advertise that my building has a solar system."

 

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Photo: Abe Demmaj, owner of G & L Furniture, stands atop his new building on Lake Street in Minneapolis among the solar panels that power his business and the other tenants.

 

Abe was able to tap into some financial resources to make the building more resilient, including a Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) loan from the Saint Paul Port Authority’s MinnPACE program. PACE helps finance clean energy projects on commercial buildings by using a property assessment to pay back the loan. He received a $150,000 loan in September of 2020 to finance a 45 kW solar system on the roof. After an original approval for a $90,000 loan, he realized they could install a bigger system and save more money. The annual electric savings for the project is estimated at $8,300. The system was installed by Electro Solar Systems, now a tenant in the building. The project also received a $13,000 matching grant from the City of Minneapolis Green Cost Share program.   

Abe is one of the many stories of the immigrant-owned businesses along Lake Street that have risen up, despite the challenges of 2020. He cares deeply about his community and has a commitment to a cleaner energy future and a stronger Lake Street.

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