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Rethinking business: Chamber members share how they’re doing during pandemic

Posted on 13 May 2020 by Tesha Christensen


Tetra Constantino of Elsa’s

How are local businesses working through the COVID-19 pandemic?
The Midway Chamber of Commerce, together with Finance and Commerce, organized a panel of business owners to answer that question during a virtual meet-up on Wednesday, May 6, 2020. It is the first of several being organized to help businesses navigate through the coronavirus situation.

Rapp: Working remotely
Rapp Strategies (333 S. 7th St., Minneapolis) offers strategic communications and works primarily with hospitals, nursing homes, school districts and electrical industries. Nearly all of their clients have stayed with the company. Their work for projects out six weeks to two months has disappeared, but other work is sustaining them, according to Todd Rapp, who moderated the Zoom panel.
Their staff started working from home in shifts prior to the official Stay At Home order to work out any issues, and has been totally remote since the order. One staff member was let go, a position the company had considered eliminating prior to the pandemic.

Elsa’s: contactless delivery
Elsa’s House of Sleep (1441 University Ave. W.) is a second generation, family-owned furniture store. Tetra Constantino‘s mother, Elsa, started the company in 1997 to make sure families could afford nice items for their homes, and that’s still the driving force of the company, observed Constantino.
As the African American community has been especially hard-hit by the coronavirus, Elsa’s took steps before the shutdown to limit contact to keep both their staff and customers safe, according to Constantino. Elsa’s began selling items on its online store and via telephone orders, and are still working to organize 6,000 items in their online shop. The store does Zoom consultations and offers free contactless deliveries. Staff use masks and gloves. “We make sure safety is our number one priority,” said Constantino. They still believe their customer service sets them apart from large online stores, and sales keep money within the community.
They initially furloughed employees, but have been able to bring nearly all of them back as there is work cleaning the warehouse and reorganizing the showroom. They’re working to set up business for a new normal, said Constantino.
They’ve partnered with a local musician, Jamilah Pettiford, on a song that will be released on local radio stations.

Urban Growler: lean is the new normal
Urban Growler Brewing Co. celebrated its fifth year last July, and is trying to figure out how to still offer a fun experience with food and beer while maintaining social distancing. Pavlak pointed out more training is needed on social distancing so their customers practice it.
“Summer is when we make hay and we survive winter,” observed co-owner Jill Pavlak. They were just starting to pick up and had added several new staff positions when they had to shut down their tap room and laid off 37 servers, bartenders and kitchen staff. They were left with nine managers. Since getting a Payroll Protection Program loan, they’ve added back some kitchen staff. “We’re still a very lean team and we believe that will be our new normal for awhile,” said Pavlak.
They didn’t miss a beat, but started offering takeout immediately as there was no other option for them, said Pavlak. “We had to stay open or we would not survive.”
Pavlak admitted it is hard to wrap one’s brain around this situation, and there is a lot of grief and loss. Overall, their staff is a tight group, and are sharing tips with those who aren’t working, letting them know they’re missed.
“Love can keep us afloat,” said Pavlak. “We will survive because we’re received a lot of love form our team and customers.”

Mendoza: diverse base
Tony Mendoza operates a small law firm in the heart of the Midway. His primary clients are from the telcom and technology industries, entertainment and the non-profit sector. He’s grateful for their diverse make-up, which means he has continued to work through the pandemic. He let one staff member go in a position he had considered eliminating previously, but hired a paralegal for a different type of work.
His two staff members work remotely, and he works out of his office as his house is busy with students engaged in distant learning.

PPP loans and staying engaged
Given his small size, Mendoza didn’t seek a PPP loan.
Rapp staff continue connecting through weekly staff meetings. They received a PPP loan, and are focused on getting the money in the hands of staff. They’re not entirely sure if it all needs to be paid out by June 12, or not.
At Elsa’s, they have worked to stay engaged with each other through conference calls. “I’ve had to rely on our team to be creative,” remarked Constantino. “It’s a challenge to completely shift your business model. We are here to meet the needs of our clients on a budget who want a great living situation. They can have a shutdown, but not be shut-in.”
It doesn’t make sense for Urban Growler to bring back a bunch of staff, said co-owner Deb Loch, so they know they’ll end up paying back some of the PPP loan they received. “We’re maximizing what we can for the forgiveable piece but a lot will be unforgiveable. For us, that loan didn’t help as much as it could,” she said.

Managing anxiety
“Anxiety is at a high level for everybody,” observed Mendoza. “I deal with it by trying to stay informed.” He is helped by the shared sense that “we are all in this together.”
He’s working to maintain his routines as much as possible. His gym is shut down, but every morning he’s running, biking, and using resistance bands.
Pavlak and Loch take a daily walk. They also insist their staff take off two days in a row, and have opted to be closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. It helps to know “this isn’t just happening to Urban Growler. This is happening everywhere,” said Pavlak.
Instead of dumping beer they couldn’t sell, Urban Growler partnered with two distillaries to make hand sanitizer that they donated to a hospice center here in their Midway neighborhood. “It helped us feel a little bit better about beer we can’t sell,” said Pavlak.
“Anxiety is high in the black community,” stated Constantino. He deals with it by educating himself and staying informed. “The more you know, you have a plan and that relieves anxiousness,” he said.
Rapp only listens to jazz music until 11 a.m. each day and stays away from the news until then. He makes sure he gets 10,000 steps a day. He and his wife have reinvented “date night” on Saturdays. He cooks and his wife picks an AcademyAward-winning movie to watch.
Mendoza pointed out that he is wondering what businesses will drive the recovery. He observed,“We will need to rethink how we do business as a society.”

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‘6 Ft. Apart’ song lyrics

Posted on 13 May 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Do your part and stay six feet apart… encourage (left to right) Camphor United Methodist Church pastor Rob Bell, Bethel University Assistant Director of Service-Learning and Community Engagement Tanden Brekke, Melvin Giles and United Family Medicine resident Jenny Zheng. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

Click on links to view videos of the song.



Peace bubbles

By Melvin Giles

‘6 Ft. Apart’ song lyrics
OOO we need each other,
Yes, we know it’s true!
This coronavirus won’t make us feel blue
Phone me! Zoom me!
Phone me! Zoom me!
And show your love by stayin’ 6 feet apart!
We can love each other and be really smart
Do your part by lovin’ us from 6 feet apart
Phone me! Zoom me!
Phone me! Zoom me!
And show your love by stayin’ 6 feet apart!
6 feet apart. You’re showing all your love!
6 feet apart, is all we need to show we care!
OOO we need each other,
Yes we know it’s true!
This coronavirus won’t make us feel blue
Phone me! Zoom me!
Phone me! Zoom me!
And show your love by stayin’ 6 feet apart!
6 feet apart. You’re showing all your love!
6 feet apart, is all we need to show we care!
Let’s love everybody,
Show them that we care!
May peace prevail for everyone, lots of love to share!
Phone me! Zoom me!
Phone me! Zoom me!
And show your love by stayin’ 6 feet apart!
6 feet apart

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Patisserie Paris makes unforgettable French pastries

Patisserie Paris makes unforgettable French pastries

Posted on 13 May 2020 by Tesha Christensen


Patisserie Paris (383 University Ave.) owner Mark Heu said, “We hope each delicious bite of our pastries will be a magical experience – and will transport our customers, at least for a few moments, to Paris.” (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Last August, Chef Marc Heu began selling made-from-scratch, mouthwatering French pastries and desserts in his newly opened Frogtown pastry shop. Customers were delighted by the passion fruit-raspberry and lime yuzu tarts, the creamy flan, and the buttery croissants. Business was brisk from the start, with customer response approaching the ecstatic.
From one, “The Opera Crepe Cake is so good, I cried.” And from another, “These pastries are…unforgettable.”
At the time of this printing, the brick and mortar Patisserie Paris is temporarily closed in accordance with Governor Walz’s Stay-at-Home order. While Heu made the decision to close the retail space with “a heavy heart,” the online pastry shop remains open. His baking team is taking and filling orders online; they are measuring, rolling, and proofing dough well into the night – just like before.
The 30-year-old Heu has been baking pastries since he was a little boy growing up in French Guiana, a French territory in South America, and he’s not about to stop now.
Born in France, Heu moved to French Guiana with his parents and five older siblings when he was three. He said, “We actually arrived on my third birthday. My parents had gone to France from a refugee camp in Laos in 1982, but they never really settled there. They were farmers from Southeast Asia, who found themselves living in a busy French city for 10 years.”
He added, “They learned of a good-sized community of Hmong refugees farming in French Guiana, and decided to relocate. It was a lifestyle similar to what they had known in Laos, with a warm, humid jungle climate. One of my earliest memories is of my mom cleaning out cow stalls in the abandoned cow barn where we were assigned to live. She spread blankets on the ground for us to sleep on, and this became our home.”
Heu’s life would soon take on a push-pull of contradictions and coincidences. Or were they?
His older sisters had learned to bake exquisite pastries during their years in France, and they gave their little brother a job to do. Standing on a stool, in a cow barn in French Guiana, he learned to beat egg whites to perfection. Heu said, “We were poor by anyone’s standards, but we had eggs, flour, butter, and sugar. My sisters didn’t know how to make a proper dinner, but they could bake.”
When he turned 13, Heu proudly announced that he was going to become a pastry chef. He remembered, “My parents responded with a single word, ‘NO.’ As refugees, they wanted their children to follow a certain path to a better life. In their minds, the work of a pastry chef was no better than manual labor. I didn’t want to disappoint them, so I tried my best to become a doctor.”
Heu was sent back to France for high school, and applied himself to the study of science. He eventually entered medical school and completed one year, intent on fulfilling his parent’s dream for him. But when it was time to return for the second year, he couldn’t make himself do it.
With the support of his wife, a St. Paul resident he had met while visiting extended family here in 2012, Heu enrolled in a prestigious French baking school instead. He studied under the world’s top chefs in the fields of chocolate, ice cream, confectionary, and cakes. In June 2018, he graduated (second in his class) with a Grand Bachelor’s Degree of pastry. He was going to follow his own dream.

“In baking, the simplest things are the hardest to achieve. Croissants are made with the most basic ingredients: flour, milk, yeast, honey, sugar, salt. It takes 48 hours to make croissants from start to finish. The dough needs time to rest. You can’t be in a hurry. If you don’t have patience, your croissants won’t be tasty. Every day I am learning how to make croissants better.”
~ Marc Heu

Heu said, “We worked very hard in school, but because I had such passion for it – everything felt easy. Baking pastry involves a lot of scientific reasoning, so the time I had spent studying science proved useful. For the first time in my life, I felt free.”
After graduation, Hue was offered a pastry chef position at Stohrer, the oldest patisserie in Paris, which was founded in 1730 by King Louis XV’s pastry chef. As wonderful as the experience was, he and his wife longed to return to St. Paul.
Heu looked at a lot of different locations before choosing the store front at 383 University Ave. W. He said, “It’s about the same size as Stohrer’s, the 300-year-old pastry shop in Paris, and we have the same unwavering commitment to using the finest ingredients. I hope that my business will last a long time, too!”
There is a perception that French pastries are reserved for the rich. Heu said, “I come from a poor family, and I am trying to make this food available to everybody. I want to share what I love. Our pastries are priced as affordably as I can make them, and still run a profitable business.”
Future plans include building out an area for seating in the bakery, and adding coffees and savory baked goods to the menu. For the foreseeable future, go to www.marcheuparis.com and follow the prompts to place an order online. Pick-ups are scheduled by appointment Tuesday to Sunday. Patisserie Paris also offers free delivery for $50+ orders within a 15-mile radius of the shop. All orders must be placed 48 hours in advance.
Call 651-666-1464 or email info@marcheuparis.com with questions.
Heu and his staff are taking their days as they come, one at a time. He said, “We’ve gotten tremendous support from the community, both before and since the pandemic hit. I’m sending out a huge thank to everybody for supporting our pastry shop, and for making this adventure continue.”

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Posted on 13 May 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Community of support for parents


Parents gather at a FORM meeting pre-corona virus. Currently communication is online. (Photo submitted)

Infants and toddlers come to this world as whole beings, and they should be afforded the same respect and consideration that another person would have.
That is the basis of respectful parenting, according to Kelly Scott, an associate for Resources for Infant Educators (RIE).
“We don’t mean deference, that the child is in charge,” she explained. “By respect, we meant that children have a point of view, that they can be active participants in their care.”
“What they need for the first three years of their life is for a social and emotional foundation to be built,” she continued. Scott, the parent of a young girl, is formerly from California and now spends her time between Chicago and Minneapolis. She joined Carolyn Paetzel recently to talk about their experiences with the RIE form of parenting.
Paetzel, a licensed educator, parent and RIE associate, is the founder of Friends of RIE Minnesota (FORM), which she started in 2014. “We started with a group of four, and now people in 23 different countries follow us online.”
The group meets monthly for discussion, drawing parents, educators, school administrators and counselors to St. Paul. The group meets at different locations, such as homes or libraries, in St. Paul. There are play groups for children monthly. People also participate on Instagram.
Paetzel explained that RIE focuses on children from infancy to two years old, but said the respectful parenting program can go all the way on the continuum to cover adults and relationships in general. There is usually a presenter at the monthly FORM discussion group. For example, recently a Hamline University developmental psychologist talked about raising boys in today’s society. “We had a full house,” Paetzel said.

Stoplight method
She stated the mission of FORM: “We are an open forum for collaborative inquiry, dialogue and advocacy influenced by Magda Gerber’s ‘Educaring Approach’ in Minnesota.”
Gerber taught respectful parenting in the terms of a stoplight. As described in a recollection of Gerber’s work, “When a child can handle the situation, the light is green and the adult does not need to intervene. If the child’s behavior will put themselves or another person in danger, or is socially inappropriate, (a red light situation) then the adult will intervene to prevent anyone from getting hurt or to explain why something is not okay. This is done in a calm, non-judgmental way. It might also include physically blocking the child from causing harm.
“When there is a situation where the child may not be able to manage on their own, the adult can respond to this as an amber light situation. The adult would come close to observe the situation, and be ready to act.”

Trust without intervention
Scott said a hallmark of the RIE approach is to trust an infant and toddler to know how much to eat and how much to sleep. “They know how much to eat, and then they stop. They know when they are tired,” she said. “They don’t need as much intervention as we sometimes believe. Our job is to observe closely when they are trying to send us a message.”
She said parents can see what young children can do for themselves, and not anticipate their needs before they have a chance to tell what they are.
“Sometimes RIE families can look different from a conventional family. There is a lot of emphasis for children to develop gross motor skills on their own without intervention, so there is not as much modifying what they are doing. They are given a space they can freely explore, where a grownup is very comfortable with the environment and does not really intervene,” noted Scott. “We will let them dress themselves sooner or make choices sooner than in a conventional way.”

‘You fell down’

RIE stresses freedom of movement along with freedom of emotion for children. (Photo submitted)

Paetzel added that along with freedom of movement, there is freedom of emotion. “So we wouldn’t stop a child from crying, but acknowledge their crying and support them,” she said. “You fell down. Acknowledge what happened. That is sometimes all that is needed.”
Scott discussed the number and types of toys that children may need. “If children have a lot of toys that are single-use, such as pressing a button and the toy does one thing, children do not stay in interaction with those toys very long,” Scott said. “And they don’t treat those toys as gently.”
She said if you think of a child on a hike, that child may find a stick and find 15 things to do with it as the walk continues.

Talk to your very young child
The RIE approach also puts an emphasis on conversing with a child, even at a very young age. “A six-week-old won’t understand what you’re saying, but will understand your intent,” Scott explained. “The infant will understand what you feel.” She said that when parents talk to their baby, they are slowing themselves down, reminiscent of the way Fred Rogers addressed children.
“The child can participate with what’s happening,” she said. “When we speed up, the child can’t come along. Respectful care is considering children in the choices we are making, considering them in what we are doing to them, telling them what we are going to be doing so they can participate.” Scott noted that a small infant can move its legs up to get a diaper off, for example. “We will talk with them, there is nothing to rush through; we are looking at bonding and attachment that warm, responsive care brings.”
Paetzel said Gerber had described the relationship between the child and his or her caregiver as two teenagers doing an awkward dance. Eventually the caregiver and child, like the teenagers, learn to be in rhythm together.
Scott added that speaking to the child in proper cadence and tone and full sentences helps him or her with language development and becoming highly verbal.

Parents who understand
“We are all looking for community,” Scott said. “Everyone wants to do their best and be around people who are championing them and making them feel secure in their choices. FORM is a great place to come and find empathetic parents who understand what you’re going through. Everyone is trying to find this more peaceful way of being with each other. There is a lot of wonderful information online, but there is still something wonderful about being together, and that is what FORM provides.”
Paetzel added, “So often friendships form that remain until the kids go away to college. Someone is there to hold your hand when you need one.
“FORM is not a group that is exclusive,” she continued. “One of our mottos is ‘Come as you are whenever you can.’ We never charge for anything so it’s open and accessible for everyone. Everybody’s welcome.”


Reflections from parents and educators
Annie Pezalla is a parent of twin six-year-old boys, Jackson and Owen. “I have been greatly helped in my parenting through FORM. I have been plugged in to this organization almost since the boys’ first birthday. Jackson and Owen were born here in Minnesota, but when they were just a few months old, we moved to Seattle for my husband’s job. We were completely uprooted, and I felt lonely and overwhelmed with the challenge of parenting twin babies without the support network I had back in Minnesota.”
Pezalla started to read newsletters from FORM forwarded to her by her older sister and quickly became a member in her own right, reading anything she could get her hands on. “FORM has helped me to be a better parent. It combines evidence-based practice on early childhood development with a down-to-earth, compassionate, curious, playful approach to learning about kids.”
“In the midst of some really challenging parenting moments for me – one of my boys had a ‘biting phase’ which was pretty alarming; another one of my boys had some digestive issues which had me completely perplexed – FORM has been a savior. I’ve learned great lessons about how to care for my kids and myself through FORM.”
Pezalla is also a professor of human development and family studies who earned her doctorate at Penn State. “I am so grateful for my education there, which has given me a strong foundation upon which to understand development. Yet FORM has brought about a new layer of color and light to my education. It’s given me a more humanistic understanding of the wonders of child development.”
Pezalla has presented twice at FORM, once on the importance of nature-based free play in early childhood, and another time on healthy emotional expressions in young boys. “Both sessions were a joy for me.”
Nicollete DeVall is a long-time member of FORM and early childhood and family education instructor.
“I absolutely love FORM. It has meant so much to me to be a part of such an amazing group of people who are dedicated to providing the best care for infants and toddlers. FORM has changed a lot since I first started attending, and it has been great to see so many people take an interest in the group over the last few years.
“I first heard about FORM in the fall of 2015 soon after I received my B.S. in early childhood education. Although I can’t always attend the monthly meetings, I always look forward to reading the FORM newsletter and connecting with my friends.
“FORM has introduced me to many like-minded people, as well as RIE resources that have been of great value to me personally and professionally. I am so grateful to have this group as a support to me in my work with children and families. Being a part of FORM offers many opportunities for sharing ideas and resources and for making new friends.”


Libraries using contactless pickup, offering books and more online

Libraries using contactless pickup, offering books and more online

Posted on 13 May 2020 by Tesha Christensen


SPPL Librarian Maica Lelis places items on an outside table for contactless pickup. All items for pickup are packed by a gloved staff person, placed in a plastic bag, and delivered from a safe distance. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

When the Saint Paul Public Libraries (SPPL) closed their doors on March 16, they knew they had to quickly figure out how to best serve the needs of the community, while maintaining the health and safety of their staff and patrons.
By April 12, they had begun offering contactless pick-up for physical materials at five library locations. Since the first stay-at-home order went into effect, their selection of online resources has continued to grow.
At present, SPPL patrons are able to request materials for contactless pickup at these locations: George Latimer Central, Highland Park, Merriam Park, Rondo, and Sun Ray. These libraries have staff available Monday-Friday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. They can be reached by phone to answer questions and place holds, or patrons can request items online and pick them up at one of the five open branches. Patrons can also call 651-266-7000 (the George Latimer Central Library has extended phone hours) from 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Friday.
To place a hold online, visit www.sppl.org/staying-in, click on “catalog” and follow the prompts. A current Saint Paul Public Library card is needed with known user name and password.
Note that held items are not ready to be picked up until library staff contact you by phone or email. Items may show up as “ready for pick-up” on your library account, but you must wait to be contacted by a staff person. They are not yet able to send automated notices when materials are ready.
Contactless pick-up at the library looks like any other type of curbside pick-up. Patrons are asked to call when they arrive at the library, and then step a minimum of six feet away from the door. A gloved staff person will place items, wrapped in a plastic bag, on an outside table.
SPPL Public Services Manager Tracy Baumann said, “We aren’t taking any library returns at this time. We’ve extended all due dates until July 1. As usual, there are no fines and it doesn’t seem like we’re at risk for running out of library materials. SPPL will communicate guidance for safely returning library materials once that information becomes known.”

“While our physical locations are closed, we have found new and different ways to connect with our community. We have pivoted to make our library system work in a totally new environment.” ~ Tracy Baumann

Movies, music lessons, audio books, and more online
In addition to their physical collection of books, magazine, DVDs and CDs, the library has a wealth of digital resources for patrons to enjoy.
To access these, patrons can use their already activated SPPL card, or they can sign up online for an ecard. Only Saint Paul residents can apply for an ecard. Call any of the open branches for help getting started, if needed. Ecards can only be used for electronic resources. They cannot be used to place holds or check out physical items. Ecards are ready for use one to two business days after application has been completed, and residency information verified.
There is something for everyone in the online offerings, from entertainment to education and homework help. SPPL also helps patrons connect to many of the new internet offerings that have appeared during the pandemic. Listen to broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera or the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. Stream one of 200 movies for free, with a periodically updated selection curated by SPPL staff. Visit RB Digital to access popular audio books and magazines with an ecard: https://stpaulmn.rbdigital.com/. Audio books and ebooks are also available through Cloud Library.
Baumann explained, “Many of the online resources have been around for a while, but people are taking advantage of them in much larger numbers. There’s a gift in that; patrons are discovering things they didn’t know we had before, like ‘Transparent Language Online’. There are more than 90 languages you can study through this program, including English. The ‘Ancestry Learning Library’ is a program we’ve had as a library-based subscription for years, but the company has made it available for home use during this difficult time.”
Through www.sppl.org/staying-in, the library has linked to opportunities for free music lessons on a variety of instruments, to view award-winning Omni Films from the Science Museum of Minnesota, or to watch live cam broadcasts from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It’s a rare day that can’t be brightened, at least a little, by seeing sea otters tumbling and jelly fish swimming.
According to Baumann, “The library’s transition has been both hard and easy. We’re doing the same things we’ve always done, but we’ve had to learn to do them differently – and very quickly. It’s hard for librarians not to see ‘their people.’ Library systems everywhere are responding as well as they can.”
Check www.sppl.org/staying-in frequently for new offerings and to connect with the Saint Paul Public Library on Facebook and Twitter for information on upcoming events.

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GINKGO Coffeehouse adjusts and innovates

Posted on 15 April 2020 by Tesha Christensen

‘We’re all in this together’

GINKGO night manager Autumn Arsenault cleans the floor. During this down time, staff at GINKGO’s have been engaged in painting and other projects, as well as fulfilling take out orders. (by Tesha M. Christensen)

Small businesses are adjusting to the state Stay At Home order by making innovative changes.
GINKGO Coffeehouse (721 N. Snelling) is adjusting to being a take-out and delivery location. It required setting up a system for paying at the car and over the phone with credit cards, printing take-out menus, and beginning to meet customers in the parking lot with prepaid orders. Owner Kathy Sundberg reduced staff and inventory, and has postponed all live performances.
“With fewer customers and lots of space, it is easy to practice social distancing, and keep the store clean, by wiping door knobs, counters, and credit card processing equipment constantly,” she observed.
They also expanded to include housemade specialties packaged for customers to take home and feed the family. This includes pints and quarts of soup, housemade veggie or sausage lasagna, muffin batters to bake at home, chicken salad, and more.
GINKGO also added a few items people may need before they make a trip to a larger store, such as eggs, milk, bread, and individually packaged rolls of toilet paper. “Customers appreciate being able to pick these items up from a place that is not crowded,” said Sundberg. “They also appreciate the opportunity to support a local business.”
Staff are working to make changes to the coffee house. Some interior painting is underway, and they’re working on a system to make it easier to recycle when they reopen. “This is a way to take advantage of a tough situation, and also keep people employed,” explained Sundberg.
She’s applying for various loans through the SBA and the St. Paul Bridge Fund.
Without some of these options, and without the support of the community, many small businesses will not be able to reopen, Sundberg noted. She is optimistic about the outlook for GINKGO.
“We have been in business for almost 28 years, and surviving this will take innovation and community support,” said Sundberg. “Long-time customers and new customers alike are stopping in. We are very appreciative of the opportunity to safely serve people, maintain some of the jobs and remain a part of the neighborhood. It means a lot to us, and we plan to be here for many more years.”

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BP Amoco shut down

Posted on 15 April 2020 by Tesha Christensen

‘Residents terrified to be in wrong place at the wrong time near this property’ says council member

The BP Amoco at University and Hamline has been closed. (Photo by Terry Faust)

By Jane McClure
Midway BP Amoco, which has long been called out as a magnet for criminal behavior, is closed.
The St. Paul City Council March 18, 2020 voted unanimously to immediately reevoke all business licenses for business. Station owner Khaled Aloul of Midway and Hamline LLC now has the option of closing for good or going to the Minnesota Court of Appeals to make the case for keeping Midway BP Amoco open.
Evidence for revoking the license speaks for itself, said Ward Four Council Member Mitra Jalali. She cited the exhaustive process and extensive community input involved in the decision to revoke the licenses for cigarette and tobacco product sales, and the gas station business license itself. “I don’t think there is an alternative,” she said.
The public record included hundreds of pages of evidence including emails and a petition with more than 400 signatures. Hamline Midway Coalition worked extensively to help gather input. At one point in 2019, a call for action on Facebook brought out a large crowd to oppose the behavior.
Jalali called that evidence “overwhelming.”
“Residents are terrified to be in the wrong place at the wrong time near this property,” she said. There have been numerous reports of shootings near the business and police have recovered bullet casings. One person was shot and killed there last summer, while sitting in a parked vehicle.
It is unusual for an administrative law judge to recommend revocation of business licenses and for the city council to take such harsh action. Assistant City Attorney Therese Skarda, who represents the city’s Department of Safety and Inspections (DSI), said that given the business’s history, city officials could and did seek revocation.
Judge James LaFave issued his findings March 9, citing numerous instances including noncompliance with license regulations. It was found that Midway BP Amoco sold single cigarettes or “loosies,” sold flavored tobacco in violation of city ordinance, sold tobacco products to minors, engaged in a pattern of violating license regulations, and allowed unsafe conduct and conditions that threatened public health and safety.
The judge in his ruling called out shootings, large and disruptive crowds, and illegal drug sales as “severe, aggravating and atypical circumstances” supporting the city’s request for revocation of licenses.
On March 17, Aloul submitted requests that the city impose a greater fine, rather than shutting the business down. He also asked for a stay of licensees’ revocation pending a decision by the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
Midway BP Amoco already had several conditions on its licenses, including one that there be videotapes of store activities and that those tapes be handed over to city officials when requested. That didn’t happened last year in a case centered on a license violation. Subsequently police and city staff found numerous license and law violations, including sale of pipes to smoke crack cocaine and methamphetamine with, illegal sales of tobacco products and cigarettes, drug dealing, loitering and shootings. One cigarette sales violation occurred as a city licensing inspector was in the business on another matter.
What outraged neighbors even more was that there was a fatal shooting at the station last summer, of a man in a motor vehicle.
Aloul was notified of a license violation in July 2019. This was the second adverse action against the business within a year. The penalty for a second violation is a penalty with a $1,000 fine.

Aloul’s defense
Aloul requested a hearing before an administrative law judge, which was held in November 2019. It took two and one-half days. Among the many exhibits were numerous videos of activities around the station including loitering, large crowds and criminal behavior.
In long and emotional testimony, Aloul accused the St. Paul Police Department and city staff of conducting an extensive campaign to close the store, and depriving his family of income. He insisted that measures had been taken to prevent license violations and other problems.
He pleaded with the council to allow a proposal for a $1.6 million site redevelopment to go forward. It would include a gas station but would feature a new bakery and coffee shop. He has spent more than $80,000 developing the proposal, which would replace the business he has owned since 2010.
Closing would mean about half a dozen people lose their jobs, Aloul said, calling revocation of licenses “disastrous” and said closing means that “the drug dealers win.”
Although Aloul accepted some blame for license violations, he also pointed to the city’s 2019 spike in violent crime as a contributing factor to the problems. That happened when he had to deal with a death in his family, security guards who quit showing up and other issues.
“What are you going to do with the property? Do you want to buy it? Come buy it,” he told the city council.
Attorney James MacGillis represents the business. He cited alternative penalties requested by Aloul, noting that the penalty should be a $1,000 fine because it is the third violation in a year. Aloul proposed a $2,000 fine and a 10-day suspension, among other alternative sanctions.
MacGillis called revocation a “death penalty. “I don’t mean to be dramatic, but it will shut down this business and it will leave an empty lot at 1437 W. University,” he said.
But Jalali and other council members said the recommendation to revoke license should stand, even though it is one that is not taken lightly. Ward Seven Council Member Jane Prince said other business owners get involved with their neighbors and work to resolve problems, not allow them to continue.

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Teachers strike, settle as state shuts down

Teachers strike, settle as state shuts down

Posted on 15 April 2020 by Tesha Christensen

St. Paul School District educators went back to work on Friday, March 13, 2020 after a three-day strike, and are now teaching online during the state Stay at Home order.
“Only an unprecedented pandemic and concern over the health and safety of our students and staff stopped St. Paul educators from fighting harder and longer for more resources for our children,” said St. Paul Federation of Educators (SPFE) President Nick Faber. “Still, this strike demonstrated the power educators have when they use their collective voice.”
The strike followed more than nine months of negotiations.
The agreement includes:
• More social workers, nurses, intervention specialists, psychologists and multilingual staff.
• Expanding restorative practices to build positive school climates and help end the school-to-prison pipeline.
• Up to six hours of mental health and trauma-informed training for educators.
• Smaller workloads so that students with special needs get more one-on-one attention.
• Wage increases of 1.5% in the first year of the contract and 2% in the second.
• Building-based substitute teachers for schools that chronically have a difficult time finding substitutes.
• Prep time for educational assistants who are interpreters.
• An agreement to call for a moratorium on new charter schools until a community impact study is completed.
After an SPFE member vote, the executive board certified the results March 20. Students did not return to classrooms, however, as the district implemented online learning.

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Treadle Yard Goods 01sm

If you can sew, you can help

Posted on 15 April 2020 by Tesha Christensen


Treadle Yard Goods owner Michelle Hoaglund (pictured center in purple) handed out 50 free kits for sewing cotton face masks on March 22. The dedication of Hoaglund and her staff to caring for community members epitomized why “buying local” matters. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

As efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic ramp up,  you may have found yourself trying to find ways to help — while still practicing the social distancing and other important guidelines put in place to protect the health of every person.
One critical need that has emerged over the past few weeks is the need for more personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks and gowns, in hospitals and other health care settings.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota and Allina Health, along with several community partners, have launched a statewide volunteer effort, calling for people to sew and donate facemasks for doctors, nurses, and other health care staff.
Michelle Hoaglund is the owner of Treadle Yard Goods, a well-established, much loved fabric store on Hamline and Grand avenues in St. Paul. Partnering with the non-profit Sew Good Goods, Hoaglund and her dedicated staff were able to put together 50 free kits with enough cotton fabric and elastic to make 28 CDC approved face masks in each.
Distribution of the kits began at 1 p.m. on Sunday, March 22. By 1:05 p.m., according to Hoaglund, all of the kits were gone. The line of people, which had started to form at noon, stretched all the way to the end of the block and around the corner. People maintained a safe distance between one another, and many bought material from the store once the free kits had been given away.
“It was,” Hoaglund said, “beyond what any of us could have imagined.” She estimated there were between 80-100 people waiting in line and mused, “People who sew are just not the kind to sit around on the couch in a time of crisis.”
Treadle Yard Goods was able to make and distribute more free kits in the week that followed, and they are open regular hours as of our print deadline. The store’s efforts caught the attention of the New York Times in an article published on March 25, exemplifying the basic human desire to help others in a time of crisis.
Check their website for a how-to video with full instructions for making a mask with elastic (www.treadleyardgoods.com). Scroll down and read all of the instructions for safe protocol when dropping off masks. In addition, note the following:
• Cut fabric into 9” X 6” rectangles. Be sure to use fabric that is 100% cotton: tightly woven for the front, flannel or other soft 100% cotton for the back. If you have any doubts about the content of your fabric, don’t use it.
• Prewash all fabric on hot and dry on high heat to ensure pre-shrinkage. Area hospitals or other providers will sanitize the finished masks.
• Instructions suggest the use of elastic of ¼” elastic. If that is not available, you can make fabric ties easily. Each tie should have a finished length of 18 inches on both ends. To make your own ties, cut fabric strips 1 3/4” wide, fold in half and press both edges in to the middle fold. Stitch the ties right across the top and bottom of the mask.
• Use contrasting fabrics, so there is an obvious front and back side.
In this extraordinarily difficult time for small business owners, Hoaglund was reflective. She said, “I made my peace with all of the uncertainty a few days ago. I thought, we can’t control any of what is happening right now – but how we show up and love our neighbors, that’s what counts.”
Many organizations in addition to hospitals need masks including homeless shelters, nursing homes, and funeral homes. For more information about targeted distribution in the Twin Cities and how to help, go to www.donategoodstuff.org, or just follow your instincts and call organizations nearby.

Lyngblomsten, YMCA need masks
The Lyngblomsten Care Center in the Como neighborhood has a critical need for masks. Drop them (in a sealed plastic bag) in the donation bin at 1415 Almond Ave. The Midway YMCA also needs hundreds of masks for childcare workers onsite, and for staff visiting seniors in the community. Staff can accept donations inside the University Avenue entrance, where they are distributing food to the community M-F.
At this point, when people are being asked to consider wearing masks for shopping and other necessary outings, there is no shortage of people known and unknown who would appreciate receiving masks.
Fabric masks are far from ideal in critical health care settings, but they are what can quickly be produced. The mobilization of sewing volunteers has been spontaneous, and the distribution remarkably simple.
No matter where the fabrics are coming from, it’s time to get sewing.

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WEB_Treadle Yard Goods 25sm

Now more than ever, home matters

Posted on 15 April 2020 by Tesha Christensen

First time home buyer settles into Frogtown

LeAndra Estis is a first time home-buyer through Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity. She said, “The one thing I asked for was a front porch. We always had a front porch growing up, and it’s a sentimental thing for me. My strongest memory of childhood was that everybody sat on their front porches in Rondo.” (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

LeAndra Estis knows something about being first. In her family, she was the first daughter born, the first grand-daughter, and the first niece. She was the first child to go to college, and she is the first person in her extended family to purchase a home. Thanks to Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, and her own perseverance – Estis is a proud first time homebuyer.
She now lives in Frogtown with her two children, but their family history in St. Paul goes back four generations. Estis grew up in her grandmother’s home in the Rondo neighborhood, near Victoria and Selby. She said, “I always knew I wanted to buy a house in this area because, to me, it’s home.”
Of her grandmother’s house, Estis said, “We always thought she owned it, but it turned out she was a renter for all those years. She was never able to buy that house, or any other one. When she died, it was like our family lost its center.”
It’s a proven fact that creditworthy, low-income and minority families face significant barriers to sustainable homeownership, a major vehicle for building wealth and economic opportunity. Last June, Estis and her daughters busted that mold and moved into a newly constructed three-bedroom, two-bathroom home with a finished basement. It took a lot of hard work to get there.
With a college degree in human resources and 15 years experience in hospitality management, Estis thought she was a good candidate for home ownership through Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity. She met with a Homeownership Advisor to review her credit report two years ago. Her work history and income made home ownership look within reach.
Estis said, “I set a savings goal, and I stuck to it. I learned that $6,300 would be needed for closing costs, and as a cushion for unexpected emergencies. I had to be financially straight for anything that might happen. I started saying ‘no’ to going out, and cut way back on unnecessary expenses.”
Habitat requires all prospective homeowners to complete an eight-hour First-time Home Buyer Class. Applicants learn how to connect with city and county services, their city council member, how to settle incidents with their neighbors, and practical things like how to repair a hole in sheetrock, or unplug a toilet. Estis said, “I felt like I really got the facts. They gave me the largest three-ring binder there is, and now it’s completely full.”
Applicants are also required to complete service hours at one of Habitat’s home build sites or at one of two ReStore Home Improvement Outlets. Once matched to a home, applicants begin their service hours.
Estis said, “Every month there’s a different list of available homes to choose from including location, nearby shopping, freeway, public transportation, and schools. You’re not guaranteed your selection, but you throw your name in with other interested applicants. It was about six weeks from the time I made my selection until I learned we had been chosen for this location. And then they still had to build the house!”
Construction began and ended, and moving day came. Then just two months later, Estis lost her full-time job. That cushion she had saved for unexpected emergencies was soon put to use. It took five months of searching, but she was offered a job with the state of Minnesota. Estis said, “I took my time finding the right job. I was consumed with getting settled in the house, and being a first-time homeowner. I was learning so much that the waiting wasn’t unbearable for me.”
In the last 30 years, Twin Cities Habitat has helped more than 1,300 families buy affordable homes across the metro area. They offer mortgages with monthly payments set at 30% of household income, homebuyer education classes that prepare applicants for the responsibilities of owning a home, and post-purchase support on maintenance, upkeep, and ways to connect with new neighbors.
It will soon be the first anniversary of Estis and her family holding the keys to their own home. With her oldest daughter finishing her first year of college soon, the circle of firsts keeps growing.
Add to that list, the current Covid 19 health crisis. Estis said, “This really is a tough time we’re in. I’ve had a few family members reach out to me and say, ‘You’re the one who’s in the safest place right now. You have shelter for your children, and that’s important.’”
For more information on home ownership with Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, go to www.tchabitat.org.


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