Q&A with Otis Zanders of Ujamaa Place

Posted on 25 June 2020 by Tesha Christensen

By Elena Vaughn

Otis Zanders of Ujaama Place

Otis Zanders has had enough. “As the CEO of an organization that serves the most marginalized population in society, African American men, aged 18-30, Ujamaa Place (1821 University Ave. W. n187, St. Paul) serves on the front lines of the war on injustice by helping men navigate systemic poverty and racism, connection to the criminal justice system, homelessness and unemployment.”

What is the current situation as you see it?

Our nation has been in crisis for decades.  George Floyd’s murder was where the world said enough is enough and [it] happened at a time when the world was stood still from the shock of the COVID-19 pandemic.


Why are we here? What factors brought us to this point in time?

Our hearts are broken from the generational trauma and human rights atrocities that our people have suffered for 400 years since the recording of the first slave ship’s arrival in the U.S. We must allow the voices and strength of our ancestors to guide us through these unprecedented times and the challenging waters ahead.


How can white people support the Black Lives Matter movement? Can you define what “ally” means to you?

Allies can support us by denouncing racism and inequality in all forms.  An “ally” is a human being.  There is one race, the human race.


What needs to change in Minnesota to address the systematic racism?

NOW is the time to strategize ways to confront systemic racism in every form of injustice that exists in Minnesota. We have to change. History is being written that will teach future generations that freedom and equality is not a given. We must fight for it.  Starting NOW, Minnesota must stand on the right side of history.


What is your reaction to the peaceful protests and the looting?

As the son of sharecroppers from the Mississippi Delta, I witnessed firsthand at a very young age, the clear connection between the legacy of slavery and American Capitalism. Today as a husband, father, and CEO of Ujamaa Place, I still see the ways in which the legacy of slavery lives on through systemic racism and plays out in the everyday lives of African Americans. We pray that the solidarity we are witnessing from around the world is a sign that we are collectively ready to pluck the ugly root of systemic racism for good. We regret that it took the murders of George Floyd, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others for people to finally be fed up. We stand on mighty shoulders that taught us freedom and justice is not a given, and that we must continue to teach each generation to fight for equality.


Watch the YouTube video of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. explain why people protest.  “A Riot Is The Language of the Unheard.” There is no enjoyment derived from watching a city burned or looted.


In 1968, Martin Luther King asked “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” How do you see the impact of these protests carrying on King’s legacy?  Where do we go from here as a community?


The world witnessed George Floyd take his last breath as the knee of a white police officer lay on his neck restricting his airways, with members of the community pleading for his life. This was a reminder that we are not yet FREE from the bonds of slavery. The institution of slavery and its byproducts – racism, inequality, poverty and injustice are alive and well in our society today. This is why at Ujamaa Place, we focus on teaching our men to navigate systems of racism and ways to eliminate roadblocks that perpetuate inequality.


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Ron Johnson remembers Lloyd’s

Posted on 09 June 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Ron Johnson was working at Target when he heard Lloyd’s Pharmacy was for sale in 1974.
He headed to the longtime pharmacy at Snelling and Minnehaha to meet Lloyd Jensen, the 25-year owner.
“He was one of the nicest people I’d ever met,” recalled Johnson, who is 74 years old now. “Thoughtful.” It didn’t take Johnson long to decide to buy the business.
Johnson sought to be a good asset to the neighborhood as Lloyd had, and Florian Ritschel had before him.

Click here to read article titled: Lloyd’s, Menopause Center burn to ground

The son of German immigrants opened Florian’s Pharmacy in 1918 after purchasing the building at 720 Snelling in Hamline, Minn. It had been built in 1914 and previously housed a millinery shop. “He was the kind of guy who ran a lot of different promotions,” recalled Johnson.
Lloyd purchased the pharmacy in 1949, renaming it.
When Johnson bought it, he never thought of changing the name. Everyone knew Lloyd and respected him.
Johnson worked to keep the store as Lloyd had, greeting all of his customers by name. “There’s a huge difference between the business at Target and Lloyd’s,” observed Johnson. “Lloyd’s customers are really special people.”
Although Johnson grew to own six pharmacies in St. Paul, Rochester, and Arden Hills (where he lived), he always worked out of the Lloyd’s location. For a time, Lloyd continued to live in the apartment above the store, coming down to chat with former customers. Florian dropped by, too.

Lloyd’s Pharmacy, 1985

Johnson started as the pharmacist at the store with one other staff member, and his wife helped out on the weekends when she wasn’t working as a school speech therapist.
At one time, there were about 10 independent pharmacies along Snelling, Johnson pointed out, and hundreds in St. Paul. Today, there are very few, and Lloyd’s is one of the only still compounding medications there on site.
It was important to him to keep it as an independent pharmacy.
“Lloyd’s Pharmacy has been a great part of the community, and I’d like to see it stay that way,” said Johnson. He sold the pharmacy in 2014 to his head pharmacist, Jim Stage.
One of his former staff members called Johnson on Thursday, May 28, 2020 to let him know the store had been looted. He discovered the next morning that it had also been set on fire and burned to the ground.

Ron Johnson

In his grief, he held onto what his son said to him. “‘The lumber, the wood is gone, but you still have the memories.’ That was an important time in my life,” said Johnson about the 40 years he spent at the pharmacy.

Four owners in 102 years
• Florian Ritschel: 31 years, 1918-1949
• Lloyd Jenson: 25 years,
• Ron Johnson: 40 years,
• Jim Stage: 2014-present

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Over 170 businesses damaged in Midway

Posted on 09 June 2020 by Tesha Christensen

People step up to help, city council members talk about needs for honest dialogue

Big Top Liquor, in the former Midway Perkins, was looted and set ablaze on Thursday, May 28, and the next day staff from Restoration Professionals was on site to board up the building. Firefighters were still working on DTLR Sports Dome the next day across the street. Businesses damaged there include Midway Tobacco, Boost Mobile, Maxx It Pawn, Culver’s and neighboring businesses. The eastern half of the Maxx It Pawn-Sports Dome group of businesses was leveled after looting, vandalism and fire. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

Clean up and recovery efforts continue throughout St. Paul after the vandalism, looting and arsons that began May 28. Several area district councils, business associations and community groups organized clean-up groups and were out sweeping up glass and picking up debris May 29 in Midway and Frogtown.
The morning of May 29, hundreds of volunteers helped clean and board businesses. Hamline Midway Coalition, Frogtown Neighborhood Association and Union Park District Council worked (UPDC) to help organize the groups.
Hamline Midway Coalition and Union Park District Council (UPDC) have expressed gratitude for the help rendered. Both district councils have not only helped on the ground in many ways. They also have had to sort through rumors and real situations of possible illegal activities in the neighborhoods.
“There’s been a lot of ways that people have stepped up to help,” UPDC Board President Henry Parker said. Volunteers have worked to clean up and board up businesses, collect and distribute food, and continue to help affected businesses and residents. UPDC volunteers alone helped board up 10 businesses. Others have helped at food distribution points at Lexington Parkway and Central Avenue, University and Fairview, Celtic Junction and at Bethlehem Lutheran Church-in-the-Midway. The church has become a major food hub.
Both Merriam Park, Frogtown and Hamline-Midway Facebook pages set up regular neighborhood watches during and after the nights of violence, to keep each other informed and report activity. Some volunteers walked neighborhood streets in violation of the state-imposed curfews and county state of emergency. Others kept watch from their yards and porches.
Elected officials have been out helping, and are appreciative of the volunteer efforts to help the community. “It’s been an extraordinary, extraordinary week in many ways,” said St. Paul City Council President Amy Brendmoen. City council members have not only been out observing damage and helping with clean-up, they are also looking at the need for an upcoming policy session on steps St. Paul and its Police Department can take to prevent tragedies tied to police brutality. Brendmoen said there is a need for an honest dialogue to continue making changes.
University Avenue businesses sustained the heaviest damage in terms of looting and fires. Two local businesses, Lloyd’s Pharmacy/Menopause Center and Bole Ethiopian restaurant, were lost to fires. Both business were the focus of separate, successful GoFundMe campaigns and plan to rebuild or relocate in the area. Lloyd’s, which is serving customers through its sister pharmacy Setzer’s in Roseville, is planning to open a small interim location in Midway. (See related story beginning on front page.)
Midway Center was hit very hard with looting and then fires. Foot Locker was looted and set ablaze. Adjacent businesses were damaged including Great Clips, Rainbow clothing shop, GameStop Midway, To New York Midway and Peking Garden. Big Top Liquor, in the former Midway Perkins, was looted and set ablaze.
Across the street, businesses damaged include Midway Tobacco, DTLR Sports Dome, Boost Mobile, Maxx It Pawn, Culver’s and neighboring businesses. The eastern half of the Maxx It Pawn-Sports Dome group of businesses was leveled after looting, vandalism and fire. But crews were inside the western half of the structure making repairs the first week of June.

CVS at University and Snelling was looted and vandalized, as were businesses to the east including Ax-Man Surplus, JJ Fish and Chicken, and Metro Sound and Lighting. Metro Sound and Lighting was hit very hard. “We were broken into last night and majorly looted and vandalized,” the business owner stated in a Facebook post. “They tried breaking a front window, and when that didn’t work, they went around to the back of the building, gaining access by virtually destroying a back door. Recession, light rail construction in front of our building, pandemic….and now this.”
At Midway Marketplace, businesses were looted and fires set. Cub, Dollar Tree, TJ Maxx and the Healtheast Clinic were hit hard. The strip mall along University at Hamline had a fire set at the UPS store and businesses including Discount Tire were vandalized and looted. LeeAnn Chin restaurant sustained heavy damage.
Furniture Barn was set on fire and looted.
Midway SuperTarget was looted and vandalized, as were the nearby shops in the building at Hamline and University – Verizon, Noodles and Company, and the Vitamin Shop. The closed BP station at Hamline and University was vandalized.
Stores and restaurants on the first floor of the PPL Building at Hamline and University sustained damage. The building housing Bole Ethiopian restaurant, NAPA Auto Parts and Jackson Hewitt at University and Syndicate was destroyed by fire.
Goodwill at Griggs and Syndicate was vandalized and a dumpster set on fire.
Enterprise’s University Ave. vehicle rental business was damaged by fire. Anaya Dance Theater was vandalized and a wig shop in the former Arnellia’s nightclub was looted and set ablaze.
Office buildings at University and Syndicate were vandalized.
ALDI and Gordon Parks School were vandalized, with a fire set inside of Gordon Parks. Businesses at Lexington and University were damaged including UnBank, White Castle and TCF Bank. O’Reilly Auto Parts was vandalized and set on fire.
Many convenience stores including Speedway and Holiday Station stores were damaged throughout the area including stores on Snelling, University and Lexington. A fire was set at the Speedway at University and Chatsworth.
Many liquor stores around the city were looted and/or vandalized including Snelling Avenue Fine Wines and Liquors.
A few stores have reported break-ins and attempted break-ins during the first week of June.
Overnight May 28-29, the St Paul Fire Department responded to 295 calls for service, 169 of those calls were EMS calls for service and 126 were fire calls. The fire department deployed almost 200 of its own firefighters and had mutual aid from Roseville, Roseville, Maplewood, Little Canada, Lake Johana, North St. Paul, Dakota County Washington County, South Metro, Woodbury and MAC Fire.
Of the 126 fire calls, 55 were actual working fires primarily to commercial properties.
“I want to thank the women and men of our department for the incredible work they performed. Our firefighters responded in challenging conditions which included them having rocks, bricks, and bottles thrown at them. They do this work to serve the residents and visitors of St. Paul and to ensure that every person is cared for and safe,” said Chief Butch Inks.

Volunteers pass out water to those cleaning up and boarding windows on Friday, May 29. “There’s a lot of ways that people have stepped up to help,” observed UPDC President Henry Parker. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)


• Midway Chamber of Commerce – We Love the Midway: http://www.midwaychamber.com/we-love-midway

• Neighbors United Funding Collaborative: https://midwayunited.org/

• Bole Ethiopian: https://www.gofundme.com/f/rebuilding-bole-ethiopian-cuisine

• Lloyd’s Pharmacy: https://www.gofundme.com/f/lloyd039s-pharmacy-rebuilding-fund-st-paul-riots


A series of rapidly organized free legal clinics for individuals, businesses and families impacted by the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd began June 6. The clinics aim to provide safe, confidential and free legal advice, resources and forms for anyone who needs assistance in the community.

Running every weekend while there are those in need, the clinics are organized by the Community Law Collective, a coalition of Twin Cities law firms and Zeus Jones, which will host the first three clinics at 2429 Nicollet Ave S., Minneapolis. Future clinics may be held in the Midway. More information at https://tinyurl.com/FreeLegalClinic.

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Rebuilding a strong Midway

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Rebuilding a strong Midway

Posted on 09 June 2020 by Tesha Christensen


Chad Kulas

Midway Chamber of Commerce Executive Director

Without question, these past few weeks have been some of the most stressful and difficult days in the history of the Midway. Following the horrific murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, civil unrest came to the Midway. We saw buildings burn to the ground, and unease fall over our community as suspicious vehicles drove on our streets during our temporary curfew and sirens blared in the background.
But the Midway is strong, and full of pride. After a loud and destructive Thursday night, Friday morning saw so many coming to University Avenue to help clean that the initial cleanup was already complete before noon and people were seen walking with a broom and nothing to do. At the Midway Chamber, we have fielded several calls from near and far asking how to help. For some, they specifically ask if their skill set or company specialty can assist- such as the person who bakes pies and wanted to give them to business owners, or a company like Aspen Waste who donated the use of a dumpster for used plywood.
People directly impacted are asked multiple times a day what they need. And the answer can change by the day too. While they needed cleanup assistance only for a short while, they then needed help boarding up the windows. While the volunteering opportunity may change, there will continue to be a need for volunteer help as well as donations. Here are some ways to help.
Donate Food. Many food shelves are taking donations, including Community Emergency Service, Keystone Community Services, Open Hands Midway and Midway YMCA. Many of these food drives are also looking for volunteers.
Donate Funds. Businesses and nonprofits will need support as they rebuild and every little bit helps. There are many funds set up for donations, including:
• We Love Midway/We Love Saint Paul A fund established by the Midway Chamber, Saint Paul Area Chamber and Saint Paul Downtown Alliance
• Midway United established by the Neighbors United Collaborative Fund, an initiative serving the Hamline Midway and Union Park neighborhoods.
• African Economic Development Solutions/Little Africa has a fund created to “rebuild African immigrant businesses in Minnesota”
• Asian Economic Development Association is raising funds for “Asian businesses harmed by the unrests”
If your building or business has been damaged, do you know what to do? For many business owners, they needed a few days to process it all and think about next steps. There are restoration companies nearby who can help, including Paul Davis Restoration, Restoration Professionals and Steamatic of the Twin Cities. If you are looking for more tips on what to do and what to be thinking about, the Midway Chamber did a virtual meeting called “Your Business Was Damaged- What Do You Do Now?” and can be found on our website, along with other resources, at midwaychamber.com/member-relief.
Now more than ever is the time to check in with neighbors and others in our community to see if they need anything. Together, we will all help rebuild a strong Midway.

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Donate to Midway businesses

Posted on 04 June 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Over 100 businesses in the Midway were damaged on Thursday, May 28, 2020 during civil unrest.

Photo by Tesha M. Christensen

The following fundraisers will benefit local businesses:

Midway Chamber of Commerce – We Love the Midway: http://www.midwaychamber.com/we-love-midway

Neighbors United Funding Collaborative: https://midwayunited.org/

Bole Ethiopian: https://www.gofundme.com/f/rebuilding-bole-ethiopian-cuisine

Lloyd’s Pharmacy: https://www.gofundme.com/f/lloyd039s-pharmacy-rebuilding-fund-st-paul-riots



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Q&A with Defining You Pilates and Fitness

Q&A with Defining You Pilates and Fitness

Posted on 13 May 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Defining You Pilates and Fitness owner Suzy Levi teaches a class via Zoom. (Photo submitted)

Defining You Pilates and Fitness (550 Vandalia St.) quickly transitioned to a virtual studio format in March, pointed out owner Suzy Levi. The studio is offering 3-4 live group classes daily (mat pilates, yoga, barre, strength and HIIT formats), and has a Zoom library for members. Memberships and class sampler packs are available at several different rates starting at $19.99. There are also free weekly workouts on the studio’s YouTube channel.
Defining You is collaborating with an innovative fitness collective effort locally called Sweat Minnesota. This grassroots partnership of Twin Cities fitness pros and studios hosts a free line-up of all types of classes every other Saturday, and Defining You has hosted three classes on Facebook Live.

– How has COVID19 and the Stay at Home order affected your business?

Fortunately Defining You Pilates and Fitness was able to quickly transition to a Virtual studio format upon learning of Governor’s mandate on March 16.

Several days after temporarily closing our brick-and-mortar studio in Vandalia Tower we were up-and-running with virtual group classes on Zoom, for some of our Pilates Mat and Fitness Classes. Unfortunately our clients are missing out on our fabulous Pilates Reformer and Tower classes that utilize our apparatus equipment, which is all housed at the studio.

We’re grateful to so many of our loyal clients for sticking with us through this tough patch, enabling us to serve  people through fitness and ultimately working to support the greater community’s physical health and emotional wellbeing.


This pandemic brings to the forefront how important maintaining your health is, as a defense against the virus. Exercise and movement is essential to our wellbeing and we are thrilled we can provide this to our clients and our greater community.


– What do your current operations look like and when will you reopen?

  • Defining You has pivoted to a Virtual studio format and we’ve been up and running on Zoom for the last 6 weeks. Every day, we offer several live virtual group classes to bring our community together to move more, protect our health, support one another and stay connected. Classes include mat Pilates, Yoga, Barre, Strength and HIIT formats.
  • As an added benefit, DYF members have access to our Zoom library of virtual classes. So if they miss a favorite class, they can catch it at a later date/time. Or, if there is a class they love, they can run through it as many times as they like! We’ve heard from members that the Defining You Zoom library is a valuable offering, particularly during quarantine. We also offer pre-recorded virtual Sampler Packs of 3- or 5-classes for purchase for non-members.
  • We offer private training sessions virtually for individuals who appreciate one-on-one  support from our certified Pilates teachers and functional fitness trainers.
  • And, we’re publishing free weekly workouts on our You Tube channel. These range from HIIT to Pilates to our latest Big Ball workout that utilizes an extra-large exercise ball!
  • Fortunately we’re also collaborating with an innovative fitness collective effort locally called Sweat Minnesota. This grassroots partnership of Twin Cities fitness pros and studios hosts a free line up of all types of classes every-other Saturday, with their next event on May 16. Defining You has hosted three Sweat Minnesota classes on Facebook Live and anyone can visit our Facebook account and enjoy these free classes as well.
  • We have a plan in place to reopen as soon as Governor Walz gives us the green light and we’re working behind the scenes to make sure the studio space is ready and that our team is well prepared. Once the restrictions are lifted, our strategy is to reopen Defining You in stages; we will take it slow and be cautious being mindful and following the COVID-19 guidelines established by the Department of Health and the CDC.


– Did you secure a PPP loan or other assistance and how does that affect things for you?

As a St. Paul small business owner, I have applied for a PPP loan and a couple of other loans. I am still waiting to hear and am hopeful something will come through to help sustain the studio through the shutdown and the following 12 months as we anticipate it will take awhile to return operations to pre-COVID19.


– How many staff did you go into this with and what is the current situation? How are they managing things? 

Our operations staff of four has not been impacted, yet.

Our instructors and trainers have scaled back on teaching given we reduced our daily class schedule to three to four classes a day, compared to eight to 10 classes during pre-Coronavirus times.

Our staff is managing fairly well and we know we’re stronger together. We have ongoing check-in Zoom calls to support each other. This is a very tight network of thoughtful individuals who care very much for one another as well as our clients.


– How do you see this affecting your industry as a whole and what concerns you?

  • I know many small boutique studios and micro gyms  are hurting financially today, we are all trying to figure this out together and we appreciate any and all support from our neighbors and the local community.
  • Most fitness professionals and studio owners have very narrow margins to remain viable and profitable even in the good times. So, the Coronavirus era has taken a toll.
  • The good news is we are a determined team of business owners, and by working together we will figure this out. Organizations like Sweat Minnesota are doing so much good to support and invigorate the local fitness industry. I’m on the Board of the Pilates Method Alliance, we are continually offering guidance, support and insights to help those in our industry. In fact, just this week I hosted a Facebook live discussion related to nurturing and maintaining client relationships during a pandemic.
  • I believe there are silver linings to every trying situation. This Pandemic forced many of us to offer virtual options for our home bound clients sheltering in place. Going forward, this option will be a great value to clients who cannot make it to live classes due to work, family or other commitments. They can opt into these classes anytime, almost from anywhere. Virtual formats also provide us, as studio owners, with additional revenue streams and they add value to our studio programming. I was planning on adding this as an option at Defining You in Q4 for our fitness classes and Pilates Teacher Training Program. Now I can work on improving our product and it will be even better by the end of the year.

– How can the community support you?

  • We appreciate any and all support during this time, it means so much to me and our entire Defining You community.
  • Our welcoming studio is known for our supportive team of staff, clients and community members. We always emphasize that we meet clients where they’re at, at all levels. So, if there are readers who are looking to join a studio, we offer an introductory monthly membership for $69. This would include all our virtual group classes for one month. We also offer a 3- or 5- Virtual recorded class Sampler Pack for $19.99 and $29.99 respectively. With this option folks can choose the format series they’re interested in, join in the classes and also have access to those same classes in our Zoom library for up to one month.
  • Please visit our website at www.DefiningYouFitness.com or email our front desk team at definingyoufitnessdesk@gmail.com or call us at 651-769-5712.
  • If there are people who have tried Defining You and had a great experience, please tell your friends, neighbors and family! We also appreciate any positive reviews on Google, Yelp, Facebook, etc.

– Any other comments?

I have said often, we will get through this. And, when we do, we will be better at what we do, better at helping people live their healthiest lives, better at appreciating the gifts we have.  We will be stronger, too.


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Q&A with Lula Vintage: ‘Shop small for real’

Q&A with Lula Vintage: ‘Shop small for real’

Posted on 13 May 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Lula Vintage (1587 Selby Ave.), has been shut down since the Stay at Home order, losing the majority of its income. Owner Hayley Bush, who operates the shop by herself, is selling items online, through an Etsy shop called LULAVINTAGEMN, and off an Instagram account. She is planning to reopen the shop as soon as the governor gives his stamp of approval.

– How has COVID19 and the Stay at Home order affected your business? 

Since my store is a retail business, it must be closed during the stay at home order.
This means that LULA has no source of revenue besides online sales which are a very small percentage of our income.
We have an ETSY shop called LULAVINTAGEMN. We also sell items off our Instagram account.
Our main source of revenue is gone, however.
We will reopen as soon as we are given the stamp of approval for our governor.
– How do you see this affecting your industry as a whole and what concerns you? 
I am concerned that I have lost my spring business which is my best two months of the year and will not be able to financially rebound.
I am concerned that people will no longer have the financial stability to spend money at small businesses.
I am concerned that people will not want to brick and mortar shop as they now have become accoustomed to online shopping.
How can the community support you? 
People have bought gift cards as well as made special orders. People have gone at shopped at my etsy shop as well as just visited it – which moves it up in the search rankings.
Also, I have had cards and gifts sent from sweet, wonderful customers. People have donated clothing as they are cleaning out and just want the items to go to a good home.
I have had people send pictures of lounging at home in items from my shop. It’s has all given me a great comfort.
I really encourage people to shop small for real. Not just talk about it and pretend to do it but actually do it. If they don’t- only big companies will eventually be available to them who will then be able to charge whatever they’d like.
I read a study where one very small town, in one year, pumped over $300,000 into their own economy by agreeing to support their own businesses. St Paul is a big city- imagine what we could do if we all went to our own grocers and co-ops, shopped our own stores, ate at our own restaurants and hired our own local companies for the work we needed, Not only would our economy flourish but we could really be a great example for other cities.
Thank you for a platform to talk about this situation.
This is why local papers are important as they give voice to local issues.

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{ Development Roundup } May 2020

Posted on 13 May 2020 by Tesha Christensen


University and Fairview plan
Plans for a 146-apartment, five-story mixed-use building near University and Fairview avenues met resistance from the Union Park District Council (UPDC) land use committee. On split votes in March, the committee recommended denial of developer LIG Investments’ requests for a conditional use permit and density variance for the project at 1790-1800 University Ave. the request goes to the full district council for action in the future.
Hamline Midway Coalition has also reviewed the request but took no action.
The project would eventually go to the St. Paul Planning Commission for final approval, regardless of whether or not is has district council support. The site is zoned traditional neighborhoods 3, so no zoning change would be needed.
Developer Alex Gese of LIG Investments is working with Joshua Jansen from Collage Architects on project plans.
Some land use committee members said they couldn’t support the project because of its lack of affordable housing. Others said they needed more time to discuss the plans, but the online meeting was drawing to a close. Supporters said the project is a way to redevelop a site with two older buildings for a higher and better use.
The demand for more affordable housing is also a topic the Planning Commission is studying. St. Paul currently has no inclusionary zoning ordinances that tie zoning approvals to provision of affordable housing units. These ordinance can be used to require that a given share of a new building be affordable to low to moderate-income residents.
St. Paul can only require affordable housing be built if a project developer seeks a city, state or federal funding source.
The project would have a mix of one, two and three-bedroom apartments, with 10 units apiece of the two and three bedroom units. Rents would start at $1,700 for one bedroom and go up to $2,400 for the larger three-bedroom units.
The development site is occupied by two longtime University Avenue businesses, Hafner Furniture at 1800 University Ave. and Bonded Auto Repair at 1790 University Ave. The buildings are at the southwest corner of University and Beacon Street. Gese said the site has its challenges including the need for environmental cleanup.
Eason said the project would help meet market demand for apartments.
The first-floor commercial space could open with a coffee kiosk, which could be developed into a full bar/restaurant in the future. The wide front sidewalk would be an amenity for a first-floor occupant, said Jansen.
Because the site is zoned for TN3 and is along the Green Line light rail transit corridor, it isn’t required to have any off-street parking. Seventy-six enclosed parking spaces and bike parking are planned.

University/Hampden development moves ahead

John O’Brien, who manages the commercial Wright Building west of the site, appeared at the Zoning Committee public hearing to speak in opposition. The Wright Building has off-street parking it already must police to keep non-tenant vehicles out. He believes that such a large parking variance next door will mean more vehicles illegally parked in the lot.

A proposed five-story building with 147 apartments and 1,400 square feet of commercial space won approval from the St. Paul Planning Commission Friday April 3. Paster Development and Yellow Tree Management are seeking a conditional use permit and variances for 2225 University Ave. The developers would tear down a one-story office building and cinderblock garage that are currently on the ell-shaped property.
The Planning Commission Zoning Committee voted March 12 to support the conditional use permit and variances, despite staunch neighborhood opposition to a parking variance. The project drew letters in opposition from almost 100 neighbors opposed to the project’s parking variance, citing high demand for parking in the area already created by other apartment buildings in the area. The variance is for 57 spaces. The project has 80 underground, with the rest in a parking lot along Charles Ave. The project requires 147 spaces.
Mike Sturdivant of Paster Development said they don’t anticipate that every building resident will own a motor vehicle, given its location along light rail and local bus routes. The development team also said they would provide ample bike parking for residents.
The site’s location along Green Line light rail and bus routes justify the parking variance. The property was rezoned for traditional neighborhoods use in 2011, as part of a sweeping University Ave. rezoning process. Had the site been rezoned for TN use, it would not be required to provide any off-street parking.
“The zoning to industrial-transitional came at a time when there was concern about the loss of industrial zoning,” said Senior City Planner Anton Jerve.
St. Anthony Park Community Council and three other property owners and residents also sent letters of approval.
The project requires Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC) approval, as it is in the Historic Raymond Village Heritage Preservation District.
The site is long and narrow, with 103 feet of frontage along University Ave. Its north end abuts Charles Ave., extending all the way to Pillsbury Ave. Its site is sloping, and the grade at Charles is eight feet higher than the grade at University.

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Chamber: ‘Help each other out’

Posted on 15 April 2020 by Tesha Christensen

‘We’re all in this together’

by Tesha M. Christensen

The Midway Chamber of Commerce has been calling members to check on how they’re doing, what they need, and what connections they can facilitate.
“At first many businesses didn’t know what they needed yet,” pointed out Chamber Executive Director Chad Kulas. “They were adjusting to a home office and a staff spread amongst their homes. The biggest question at this point is what resources are available to help out.”
The chamber has hosted meetings for property managers where they can talk to one another on how they are working with their tenants. They have also done a few meetings about the Paycheck Protection Program, and send out a daily newsletter updating members on that day’s news. A webpage is devoted to information on COVID-19. It has tips, resources, restaurant information and ways to support nonprofits.
“You could argue everyone is impacted by it in some way since either they are working from home, many in their office are, or their clients/customers are,” said Kulas. “In talking with commercial property managers, most of their buildings are quiet now though you have some who are deemed essential and are at work. I heard Governor Walz say the first week of the Stay-at-Home order that metro traffic was down 79%, so that tells you how many more are staying off the roads. In talking with UPS, they are seeing many more deliveries switched to residential locations as opposed to an office. I also really feel for the local restaurants who are missing out on the coffee meetings, the lunches, the companies catering in for meetings and the happy hours.”
Kulas offers these tips to businesses:“First thing, talk to your bank and find out if you qualify for any of the loan and grant opportunities and if so, which makes sense. Develop a new business plan for the next several months if not the next year, factoring in how this will change your clients and customers’ habits. Also, don’t be lonely – find others to talk to especially others who may be experiencing similar issues. That’s why I’ve been happy we can have a biweekly meeting for property managers.”
He recommends checking out the Ramsey County and state of Minnesota DEED websites for resources. Some of the best available resources have included the Economic Injury Disaster Loan, the Paycheck Protection Program and the city of Saint Paul Bridge Fund (which is taking applications through April 19), according to Kulas.
“We’re all in this together. It’s more important than ever to help each other out where we can. Things will get back to normal!”

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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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