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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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April 2020 Monitor_01

April 2020 PDF Edition

Posted on 15 April 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Read the full 2020 April Monitor edition by clicking here.
April 2020

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Hamline: education continues

Posted on 15 April 2020 by Tesha Christensen

‘We’re all in this together’

As of April 1, Hamline University faculty are teaching remotely, and both graduate and undergraduate students are completing the semester online after an extended spring break that lasted March 18-31. All sports and other events have been canceled.
“Staff and faculty pulled together to quickly launch online learning capability for all classes,” observed Communications and Community Relations Specialist Christine Weeks. “It was an amazing effort. Other departments adapted quickly, as well. Dining services went to a to-go format. Campus recreation developed online classes.”
Residence halls are emptier. The students who remain on campus have all moved to single rooms. Essential employees remain working on campus; however, most employees work from home. Most buildings are locked.
Summer classes will be online. Admissions is hosting campus visits events virtually, and the admission decision day has been moved to June 1. Standardized tests are no longer required for admission, as they have been postponed nationally.
It is difficult to predict what lies ahead as things change daily, pointed out Weeks. “One thing is certain: Hamline will continue to educate future leaders who go on to educate and serve this region in many ways.”
The Hamline Undergraduate Student Congress launched a scholarship in support of fellow students. The Office of Institutional Advancement implemented a successful online fundraiser for students in need of emergency help that has raised over $25,000.
Weeks added, “Hamline University has been around since 1854 and in this neighborhood since 1880. Our Wesleyan values have guided us through previous difficult times and will continue to ground us during the COVID-19 pandemic. Pipers will continue to search for ways to do all the good we can and to serve our community.”

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ComMUSICation: access

Posted on 15 April 2020 by Tesha Christensen

‘We’re all in this together’

ComMUSICation (690 Jackson St.) has adjusted its programs dramatically by transitioning to digital classrooms and distance learning for its choirs.
On April 3, CMC Founder and Executive Director Sara Zanussi said, “While we initially were uncertain about how well a choir would work in a virtual format, we are now in our second week, and so far it has been a successful and uplifting experience. It has allowed young people to stay connected (with what many of them refer to as their second family), and to keep singing, collaborating, and building community together in new ways.”
Mylayja, grade 8, said, “I wasn’t sure about this [format], but I’m so happy it’s working out.” Nena, another 8th grader, added, “I liked that more people came and joined us today… I like it that we’re all together though we’re all far apart.”
Music Director Carey Shunkis, who facilitated this transition, emphasized the positive side of these changes. “Because of the technology available to many of us, we are happy to be able to continue to socialize, communicate and build community despite our commitment to physical distancing. Singing brings us closer to one another, and is a powerful tool in connecting and inspiring us all.”
For more information on the free programs, visit www.cmcmn.org.
“One of CMC’s core values is access,” Zanussi pointed out. “This new format alleviates the most common participation barriers we face: needing to take care of younger siblings and transportation. One positive of this new format is a young person can just log on from anywhere.”

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Hiway: CUs4U Challenge

Posted on 15 April 2020 by Tesha Christensen

‘We’re all in this together’

At the 80-year-old Hiway Federal Credit Union, the lobbies are closed but the drive-thrus and ATMs remain open.
“We encourage people to call with any questions or concerns that they may have. We are here to help,” said Hiway Senior Marketing Specialist Kent Wipf.
The co-op has additional people to take phone calls, and has added precautions during transactions to benefit both customers and staff. A number of staff are working from home.
Hiway is offering members and businesses:
• Skip-a-payment on Hiway loan(s)
• Modification, consolidation or refinance on Hiway loans
• Emergency, low-rate hardship loans
• Fee waivers
• Free financial reviews with investment professionals
• Credit counseling services via LSS
“Mainly people want to know their money is safe and that we will be here to serve them. Our branches and our call center have been very busy, and many times people just need someone to speak with to ensure them that we are here,” observed Wipf. “Almost everyone who comes to the branch understands the need for social distancing and for the having our lobbies closed, and they appreciate that we have taken extra precautions to keep them safe and our employees safe.”
Hiway has given all member-facing associates (employees), as well as associates who have been stepping in to work in a member-facing capacity, a 20 percent bonus pay.
The $1.25-billion, St. Paul-based Hiway serves over 77,000 members, and operates three branches.
On April 10, Hiway launched the #CUs4U Challenge by purchasing boxed lunches from a local favorite Italian eatery, Fat Lorenzo’s, and then delivering them to nearby workers at the Minnesota VA Child Care Center, which neighbors Hiway’s Fort Snelling branch. Hiway also had 67 dozen cookies from Cookie Cart, a nonprofit bakery which employs disadvantaged youth, delivered to the VA Hospital as a treat for all the organization’s workers.
Hiway then turned around and nominated Dan Stoltz, CEO of SPIRE Credit Union, to continue the challenge, find a way to thank more essential workers and another small business, and then to nominate another Minnesota Credit Union executive.
“Together, as part of #CUs4U, we can help make a difference in our communities while supporting our local small businesses and recognizing and thanking all those who continue to serve us every day,” said Hiway’s President/CEO Dave Boden.

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Coronavirus pandemic response

Posted on 15 April 2020 by Tesha Christensen

‘We’re all in this together’

Linda Walker, of Kendall’s Hardware, cleans the counter after serving a customer. Her mask was made by the mother of Kendall’s general manager.

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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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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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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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Getting curly-leaf pondweed under control

Posted on 15 April 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Como Lake getting Fluridone, alum treatments this spring

Britta Belden, Water Resource Project Manager (left), and Bob Fossum, Monitoring and Research Division Manager (right), co-led two public information meetings this month to keep the public up-to-date. Capitol Region Watershed District is overseeing the chemical treatment of Como Lake this spring to reduce algae and curly-leaf pondweed, shown at left. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Como Lake looks relatively clean at this time of year, but a menace to its water quality has had another busy winter.
Curly-leaf pondweed is an invasive aquatic plant visible as a dense surface mat on the lake toward midsummer. It manages to grow vigorously beneath the ice and snow, giving it a huge advantage over native plants in the spring.
Capitol Region Watershed District (CRWD) is the organization working to improve water quality in Como Lake. CRWD believes that the most effective solution for reducing curly-leaf pondweed is to apply the herbicide Fluridone to the entire lake; this was done on April 13. Fluridone will target curly-leaf pondweed, which currently makes up 90% of plant-life in Como Lake.
Britta Belden is a Water Resource Project Manager with CRWD. She said, “The District selected Fluridone for this project because it is safe (no contact restrictions), and is effective at targeting curly-leaf pondweed before native plants start growing. Staff will closely monitor the lake’s response to determine whether future treatments are needed.”
Curly-leaf pondweed usually dies off in late June/July. With the application of Fluridone, die-off will be in April/May. This will prevent curly-leaf pondweed from producing seeds, one of the two ways that it usually spreads.
The treatment will also cause curly-leaf pondweed to die off before it reaches maturity, so there will be much less plant matter decomposing in the water. Decomposing curly-leaf pondweed reduces oxygen levels in the water, and makes phosphorous available for algae to consume. Algae blooms are typical following plant die off, so the less plant matter there is – the better.
Belden continued, “The hope is that eventually only spot treatments will be needed to reduce curly-leaf pondweed, as opposed to whole lake treatments. The surface area of Como Lake is 70 acres. We will never see complete eradication of curly-leaf pondweed, but we can at least get it under control so that native plants can grow.”

Why herbicide?
Bob Fossum is the Monitoring and Research Division Manager with CRWD. He said, “We didn’t want to use an herbicide in the beginning, but we’ve realized through careful study that this is our best option. Curly-leaf pondweed has overrun the ecosystem in Como Lake, making it difficult for native plants and other aquatic species to survive. Herbicide application is the only way we can address an infestation at this level. Mechanical harvesting of this particular invasive species can actually encourage its spread by creating plant fragments.”
The herbicide will be applied at a low concentration of four parts per billion, have no airborne particles, and be safe for humans, pets, birds, and insects. According to Fossum, “Fluridone has a minimal impact of native plants because it is applied so early in the season, before they begin growing.”
Fluridone does not pass from plants to insects to birds, and on up the food chain. The herbicide was applied by a licensed contractor; the application plan was reviewed and approved by the Minnesota DNR.

Alum treatment in May
Decades of stormwater runoff have resulted in phosphorous levels in Como Lake that are three times higher than the state standard. High phosphorous levels cause algae blooms, which choke oxygen from the lake and kill fish. CRWD and its partners have achieved a 20% reduction in phosphorous from stormwater runoff over the last two decades, but water quality in Como Lake remains poor.
To lower phosphorous levels, alum (aluminum sulfate) will also be applied to Como Lake. Alum is a chemical compound historically used in drinking water, and it is a proven lake management tool. Alum is safe for humans, animals, and aquatic life. It has no known adverse effects.
This treatment involves applying liquid alum beneath the surface of the water from a barge. When liquid alum comes in contact with water, it turns into a fluffy, non-toxic floc, which settles to the bottom of the lake. The floc binds to phosphorous in the water and forms a barrier, making the phosphorous unavailable to algae.
Depending on weather, a whole-lake alum application will take 4-10 days. During application, the Duck Point Parking Lot and Compass Point will be closed. Signage will notify and redirect visitors.
Visitors will see an immediate change in the water quality and clarity of Como Lake.
Email questions to Water Resource Project Manager Britta Belden at bbelden@capitolregionwd.org, or call 651.644.8888. Go to www.capitolregionwd.org and follow Capitol Region Watershed District on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to learn more about the Como Lake Management Plan.

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