Popular Hennepin Avenue businesses struggle through pandemic (and cope)


While most in Minneapolis agree that a shutdown of all but essential businesses is necessary, it is rough on many shops and restaurants now struggling to survive. While owners, workers and customers speculate when the governor will ease restrictions, businesses are finding their way through the crisis. Hennepin Avenue, usually bustling, is quiet with many businesses closed. Others are still operating, with restrictions.

Perennial Cycle
3342 Hennepin Ave.

Luke Breen’s Perennial Cycle is open. Bikes are essential business, says Gov. Walz.

Bike shops in Minnesota have been designated essential business, to some extent because of Perennial Cycle’s owner, Luke Breen. “Before, bikes were seen by a lot of people as no more than a toy. But, many of our customers work in the healthcare industry. Every day this week we have had a nurse, a doctor or a lab tech pick up their bikes that they use for commuting to work,” said Breen.
“We are also seeing quite a few bikes that have not been used in the past several years,” Breen said. “People are hoping that getting out on a bike for some exercise will help to get through these long weeks of social distancing.”
Just three days before Gov. Walz announced “shelter in place,” Breen explained his reasoning to his state senator and representative, Scott Dibble and Frank Hornstein, who then presented it to Gov. Walz. The result was, bike shops were added to the list of essential businesses.
“Being considered essential is a blessing in that we’re able to keep some form of the business operating, though our business will be less than 50 percent of what we’d expect for spring. It is quite stressful having to work out new ways of operating the business safely for those of us working, as well as our customers,” he said.
Once the lockdown is lifted, Breen hopes that his 25-year-old business will continue. “I’d be thrilled to simply get back into the groove of running a viable business.”
Breen said that some of his staff were not comfortable working in a public space and are getting unemployment through the state’s COVID-19 program. He’s also applied for the Federal Payroll Protection Program and the Small Business Administration program.

Fit 1st Running
2327 Hennepin Ave.

Emmanuel Minter, owner of Fit 1st Running, has converted to online, at least for now.

This small specialty retail store focuses on providing walking, running and fitness shoes for the serious athlete. Shoes can be bought off the rack, but the shop also offers custom orthotic fittings and custom shoes, including dress and casual shoes. In addition, The FootWorks, a Performance Orthotics Company, run by Jake Skala, is located inside Fit 1st Running.
Fit 1st Running’s owner, Emmanuel Minter, said he was reluctant to apply for any of the specialty loans, but did apply for one geared to helping him keep his staff employed. “I’ve had to cut hours and will wait to see what the governor says about opening up,” he said. “We are a fitting shoe store, so our customers are very loyal and have been able to order from our website. They can access me via email or phone pretty much anytime.”
During normal times, people can come for in-store fittings, but now, the business operates through the internet. The orders to close non-essential businesses to members of the public have meant that foot traffic has been banned, for now.
“We have had to make extreme adjustments to receive some income by basically overhauling our presence on the internet. This will help us out when we are post lockdown. So, I guess you could consider it a silver lining.”
Once the crisis has passed, Minter hopes to again open for regular business hours. “We will need to prepare for people coming in who have been waiting longer than usual to replace their much-needed walking and running shoes … [which] are more than just a style.”

Lowry Hill Meats
1934 Hennepin Ave.

Lowry Hill Meats is open for curbside pickup of ready-made and ready-to-cook meats and more.

Eric Sather opened his sandwich shop and meat specialty store in 2015, two weeks before Thanksgiving, so he is used to working during stressful times. Even so, it’s still hard to adjust to a world with stay-at-home policies. The shop is adjusting, he said, with shortened hours for employees. He has also set up additional structured cleaning and daily team meetings.
For customers, curbside service is available, so people can still order from the expansive sandwich menu, including a vegetarian buttered radish sandwich made with shaved radish, butter salt and greens on a baguette. There is also an American cheese/provolone combo on a brioche. But, this is a meat shop, where a roasted pork shoulder with shaved cabbage and pickled mustard seed is popular as is a three-meats (salami, turkey and ham) “French Exit.”
The take-home-and-cook-yourself choices include poultry, beef, pork, various sausage choices, deli meats, soups and stocks, frozen empanadas, eggs and dairy, fish and a selection of pantry items and produce. If you need barbeque sauces, woodchips or charcoal for grilling, they carry those too.
Right now, they are asking customers to text orders to 612-999-4200 and pay with Apple Pay or a chip card. Delivery is available in Minneapolis.

The Cafe Meow
2323 Hennepin Ave.

If you are lonely and shut inside, a friend is awaiting you (online for now) at The Cafe Meow.

Owing to the governor’s executive order, Jessica Burge closed her café, with plans to reopen once the order is lifted.
During normal times, customers can come to the café for fair trade coffee and tea and for sweets such as brownies, muffins and cookies.
Also, people looking for a stress reliever can take their snacks into the cat lounge where they can, “for $10 purr person purr hour,” pet real cats, all available for adoption. While the cafe is closed, anyone looking for a new feline friend can still adopt. But, says Burge, a key aspect of the adoption—hanging out to get to know their new cat at the cafe—is not possible.
“What we have done to help replace this is we have set up a live camera for viewers to watch our cats anytime at twitch.tv/thecafemeow.”
In addition to the live interactions with cats at Cafe Meow, and also temporarily on hold, are the cat-centered special events, such as Catgo and Yoga with Cats.
Like other businesses, the Cafe Meow is adapting. “We greatly reduced our employee hours. Our customers are bummed, to say the least, but are trying to help out any way they can. They have been truly wonderful by helping buy cat food, buying from our online store and buying eGift cards to help us out. If we can make it through this,” Burge said, “our plan is to open and hope that lots of people will come in and help get money flowing into the business again.”
About cat adoptions, Burge added, “We would like to note that all adoptions are through our rescue partners so we do not see any of the adoption fee to help care for the cats. When we opened, we wanted to take that expense on and provide the rescues with an extra resource to foster many cats with no expense to them.”

Isles Bun & Coffee
1424 West 28th St.

Isles Bun & Coffee is still ready to fufill your sweets cravings.

The folks at Isles Bun & Coffee took advantage of the stay-at-home policy to upgrade their small café. They spent two weeks repainting, doing repairs to a drain and fixing some electrical problems, just in time to open for takeout the day before Easter. The full counter remodel is still set for the future.
Since then, the coffee shop has re-opened for business, so you can satisfy your cravings for special sweets on Tuesdays through Sundays from 6:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. They sell their specialty pastries in large quantities for offices or family parties. The larger sizes are still available and some can be ordered frozen and ready to bake. Single servings are popular too. If being shut inside makes you want to indulge in sweets, Isles Bun & Coffee offers the muffin of the day, caramel sticky buns, rustic cakes, cookies, biscotti and the “puppy dog tails,” a smaller version of their sweet cinnamon buns.
If you missed Mardi Gras, you can still celebrate, from the safety of your home, with a traditional King Cake, covered with cream cheese frosting and colorful sugar sprinkled on the top.

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