BY DEBRA KEEFER RAMAGE
The Nokomis area centered around the business hub of 34th Avenue South and East 50th Street was already experiencing upheaval before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. While some businesses were doing well—the Bull’s Horn, Town Hall Lanes, the hardware store and others—some were teetering, closing, or despite being popular and well-loved, were running on thin margins.
The two neighborhood associations that operate on behalf of the surrounding neighborhoods—Standish-Ericsson Neighborhood Association (SENA) and Nokomis East Neighborhood Association (NENA)—were both struggling with declining revenues for neighborhood associations, rising costs, and structural uncertainty due to the expiration of the Neighborhood Revitalization Program and the looming changes—still undefined—under the new neighborhood plans from the city of Minneapolis. Then it was 34th Avenue’s turn for road construction.
And now, the businesses and households, the Nokomis Library, the schools, the elders’ residences and the churches in Nokomis are devastated along with the rest of the world by a pandemic.
As we have done in previous neighborhood focus articles since March, we’ll run through who’s closed, who’s open and under what new circumstances, for good or ill, and then we’ll concentrate a bit on the situation with Hennepin County libraries, now that the cozy and well-used Nokomis Library has been closed to the public for almost two months.
First the bad news. Two eateries iconic to the Nokomis area, but on opposite ends of the sophistication spectrum, both succumbed to other pressures and closed late in 2019. Boss Pizza and Chicken apparently closed with little fanfare in the fall, and Al Vento, a favorite white-tablecloth establishment with very good traditional Italian fare, closed with little warning in late November.
Definite COVID-19 victims in the area, although they are hoping to bounce back in the aftermath, are Town Hall Lanes, which is part of a brewery “family” of restaurants, and managed to stay open for delivery a few weeks before giving up, and Sassy Spoon, a unique, modern counter-service place with a line in gluten-free stuff. Sassy Spoon closed on March 16 and has still not managed to re-open in COVID mode.
Better news is to be found at the Bull’s Horn, which is open for takeout, curbside pickup only, with online ordering Tuesday through Saturday, 4 to 8 p.m. You can get beer or wine to take home with your meal. Every now and then, they lay on a gourmet special; a couple of weeks ago it was a meal kit of ramen noodle soup with smoked duck breast.
Mel-O-Glaze, a venerable and beloved bakery known for its donuts and fancy decorated cakes, appears to be open as normal except of course for “dining in.” I’m not kidding about the venerable part; Mel-O-Glaze was opened by the present owner’s parents in 1961.
MacDonald’s Liquor Store, where you can bring your well-behaved dog in to shop with you in better times, was on restricted hours from mid-March until May 2, but is now back to their normal hours, open seven days, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays and slightly less Saturday and Sunday. Please wear a mask and practice social distancing (it’s a cozy shop).
Another place that’s remained open throughout, with accommodations to preserve the health of staff and customers, is Oxendale’s supermarket. As in other shops, wear a mask there, shop efficiently, don’t handle things you’re not going to buy, etc. Oxendale’s, like many of the larger groceries, is also stepping up donations to food shelves.
Nokomis Hardware, too, has stayed open for the most part throughout March and April and into May. They have recently introduced a special service for customers who can’t or shouldn’t have in-person visits to shop. You can phone their staff and discuss your needs, and the staff will shop for you, take your payment details by phone, and bring your purchases out to the parking lot to deliver to your car. They’re also selling a very nice-looking Nokomis T-shirt (pre-order from their website https://www.nokomishardware.com) with proceeds to benefit local small businesses.
Nokomis Shoes is another mainstay of the retail hub around 34th Avenue. While they have been closed to the public since mid-March, fortunately they already had an online sales system, and while they don’t have curbside pickup, only delivery, they waive delivery fees for orders over $100.
In the services arena, Nelson’s Auto Repair is also on the avenue, at 54th Street. This very highly rated business, like most auto repair, auto sales and service stations, is open normal hours.
SENA has its offices on 34th Avenue now, next door to the Bull’s Horn. The SENA staff (already much reduced before the pandemic) is mostly working from home and meeting via Zoom, as is the SENA Board. (By the way, they need a couple more board members, so if you live or have a business in either Standish or Ericsson, please consider running.) As I mentioned before, it’s a very tricky time for neighborhood associations, with many uncertainties about the future.
And now we come to Nokomis Library, my favorite spot in the area. And it’s been shuttered since mid-March. Librarians working from home are available for a number of online resources, from technical advice to homework help, and are also at work on increasing the library’s online assets and services. Some of the Book Clubs which are also on Meetup.com are having Zoom meetups, and children’s story times have moved to Facebook Live.
But all is not well in library land. The Hennepin County Library system has made the national news, and not in a good way. An online magazine called Bookriot published a piece titled “Librarians in Pandemic Distress: Layoffs, Napkin Masks, and Fear of Retaliation,” by Kelly Jensen on April 24, 2020. Here is an excerpt:
“For institutions ranked among the most trustworthy and beloved, it’s shameful how the individuals who comprise libraries are treated as disposable … As the pandemic lurches forward, more and more libraries are doing something unexpected during a period of time when the digital services they provide are vital: They’re laying off workers or pushing them into alternate emergency jobs for which they’re untrained or unqualified. Librarians in Hennepin County, Minnesota, were told they could be assigned to work in hotel-based homeless shelters…[Note—with no hazard pay, PPE or training!]
“‘[T]he furloughs and layoffs that are occurring now are symptomatic of larger trends in our fields towards greater precarity of workers and lack of funding across different types of libraries and archives: unpaid internships, term-limited positions, low pay, employee surveillance, lack of benefits, anti-union management, outsourcing of technical services, eliminating positions upon retirements, etc.,’ said one of the advocates who requested to be anonymous. ‘I think like we are seeing elsewhere (in health care, housing, finance), the COVID-19 crisis is not creating new inequalities and disparities, but rather surfacing ones that have been percolating for a long time.’”
On the same day, AFSCME Local 2822 and other Hennepin County library workers were out protesting, for the second
week in a row, Hennepin County’s decision to keep eight libraries open for curbside pickup of books. Library specialists, the union and nationwide members of the #closethelibraries campaign, say these “services” are unnecessary, unsafe without using PPE, and if using it, wasteful, when even doctors and nurses don’t have enough. Some library staff are asking the public not to use this service but to use e-books or other alternatives.
From an NBC News report on the pushback from library workers and advocates, this quote:
“I love what I do, but nothing we can do right now is more important than keeping people safe,” said ([Callan]Bignoli, a Boston-based librarian and one of the leading organizers of the #closethelibraries campaign. “Using masks and gloves to deliver library books is gross. There are medical professionals, nursing homes and immunocompromised people who need them more than librarians do.”