BY DEBRA KEEFER RAMAGE
Richfield – suburban or urban, but mostly rectangular and growing
In a previous year, I wrote about how Richfield used to be much larger in area, and if things had continued as they were, the Twin Cities could have been Richfield and St. Paul. But through its good nature (allowing Minneapolis to annex northern chunks – four times!) and bad luck (the growth of the airport meant the shrinking of Richfield) and even generosity (Richfield carved out its own western edges into the villages of St. Louis Park and Edina), Richfield was whittled away.
It is now just a tidy little rectangle bounded on three sides by relatively straight highways (Crosstown Hwy. 62 to the north, I-494 to the south, and Xerxes Avenue, a county highway, to the west) and on the east by the airport. Although Richfield doesn’t have any urban areas or anything you could call a “downtown,” it does have a growing population and a certain degree of ethnic and cultural diversity.
The 2020 census put Richfield’s population just a few heads short of 37,000. Demographic data is only available from the 2010 census, but at that time, Richfield was 69% white (compared to over 80%, over 88% and over 60% white for neighboring Bloomington, Edina and Minneapolis, respectively). Richfield has a population of over 18% Latino of any race, over 6% Asian, and over 10% “other.” Richfield is currently governed by the first Latina mayor in Minnesota history, Maria Regan Gonzalez.
Richfield’s parks, and the Ice Arena ecosystem
For such a small and suburban city, Richfield has a lot of parks – 23 of them, according to Wikipedia. The city center is Veterans Memorial Park and the area around it, including City Hall, a block to the south. Veterans Park is the largest park in the city, apart from the Wood Lake Nature Center.
The Richfield Ice Arena complex sits within the southwest corner of the city square containing Veterans Park, along with the VFW Post 5555, and a private elite sports training facility called ETS Performance. The Ice Arena was built in 1971 by the city of Richfield. It is home to a large number of teams, associations and clubs, including the Adult Hockey Association (AHA, established in 2001), Richfield Skating School, Richfield (youth) Hockey Association, the hockey teams of Richfield High School and Holy Angels High School, and the Richfield Curling Club (established 2018). Despite all that official activity, with two regulation-size rinks, the Ice Arena manages to offer many hours of open skating and open hockey.
Diversity in dining and grocery shopping
Richfield doesn’t have loads of restaurants, but what it does have includes a lot of diversity in the cuisines offered. There are countless small taquerias and Mexican places in Richfield, but I am going to highlight a couple of other ethnic foodways here.
One is the heavily Greek-influenced Mediterranean/Middle Eastern food including things like gyros, tabbouleh, hummus and falafel. A small restaurant that used to be called Aida and is now called Tazzah is a good source for this type of food. In addition to those standards, they offer flaming falafel with a spicy sauce, Greek lamb sausage, grilled vegetables, and a syrupy Egyptian semolina cake called basbousa. Tazzah is located at 2208 W. 66th St., just east of Penn Avenue.
Another eating establishment that caught my attention is called Soul Bowl. Although it has some overlap with the soul food of BBQ and Southern African American cuisine, it’s also got significant differences, because its base cuisine is that of the West Indies. This foodway is influenced in part by the same African roots as U.S.-based soul food, but also by the significant influx of East Indian people and by the longer tradition of association with British colonization and British cuisine than the U.S. has.
Soul Bowl, unlike many soul food eateries, has no pork-based main dishes at all. The “Build-Your-Own” bowls are constructed of a starchy base – yellow rice, mac and cheese, or roasted potatoes – with a protein choice and one or more sides and sauces. All elements are individually priced. The sides include collard greens, but also plantains, candied yams or smoked mushrooms. The protein choices are three types of chicken (jerk, BBQ or fried), soy-based vegan chicken the same three ways, and salmon, either Cajun or Mambo style.
Soul Bowl is located inside a small Caribbean-Indian grocery store called Galaxy Foods. This place looks intriguing, and I am planning a visit in the near future. They carry an amazing array of specialty foods including canned goods and groceries, Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, British brands, Caribbean vegetables, and frozen meat and fish. They’re located at 7128 Chicago Ave.
Lots of choices for car maintenance and repair
Richfield is spoiled for choice when it comes to car repair spots. Two that we will mention are quite close together on East 66th Street. The first is Repair-Rite Automotive. This shop also has a sister location in Eagan. In addition to offering all types of auto repair, with a one-year parts warranty and all ASE-certified mechanics, they have a service station with Marathon gas, a convenience store with fresh coffee, and a car wash. They are open six days a week, Monday through Saturday, until 6 p.m.
The other one within a block, also on East 66th Street, is Crest Auto Service, where the owner personally guarantees their work. Crest specializes in all types of auto repair services, as well as brake shop work and fuel pump servicing. Open five days a week, Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., they have been in business for over 20 years and have a phenomenal 4.9 rating on Google, with 40 of 41 reviewers giving it a 5/5.
Another shop popular with customers is John’s Auto Shop at 6958 Cedar Ave. (This is parallel to and just west of Highway 77 near the Diagonal Boulevard exit.) Owners Clint and Jon are the fourth generation in their family to run an auto repair shop, having started their careers at a young age working for their father Kurt at Action Auto in South Minneapolis. In 2017, Jon and Clint purchased HomeTown Auto in Lakeville, and in 2020 they acquired John’s Auto Shop. This shop’s added values are a two-year warranty on replacement parts and loaner cars for use while yours is being worked on. They also have very high, near 5/5, ratings on Google, Consumers’ Checkbook and Facebook.
Some other local businesses for pet lovers, crafters and more
A very interesting business in Richfield is Johnston’s Vac & Sew. The vacuum cleaners they sell are so top of the line, I have only heard of one of their brands, Miele – I used to have one in England, and it was awesome. They also repair vacuum cleaners of all brands, and they install central vacuum cleaners, a technology I have only heard legends of but never known anyone who actually had one.
And then there are the sewing machines. Admittedly, I am not a fabric crafter of any kind, but I have friends who are, and still I have never heard of any of the sewing machine brands they sell. They look very space-age, that’s all I can say. But what I love about this side of the business is that they sponsor a group of crafters called Valley West Sewing Sharing Group. (The sewing side of the business is called Valley West Sewing Center.) This group meets in the store monthly and also has a Facebook page, a newsletter and periodic social gatherings.
For pet owners and animal lovers in Richfield and South Minneapolis, there is a VCA Animal Care Hospital located at 1208 E. 66th St. VCA, short for Veterinary Centers of America Inc., is a nationwide network of animal hospitals and veterinary clinics promoting best practices and advanced techniques. The hospital in Richfield, along with several community partners including the Animal Humane Society and Pet Haven, Minnesota’s first foster-care rescue organization (founded in 1952!) offers all the basic services of a vet clinic/hospital plus preventive care and a “wellness club” for pets and their owners.
Education from infancy to adulthood
Richfield is known for its excellent public schools, but it also is home to a few parochial and private schools. The first one we’re going to mention covers the preschool and after-school crowd from infancy to third grade, and the second one provides post-secondary education and more for a particular population.
First is Creative Early Learning, founded in 1974 by the Richfield Lutheran Church as a non-religious outreach ministry. It is housed in the church but operates as an independent entity and offers child care services with educational and art enrichment. They welcome families of all cultural and religious backgrounds, providing early learning and child care services for children ages six weeks to 10 years. Their stated mission is to provide a learning environment “where every child feels love and success every day.” While school readiness is their main goal, their programs are designed to also help children succeed socially and emotionally.
The other educational institution is Minnesota Independence College and Community. It’s located inside the Colony Apartments at 7501 Logan Ave. This interesting educational nonprofit is geared toward helping high school graduates with extreme neurodivergence or developmental disabilities make progress toward independent adulthood. They have a three-year program resulting in independent living skills, career training and certification, and social-emotional skills. The program is augmented with a Community Program and a Summer Program.