BY DEBRA KEEFER RAMAGE
Retail shops on Bloomington Avenue
Mercado Central, a nonprofit venue on the corner of Bloomington Avenue and Lake Street, contains several retail businesses. It serves as a business incubator specifically geared toward Latinos, as both business owners and customers. There has been some turnover among the vendors there, especially since the pandemic and civil unrest (during which Mercado Central sustained some of the worst vandalism but was fortunately not burned) but there is usually a good mix of clothing, jewelry and watches, shoes, florists, sporting equipment, general and specialty food stores, and more.
The Quilt Shop Co-op is a fabric and sewing supplies store that caters to quiltmakers. As just a normal small business, the quilt shop (formerly called Glad Creations) has been there for over 40 years, but a little over three years ago, when it closed due to the owners’ retirement, its loyal customer base got together and formed a consumer cooperative to buy it out. The Quilt Shop Co-op also sells finished quilts, as well as patterns and even kits, so if you think you might want to start a new hobby, they’re there for you.
Another innovative sewing-related business on Bloomington Avenue is RETHINK Tailoring and Sewing Lounge at 3449 Bloomington Ave. This business combines “upcycling” worn clothing into new clothing or other items, sewing new items (with used fabric) from patterns, a basic tailoring service (which is currently paused), classes in all of the above, and retail sales of their clever and attractive upcycled products. Now in the not-quite-post pandemic period, RETHINK is offering both in-person and virtual classes. Classes cover such indispensable skills as “Machine denim repair,” “Take in waist on jeans,” and “Intro to pockets.” They also have kids’ summer camps, going on now, and it’s not too late to join.
KNO Woodworks at 4649 Bloomington builds, designs and sells wooden fences, pergolas and decks. They custom design solutions for privacy, shade, pet safety, curb appeal or whatever your needs. They have been in business about 10 years and have a 5/5 rating on Google. Check out the enormous gallery of pictures on their website.
Irreverent Bookworm is an independent, queer-woman-owned bookstore selling new books, used books, book-related items, notebooks and journals, and tarot decks and similar items. For their used books, they offer store credit in exchange for your gently used books in categories that align with their customers, purpose and inventory. Although they don’t appear to have any upcoming events at the moment, they have hosted book clubs and author events in the past and hopefully will again. Irreverent Bookworm is at 5163 Bloomington Ave. and is closed on Monday and Tuesday.
Food and drink on Bloomington Avenue
Mercado Central, which I mentioned above under retail shops, is also all about food. A lot of successful Mexican and other Latino food businesses were incubated in Mercado Central, including Manny’s Tortas, where I often got lunch when I worked across the street at In the Heart of the Beast. (Manny’s has graduated out of Mercado Central but can still be found at Midtown Global Market and other places.) A visit to Mercado Central may be in order to see what’s up there these days.
A bit farther south is the busy corner of 35th and Bloomington, where you will find two really excellent (and really different) places to eat. May Day Cafe was closed for a long time due to the pandemic but is now open 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Thursday through Monday. May Day Cafe has been in business since 1996 and has some of the most scrumptious baked goods you’ll find anywhere.
Across 35th Street is the second incarnation and location of the vegan restaurant and bar Reverie. They have a small but excellent list of wines, beers and ciders, mostly from local breweries, cideries and wineries. They are now serving weekend brunches as well as dinner. They do a brisk takeout business, and also have a large and comfortable patio.
A few blocks farther south is Mama Sheila’s House of Soul, with buffet-style service. Mama Sheila’s is one of the few places in Minnesota I have been to that takes me back to East Point, Ga., where I grew up eating soul food and not even knowing it, so I guess that means it’s “authentic.” It’s good, that’s all I can say.
Finally, at 5204 Bloomington Ave. there is Hot Plate. Another down-to-earth eatery of some longevity, Hot Plate is a breakfast place, open from 8 a.m. every day but Tuesday, and closing at 1 p.m. on weekdays, 2 p.m. on weekends.
Services, organizations and nonprofits on Bloomington Avenue
Bloomington Avenue has a larger-than-average number of services, service organizations and nonprofits along its length in Minneapolis. Right at the start of the avenue, at 2001 Bloomington Ave., you’ll find Minneapolis’s most well-known community clinic. Pronounced “kook,” its actual name is Community-University Health Care Center or
CUHCC. Besides being a community clinic, it’s also a teaching clinic for the University of Minnesota Medical School and Dental School. CUHCC is run by some really excellent people. They will walk you through applying for MNsure or MinnesotaCare or Medicaid, and if you’re too high-income for any programs, but still low-income, they have their own discount sliding scale you can apply for.
East of Bloomington Avenue, at 2600 E. 38th St., is Friendship Academy of the Arts (FAA), a tuition-free, K-8 public charter school with a private school feel. First opened in 2001, FAA has continued to grow each year, and now has two campuses, one for kindergarten through first grade, and the other for students in grades 2-8. Their fine arts-focused curriculum provides students with daily art experiences. FAA’s teachers and arts specialists not only help students learn about their own arts heritage and the importance of fine arts to all cultures, but also integrate the arts throughout the core curriculum subjects of reading, math, science, social studies, physical education and health. At Friendship Academy of the Arts, children develop the skills and attitudes to build lifelong meaning through music, dance, theater and visual art.
Another interesting organization back on Bloomington Avenue and 35th Street is Greenbrier Montessori, a micro-school for children ages three through six. Greenbrier Montessori is part of the Wildflower School Network which is described as “an ecosystem of decentralized Montessori micro-schools that support children, teachers, and parents.”
Modus Locus is on this same corner, right next to Reverie. Modus Locus is an art gallery but several other things in addition. It is a co-office space with two current resident offices on site. It is an event space that you can rent for special art shows, yoga classes, film screenings, workshops, rehearsals or a variety of other uses. It’s a community educational resource with classes on a variety of topics. They also sell art.
There are a couple of bike shops or repair places on Bloomington. One of the oldest and most respected is Nokomis Cycle. It’s a private business but very community-oriented (as the best bike shops are). It was founded in 1994 as initially just a repair shop. Now they also sell bikes – new ones, custom-built ones, and electric bikes – as well as bike accessories. And they have a long-standing tradition of the Monday Night Ride. Every Monday from March to September, weather permitting, bike riders set off at 7 p.m. from the shop to do a circuit around nearby lakes.
The other one is more consciously a community-led organization. This is The Grease Pit, which we have covered for the last few years, but due to COVID and other forces, the story has changed a bit every year. The Grease Pit started as a “not for profit DIY bike repair shop.” Basically, it was a bike repair tool library with an all-volunteer team of helpers. People who used their services were encouraged to give back in time, money or a bike. They recycled and sold cheap bikes to fund the project, pure uncontrolled mutual aid. As might be expected, in the time of the uprising in 2020, The Grease Pit became a hub of all sorts of help beyond bike repair. It’s now settling back into something more like its earlier form. The shop itself is open Wednesday and Thursday, 6 to 9 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday, 3 to 6 p.m.