When Bigos Management bought the Kellogg Square apartment tower in January for $51 million, it was hailed as good news for St. Paul and a sign that light-rail transit and the Saints' ballpark already were having an impact on the downtown housing market.
But it turned out to be not so good for Jerry Whebbe and Ben Granda, two small business owners on the skyway in Kellogg Square who were told in late September that they had to be out of their shops by Oct. 31 — a timeline they say may run them out of business for good.
Bigos plans to convert the building's remaining commercial space into more apartments.
Whebbe, 63, is a disabled Vietnam vet who has run Anjolen's Shoe Repair at Kellogg Square for seven years. Granda, 62, the owner of Ben's Jewelers for 10 years, has health issues and recently lost his wife.
Both wonder why they couldn't have been given a little more time to move, especially since Bigos got the property last winter.
"You can't relocate a business in 30 days and just go anywhere and be successful," said Whebbe.
"It would have been nice if they had said, 'Look guys, we have plans for this building and you're not part of them.' But they haven't done that," Granda said.
Bigos Management, one of the largest apartment owners in the Twin Cities, is spending about $7 million to renovate the 43-year-old tower at Kellogg and Robert. The company has added an exercise room and a business center, and is redoing the lobby and all apartments and hallways.
Owner Ted Bigos said Wednesday that the businesses were given 45-day notice under the terms of their month-to-month leases; they say it was closer to 30 days.
"There is much space that's available [for leasing] on the St. Paul skyway," Bigos said. "They had all the time in the world. We had construction timelines we entered into."
Whebbe and Granda said they've looked at other skyway locations. Everything they've looked at is bigger than they need, which also means it's more than they can afford.
"I need 500 square feet and there's not a place on the skyway under 1,200 square feet," Whebbe said.
Attorney Alan Weinblatt, who also has an office at Kellogg Square, asked the Bigos firm to give Granda two additional months.
"November and December are his two busiest months … [and] Ben's business requires that they maintain quantities of jewels and gems. Finding another place for his business with this short notice is extremely difficult," Weinblatt wrote to Bigos.
Both Whebbe and Granda have been turning away customers as they try to figure out their next moves. Whebbe is packing, but he'd like some compensation either from Bigos or the city to relocate. Granda isn't packing yet, hoping that he can get more time.
Customers on Wednesday were stopping at both shops to express concern and support. Dru Frykberg, who lives and works in downtown St. Paul, was saddened by the news.
"There really is this community in downtown St. Paul that relies on people like this for services," she said. "For long-standing businesses like this to be evicted with so little notice just doesn't seem right."