Neal St. Anthony: A renaissance is gaining ground on the North Side

  • Article by: NEAL ST. ANTHONY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 24, 2008 - 9:07 PM

Development at Penn and Lowry Avenues is more evidence of the block-by-block commercial comeback of north Minneapolis.

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North End Hardware owner Darryl Weivoda is putting his money where his mouth is: on the North Side.

Photo: Neal St. Anthony , Star Tribune

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Three years ago, at the intersection of Penn and Lowry Avenues in north Minneapolis, a perpetrator with a semiautomatic pistol walked into the Penn Best Steak House and killed two men on the mistaken suspicion that one of them had hassled his brother. It was a senseless and violent act that made headlines that were repeated time and again on newscasts.

There goes the neighborhood.

But the killer was found, convicted and jailed. And crime is down and commerce is up at Lowry and Penn.

Darryl Weivoda, the owner of North End Hardware and Rental and a 30-year veteran of the corner, just spent a quarter-million dollars with a partner, Mitch Curtis, to buy an adjacent, dilapidated building at the intersection. Backed by Franklin Bank, the two are remodeling the building to house a couple of businesses.

It will be the new headquarters of Metro Check Cashing and a family-style restaurant for Kim Cabrini, a neighborhood resident and restaurant industry veteran.

Saturday will mark the grand opening of the $8 million Penn Lowry Crossings, just across the street from North End. It includes an Aldi grocery store, renovated Family Dollar Store and several other businesses.

On another corner, chiropractor Greg Olson plans to move his practice and martial arts center into renovated space.

And in Weivoda's expansive hardware store, which boasts nine handy employees, a steady stream of customers filed through Tuesday to buy furnace filters, plumbing supplies, lighting and to gawk at an impressive array of new Toro snowblowers.

"Economic development deters crime," said Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan, a North Side kid who still worships at the nearby Church of St. Philip and drops in at North End. "Darryl is in a league of his own. He's added windows on the street side of his business. He looks out for his neighbors. He always calls if there is any trouble."

Dolan said that, at its worst, Penn and Lowry was never as bad as Chicago and Lake or Franklin and 11th Avenues in south Minneapolis during their heydays as open-air drug markets and gin joints.

"Look at them now," Dolan said. "Restaurants, new businesses, stores. The city is now looking to the North Side, along Broadway and Lowry. We're using that model."

Penn and Lowry may never be the Galleria. But it is on the mend as a commercial hub.

"About 50 years ago this was known as 'Northtown,'" and there were 47 businesses around this intersection," Weivoda said. "Hubert Humphrey would come to visit when he was mayor and U.S. senator. We got down to about nine businesses. But with Aldi, that's 10. We're going in the right direction."

Aldi, with its high-quality, low-priced private-label foods, bright lights, colorful shopping bags and several dozen jobs is a win for neighborhood residents who often left the city to shop for groceries. Gordon Nesbit, an Aldi vice president, said the company has opened 18 city and suburban stores since entering the Twin Cities in 2004.

The Aldi store on resurgent E. Franklin on the South Side is one of its best performers.

"We do well at these inner-city locations, because there are just a lot more people within three miles of the stores," he said. "Everybody likes to save money by purchasing quality, private-label products at 40 percent less than usual price. It's more of a money thing than a demographic thing. But we do well in densely populated areas."

Steve Wellington, the venerable St. Paul developer, was lured to the Penn Lowry project by Council Member Barb Johnson and Teresa Carr, whose American Indian Business Development Corp. on the South Side is behind the renaissance of several blocks along E. Franklin. Carr is now developing property along W. Broadway as well.

The $8 million Penn Lowry Crossings deal was financed with private money. The city put in about $250,000 to clean up pollution.

"We want to be invested in that neighborhood and long-term owners," Wellington said this week. "There is a lot of life up there and a lot of people who care about north Minneapolis."

The resurrection of Penn and Lowry has been planned since 1992. It took that long to get neighbors, businesses, bankers and others to buy into the vision and nail down some plans. Most of that happened in the wake of the shootings in 2005.

Erik Hansen, a North Side resident and former commercial banker who is the senior project coordinator for the city planning and economic development department on the North Side, ticked off a list of completed or pending developments elsewhere along Lowry and a mile to the south along W. Broadway.

The housing downturn and foreclosures have hurt Weivoda's business recently. But he's invested for the long term.

"I get here every day at 6 a.m. and leave after 7 p.m.," Weivoda said "We're your old-fashioned hardware store, and I think the neighborhood needs us. The county and the city seem to care. I'm investing in the neighborhood because I think it will make our business better and we hope to get a return on our investment. I see this neighborhood getting better."

Neal St. Anthony • 612-673-7144 • nstanthony@startribune.com

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