Josh Savage got his hair cut for years at Phil’s Barber Shop in south Minneapolis. When the shop’s owner was ready to retire, Savage knew right away how the space could be used. He’d buy it and add it to three other buildings he and wife, Sheree, had reopened throughout Minneapolis. While you can no longer drop in for a buzz cut, you will find each space buzzing with activity for lots of other reasons. The couple, owners of Hero Plumbing, Heating & Cooling, have made the four intimate spaces available for free to all community members who need a spot to gather. Want to host your AA meeting there? Sure. Birthday party? Enjoy. Savage shares more about this unusual community-building approach.
Q: Let’s start with the basics. How large are the buildings? How many people can you accommodate?
A: The spaces range from 500- to 800-square-feet. Three locations seat 32 people and one location seats 50. That is the number of chairs we provide. But on many occasions, such as a wedding reception or baby shower, two of our spaces can hold up to 70 people; people are allowed to bring their own chairs in those cases.
Q: Where are the buildings?
A: The first location is at 400 S. Cedar Lake Rd., the second, 3554 S. Bryant Av., the third, 514 Lowry Av. in northeast Minneapolis. The former barbershop at 5450 Nicollet Av. is the newest. All have street parking.
Q: How many times have they been used by community members?
A: Nearly 8,000 times in four years. You could say it’s been a pretty huge success.
Q: I am happy to say that. What’s the appeal, aside from the obvious free-of-charge deal?
A: In many older districts of our city, you don’t have community spaces. Often people use coffee shops. But these spaces you get all to yourself.
Q: What types of events are the most commonly hosted?
A: We’ve seen everything. Holiday dinners, fitness classes, PTA meetings, AA meetings. Family events over the holidays are huge. A lot of theater groups use the spaces to rehearse. We’ve had a lot of weddings. And funerals.
A: Families might not have a lot of excess money for a funeral, so this is one cost they don’t have to bear. The same is true for weddings of young couples. It’s hard to spend less than $20,000 anymore. You can invite 40 of your closest friends and family and use one of our spaces to celebrate.
Q: May people bring in food and alcohol?
A: Food and beverages, yes. No alcohol. Guests cater in or bring in their own food and utensils. All four buildings have Wi-Fi and bathrooms.
Q: Are they handicap accessible?
A: Two of the spaces are.
Q: What are the hours?
A: 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Thursday; 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Q: Do you require a damage deposit?
A: We do require a driver’s license and credit card, in case there are damages. We had a little phase when teenagers were renting them, doing damage, bothering the neighbors. So we changed the hours and required the driver’s license and credit card payment.
Q: Is cleanup required?
A: Yes. The locations supply all cleaning, toilet paper, disinfectant wipes, brooms, mops, garbage cans — general maintenance. A cleaning crew comes through twice a week, but you must pick up after yourselves.
Q: This is all so nice but what’s in it for you as business people?
A: Our signage is up at each location. The association between our company and doing good in our neighborhoods is worth it. But being a part of the community in this way is just plain fun. We’re also big fans of Simpson House, which offers support to people facing housing insecurity. We serve food there a few times a year and take care of their plumbing. It helps me, honestly, to drive by there knowing we’re doing a little something to make a positive difference. We also sponsor farmers markets in south Minneapolis.
Q: Have you had any complaints aside from those teens?
A: Sometimes musical groups practice. One of the spaces has apartments directly above it. We just ask that they just be respectful.
Q: You’ve been part of the family business for a long time.
A: My dad bought the business when I was about 4. I’d go to work with my dad and go with him on service calls. But I never had any intention of going into the family business. I served in the National Guard after 9/11 and was deployed to Iraq running a construction company, and I became an officer. Sheree is a Lt. Colonel in the Air National Guard. We have two cute kids. We bought the business from my dad in 2010.
Q: What kind of feedback do you hear about the spaces?
A: They say they’re really surprised that it’s available for free. They express genuine gratitude.
Q: How does one secure a spot?
A: Visit the HERO website: callhero.com/our-story/community-gathering-spaces.