The first year of light-rail transit construction along St. Paul's University Avenue has been a bummer for 700-plus small businesses battling barricades and detours.
Last month, a group of businesses asked a Ramsey County judge to suspend construction to force a better study of its impact on business as part of a bid for more compensation for the disruption.
The St. Paul Area and Midway Chambers of Commerce said last week that "stopping or delaying this project now will only create more harm to businesses on the route and further discourage customers from coming to businesses in the area."
Partly as a result of local-business pressure, the Metropolitan Council put in place a loan fund of up to $20,000 per applicant to help businesses of less than $2 million in sales mitigate some lost business.
"The 'LRT' construction killed me over the summer," said Alan Loth, owner since 1983 of Midway Pro Bowl in the Midway Shopping Center at University and Snelling avenues. "There were weeks when you could not get into the shopping center."
Loth, 60, said he's down from 27 to 24 employees and he's working 60 hours a week to help cover losses. The Neighborhood Development Center, a venerable community-based economic development agency, helped Loth get the loan.
"I'm appreciative, and I can't say $20,000 doesn't help," Loth added. "It was gone to pay bill bills three days after I got it. It is going to be tough to stay in business over the next couple of years. Revenue is pretty flat and costs are going up."
The loan program came at the insistence of businesses that knew they would be whacked for at least a year as construction moved eastward toward downtown St. Paul. NDC has worked to streamline the application process since it was introduced early this year, said Mike Temali, CEO of the 25-year-old Neighborhood Development Center.
More than 50 businesses have received the no-interest loans, which are forgiven at a rate of 20 percent per year as long as the owner stays put. About $3.25 million remains in the fund.
Brian Singer, the NDC official overseeing the loan program, said the program is available only to businesses with retail customers. Owners can apply as construction hits their block. About 500 of the 700 businesses along the 11-mile Central Corridor that serve retail traffic are eligible.
Mike Temali's NDC, which has helped hundreds of street-front entrepreneurs start and grow businesses in rebuilt nooks along E. Lake Street in Minneapolis and on University and Selby avenues in St. Paul, among others, has been invited by Global Detroit, an economic development umbrella, to share its successful model of entrepreneurial counseling, lending and support in several Detroit neighborhoods.
NDC, also a driver behind the successful Midtown Global Market on E. Lake Street, was one of 10 organizations nationally to receive the Next Awards for Opportunity Finance in November. Sponsored by the Wachovia Wells Fargo Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation, the award included a $25,000 grant. NDC, supported in part by banks and foundations, was credited in 2009 and 2010 by the judges with helping NDC-trained entrepreneurs start 80 new business, create 250 new jobs, and occupy several dozen once-abandoned buildings that have been restored.
NDC-assisted businesses now employ more than 2,000 people and return $68 million annually in rents, taxes and otherwise to the Twin Cities economy.
MALT-O-MEAL A HOT BRAND
Malt-O-Meal, a frugal outfit that has no ad agency or focus groups, has been named one of America's 25 Hottest Brands for 2011 by Advertising Age magazine.
The annual issue recognizes the 25 most innovative and successful brands of the year, including titans such as Dove and the Jeep Wrangler.
The Malt-O-Meal ready-to-eat line won in the cereal category. The Minnesota company says it has tripled its market share in the past 10 years and that sales rose 5 percent in 2011, outpacing the huge likes of Kellogg's, General Mills and Post.
"To be successful, we know we have to do things very differently than big corporate cereal marketers," said Paul Reppenhagen, director of consumer marketing. " ... We're proving that our nontraditional approach can work just as well as the accepted 'norm' of high prices, expensive television advertising, coupons, and constant in-store price promotions.
"What Malt-O-Meal doesn't spend on advertising, we pass on to the consumer, resulting in everyday prices that are substantially lower ...."
Malt-O-Meal also sells most of its cereal in a plastic bag, compared with traditional cereals that are bagged in a cardboard box.
Malt-O-Meal said that cuts waste and expense.
Malt-O-Meal's bestseller: Frosted Mini Spooners.