The boarded-up storefront and the cracked, faded rectangular sign in recent weeks have been hiding the imminent reopening of Chicago Lake Liquors, a landmark on Lake Street in Minneapolis since 1959.
On Thursday, the plywood panels will be removed and the neighborhood will see another small but important sign of revival on Lake, where dozens of businesses were damaged over several nights of rioting and looting following the police killing of George Floyd in May. Six fires were set in Chicago Lake Liquors during those nights.
"The whole store was gutted. We were left with just the four walls standing," owner John Wolf said Wednesday.
Each night, neighbors hooked up fire hoses and put them out.
"That's a huge reason why I wanted to rebuild," he said. "I did it as a thank you and an impetus for others to do the same. If people walk away, so will others."
Wolf spent more than $3 million to rebuild the store, completely rearranging the layout to allow for more variety and room for back stock above some of the displays. Insurance covered "a lot" of the expense, he said.
"It's not perfect, but it's the hardest thing I've ever done," said Wolf. "We had nonstop delays in getting supplies like signage and stock."
Brighter overhead lighting, a walk-in beer cooler, and larger selection of wines and tequila were added.
Wolf is continuing his strategy of selling products at a high volume and low prices. He bought Chicago Lake Liquors in 2000 and then opened Liquor Boy in St. Louis Park in 2012.
Wolf sold Liquor Boy in 2018 to Judd Greenagel, who maintained the low-price model. The two remain friendly competitors.
"He never hesitated about reopening," Greenagel said of Wolf. "He spared no expense. It looks better than it did after the 2019 remodel — new flooring, more convenient checkouts and added security."
Wolf declined to discuss the details of the store's new security measures. He noted the city of Minneapolis removed its initial resistance to the addition of shutters at businesses. Wolf plans to add them later.
About 25 employees worked at the store before the rioting and the pandemic. All salaried managers were kept on. They helped other staffers find jobs at other area liquor stores, including at Liquor Boy. Most of the original employees will return to Chicago Lake Liquors after its six-month closure.
"I'm happy to reopen with a sense of normalcy," Pete Edlund, Chicago Lake Liquor's general manager, said. "My hope is that customers will feel like we never left."
Malachi Hinkle, who lives and works in the neighborhood, said he doesn't drink alcohol, but he's glad to have another business reopen along Lake Street.
"It's been really slow around here since COVID," he said while working at Global Market across the street from Chicago Lake Liquors. "Maybe it will give other businesses some motivation to reopen."
In addition to the liquor store, Wolf also owns the adjacent Chicago Lake Coin Laundry and the new 48-unit Sophi apartment building, which is now 90% occupied.
The expanded Los Ocampo restaurant is a ground-floor tenant in the apartment building.
John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633