The early-morning rumbling shook up the block. It hadn't sounded this loud around here in two years. That's about how long the once-notorious Big Stop Foods in north Minneapolis had been shut down.

Under a bright sun and clear blue skies, the store in the resurgent Jordan neighborhood was reduced to rubble Thursday.

"This is to the liberation of the North Side and the exorcism of crime from this neighborhood," proclaimed Council Member Don Samuels during a champagne toast. He was with a small, smiling contingent of Jordan residents who helped him cut his political teeth in front of the same store five years ago.

"Cheers!" they said, lifting their plastic cups in the air as the big, yellow bulldozer took another "whack" at the one-story brick-and-glass structure.

Unbeknownst to many residents and neighborhood leaders, the city had secretly laid plans to demolish the controversial corner convenience store at 26th and Knox Avenues N.

During a near six-year span, the Big Stop had been a refuge for teenage drug dealers, the scene of a brutal murder and, when a riot started across the street, the site where two Star Tribune reporters were beaten in an incident that drew national attention.

Subsequently, Big Stop became a target of police, who docked their "Big Blue" mobile command unit there and held news conferences to announce new crime-fighting initiatives. It sparked the creation of the city's Grocery Store Task Force, which keeps an eye on everything from fire code and food safety to police calls at stores around the city that are reputed trouble spots.

"This store was responsible for creating a domestic terrorist zone," Samuels said.

In 2005, activity around Big Stop prompted more than 200 police calls. Two months after the store's operating license was revoked in April 2006, calls to the area dropped almost 100 percent.

The city recently purchased the site at 1800 26th Av. N. for $190,000, well below market value, to ensure another problem business would not take Big Stop's place.

Demolition talk surfaced. So did the idea of creating single-family housing on the site. But the area has one of the city's highest foreclosure rates.

So demolition won.

"I'm ecstatic," said longtime Jordan resident Deb Wagner, who lives a block from the store. She recalled her neighbors -- many of whom eventually moved away -- picketing in front of the store, begging and pleading with drug peddlers to leave.

"If the store had been of value to the area, it would still be here," Wagner said.

The occasion was momentous enough that Inspector Mike Martin, head of the Minneapolis Police's Fourth Precinct, let the public consumption of alcohol slide, albeit under his close watch.

"This is a great day for the Jordan area," he said. "The neighborhood worked really hard for this," said Martin, who was taking pictures to show his unit later.

"Probably every cop on the North Side has answered calls to this place," Martin added. "They will be glad it's gone."

Not everybody interested in the site was invited to Thursday's knock-down party.

"I had no idea," said Jerry Moore, executive director of the Jordan Area Community Council (JACC). "We didn't get the city's memo that this was happening."

Moore and Benjamin Myers, JACC's board chairman, were among a collective who had proposed the spot be used for an office site or a small minority-owned business. He acknowledges tension between Samuels and the current JACC board.

Moore also said he understands the symbolic downfall of the store, but hopes the site will become more than green space.

"We can all come to a consensus that this was not the right place for a store," Moore said. "Now we have to ask ourselves, 'Are we removing the building or the element? Are we doing enough to ensure the element is gone for good?'"

Ann Yin, another longtime resident, thinks the answer is yes.

"Everybody has put a lot of blood, sweat and tears on this corner -- literally," said Yin. "We know that this will turn into something great, someday."

Terry Collins • 612-673-1790