Luke Breen is making a to-do list of all the signage, cards and documents he will need to change once he scraps the name of his bike shop, Calhoun Cycle.
The two-decade-old bike shop, at 3342 Hennepin Av. S., is the first known business planning to change its name as part of a larger debate playing out across Minneapolis over whether to rename Lake Calhoun.
The 3.2-mile lake just southwest of the Uptown area is named after John C. Calhoun, a former U.S. secretary of war who was also an impassioned defender of slavery. The origin of Lake Calhoun’s name has troubled residents for decades, but it has been given fresh energy by the national debate over the public display of the Confederate flag, which many view as a symbol of racism and slavery.
“It’s some pretty horrible offenses we’re named after,” said Breen, whose original bike shop had a view of the lake.
Business and organizations are wrestling with the naming question as Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board officials are trying to determine whether they have the authority to change the name. About 4,300 people have signed an online petition urging the lake’s name be changed, and if park officials find they have the authority, public debate over the name could begin later this summer.
Since the Lake Calhoun debate erupted weeks ago, former Mayor R.T. Rybak has spoken strongly in favor of rebranding the lake, which has held its name since at least 1839. Mayor Betsy Hodges said local leaders should absolutely consider changing it.
Owners of businesses and leaders of neighborhood organizations with Calhoun in their name are wrestling with the issue, too.
‘The history is the history’
Some business owners haven’t considered a name change. Others say the name serves as a useful reminder of our history.
That’s the view of Stuart Ackerberg, whose real estate business owns both Calhoun Square and Lake Calhoun Center. He said his Ackerberg Group hasn’t formally addressed the issue, but his instincts tell him not to rename those properties.
“I think what is important is that we learn the lessons, not that we erase the history. The history is the history,” Ackerberg said. “We grow and learn, sometimes we get smarter.”
Referencing Calhoun’s advocacy for slavery, he added, “It was a period of time when that was an acceptable thought process, even though it’s incomprehensible today. At some time, everything we’ve done is going to be judged.”
“If I change the name of this building, I’m not sure that’s going to influence anything,” he said.
Business owners aren’t the only ones with a name change to weigh. Three neighborhood associations near the lake bear Calhoun’s name. Ian Kees, board chair of the West Calhoun Neighborhood Council, said the topic hasn’t come up. The same is true for the Calhoun Area Residents Action Group (CARAG).
However, there has not been a neighborhood meeting since the June slaying of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C., renewed debate over such symbols as the Confederate battle flag.
CARAG Board Chair Diana Boegemann said she wouldn’t be surprised if the issue is raised at an upcoming meeting. She anticipates that the neighborhood group likely would appoint an special committee to look into the issue. That’s what it did a dozen years ago when a proposal surfaced to rename the area after the late Democratic U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone, a move that ultimately fizzled out.
“Most people I know are pretty resigned to the fact that there are many things in our town that are named after people who were not politically correct,” Boegemann said.
‘A stain on our faces’
But not Breen. He’s planning to change the name of the bike shop regardless of what the Park Board decides.
“I’m fairly passionate about the social justice issue,” he said. “It’s a little bit of a stain on all our faces. … In actuality, I’m terribly embarrassed by it.”
Breen’s bike shop doesn’t have a huge budget, so changing the name will take some time and money.
“Reading the history of Calhoun was quite eye-opening to me,” he said. “It’s a big thing to wrap your head around and I do worry about the time spent building the brand. But it’s the right thing to do.”
He’s not sure what the new name will be, despite some preliminary brainstorming. It might be something tinged with social commentary, something clever, or something reflecting the store’s niche selling to urban commuters.
Parks Commissioner Brad Bourn, a strong advocate of changing the lake’s name, applauds Breen. “I think it’s pretty amazing that there’s a business that’s leading by example,” Bourn said.
Other businesses aren’t so sure. At Calhoun Pet Supply, no change is contemplated, according to Larry Weaver, who helps run the store. “I’ve heard no comments,” he said. “There’s been that debate and I understand everybody’s point, but in that day and age everybody had slaves.”
As much as Calhoun is a part of the area’s history, Breen is trying to make a little history of his own.
“I’ve got three daughters and they’re young, and my wife and I have made a strong effort to teach them about rights and wrongs,” he said. “The last year has been very fruitful in teaching opportunities in terms of some wrongs in the United States that haven’t been straightened out.”