About 15 years ago, a Hennepin County official was explaining the plan to fix deteriorating Lowry Avenue in north Minneapolis.

Darryl Weivoda, owner of North End Hardware, realized the plan would cost him 15 feet of the building on the corner — and he had recently expanded his business into that square footage.

He spoke up. He told officials to buy the building and he'd move his business.

The street plan instead was altered to save the building. The locals recognized that the then-declining Penn-Lowry commercial hub could ill afford to lose a cornerstone business in a district that had shrunk from 50 storefronts to 10 since the 1960s amid crime and suburban flight.

That was fine with Weivoda, a soft-spoken entrepreneur who is also good with a hammer— he didn't really want to move.

Instead, he has become a force behind an improved Penn-Lowry commercial corridor. He said he has invested more than $500,000 in the area.

He bought and refurbished another building on the corner, which a decade ago became the Lowry Cafe. He and his wife, Janet, a tax accountant, financed the purchase partly by refinancing their house.

Weivoda also bought a lot across the alley for off-street parking and another he donated to the neighborhood for a community garden.

And he helped attract the $8 million Wellington Management-developed shopping center across Penn from North End, including a popular Aldi grocery store and other businesses.

Now at 65, he has decided to retire.

"I've decided to never work more than four hours a day," quipped Weivoda, instead of the 12-hour days of years past. "I love that afternoon nap."

He is on the first rung of his exit strategy.

Weivoda, fully vaccinated, nearly died in August from COVID-19, spending several weeks in the hospital and recuperating in a nursing home. The medication he takes for rheumatoid arthritis suppresses his immune system and made him at risk for the virus.

"My friends had been telling me to retire and enjoy life at 65 even before I got sick," Weivoda said. "Life is short."

He has already sold the Lowry Cafe, at a loss, to local owner-operator A.J. Elga. It's still a neighborhood favorite for breakfast and lunch.

And Weivoda, an employee or owner of North End since 1978, has slowly sold about a third of the hardware store stock to 20-year employee John Guion. Once Guion gets to 49%, he'll finance the remaining 51% and Weivoda will hand over ownership.

Guion, whose wife owns the Luna Vinca floral business in the North Loop, built North End's equipment-rental business, its fastest growing area.

Weivoda, looking forward to retirement as well as seeing North End transition to a successful future, is selling the business for his interest in the tax-assessed value of the two buildings plus the inventory value. That's somewhere around $750,000.

The venture certainly was no 40-year get-rich scheme. But it worked for Weivoda and the neighborhood.

His only lament?

"I regret that I won't be the owner when North End turns 100 years old in 2028," Weivoda said.

"I'll invite you to the party," Guion responded over lunch at the Lowry last week.

The 10-employee business is approaching $1.5 million in annual sales and has been a slow growth, stable operation, Weivoda said. People need to fix and replace things, even during recessions. There has also been some turnover in the housing stock, with new owners making improvements.

"And it's satisfying to serve customers with products that solve problems," Guion said. "North End is a salt-of-the-earth kind of place. We help people with our products and knowledge and experience that helps them with plumbing, electricity and broken windows."

A couple that had recently bought a house rented a sander and were struggling with a project.

"So I just went over there after work and showed them how to run it," Guion said. "That kind of thing happens all the time. It's a good feeling."

Weivoda had hoped the Penn-Lowry area would rebound more. But he made a big difference for hundreds of neighbors.

That included single mom Shantae Holmes. Weivoda in 2008 helped her start her All Washed Up commercial laundry in the Wellington development.

More gardens, more small businesses, more jobs, better housing. Crime and neglectful landlords are still a problem in the neighborhood. But there is tangible, visible improvement.

Retired Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan said several years ago that economic development deters crime.

"Darryl is in a league of his own. He looks out for his neighbors," Dolan, who grew up on the North Side, said at the time.

Former Third Ward Council Member Barb Johnson once called Weivoda an economic fixture and driver who shows up when needed and "gives what is needed."

Weivoda said he will be around for awhile to help Guion with the transition.

"For up to four hours a day," Weivoda added.