Rose Lebewitz, owner of Rosenthal Contemporary Furniture, has survived two recessions, disruptive construction of the light-rail transit line outside the front door at Fifth Street and First Avenue N., a fire, a flood and mucho big box competitors.

Business hasn’t been easy since the Great Recession, although sales are up 10 percent this year to something north of $2 million.

And Lebewitz, a youthful 60, is ready to stage in November a “grand reopening” of what was once a traditional furniture discounter as a transformed, remodeled, contemporary furniture retailer.

“You’d better change with the times or they’ll eat you,” Lebewitz said recently. “We started to reinvent ourselves in 2009. And we will be the pulse of contemporary.”

Give her credit. Lebewitz bought the 1895-vintage business from her parents in 1999. She is the fourth generation to own it in the Rosenthal-Lebewitz family.

And Rosenthal is the last of 50 independent furniture retailers that once dotted downtown and the surrounding warehouse district, according to her dad, Sherm, who owned the business for decades with his wife, Bobbie.

“Rosie had a dream and I had a headache,” quipped Sherm Lebewitz, about Rosie’s decision to buy the business. “I can’t tell you how many nights you’re late for dinner in this business. But it’s been a pretty good ride.”

Rose Lebewitz has doubled down lately on a years-evolving “edgier” strategy, including a new European-style designer, and significant investments in higher-end products that fit some of the professionals and empty-nesters who have swelled the residential population of downtown to more than 40,000 residents.

“I mean people are paying $2,000 a month for an apartment and they run to Ikea for furniture,” Lebewitz said. “Most people don’t know where we are. But if they can find us, they can buy a good bed, a couple of bar stools, a sofa bed made in North America for $1,999 to $2,499. And it’s quality. It lasts.”

Rose Lebewitz has remodeled the store in the turn-of-a-century building. She’s going to host coffees and happy hours, starting next month. She’s encouraged because the mix of business has grown to about 50 percent downtown residents, a growing market.


Nice ka-ching for Minnesota Nice Spice shop

Small business owner Debb Masterson has labored without profit for a few years to build her Minnesota Nice Spice shop at Riverplace in lower northeast Minneapolis. She knew by late September that a good fourth quarter would help her to record revenue and a modest profit for the first time.

And was she stunned when Robert Herjavec from the “Shark Tank” TV show arrived the other day with a no-strings-attached investment check of $25,000.

Masterson was voted one of the winners by customers and friends of a competition sponsored by Deluxe Corp., the provider of small business services and financial documents, celebrating its 100th anniversary with its yearlong Small Business Revolution celebration that recognizes American entrepreneurs.

Masterson, with financial and moral support from her husband, started her business after several years of owning a bar, partly to employ her sister, Lucy Johnson, also a talented artist, who lives with the Mastersons.

Lucy does art at the Interact Center in St. Paul, a nonprofit that supports disabled artists with scant resources. And Masterson supports Interact Center in appreciation.

“That’s why I call it Minnesota ‘Nice Spice,’ ” Masterson said. Ï’m still living on the proceeds of my sale of the bar and grill. But this $25,000 will help me invest in Nice Spice and add a part-time employee.”


Speculation about Mills Fleet Farm sale

Mills Fleet Farm is for sale after three generations of family ownership.

The company is declining interview requests.

That doesn’t stop the buzz in the investment banking community, heading for another record year of peddling companies, according to Dealogic, Thomson Reuters and other scorekeepers.

According to, privately held, Brainerd-based Mills generates about $130 million annually in operating profit. Solid retailers are selling for up to nine-times earnings before interest, taxes and depreciation.

That would gross $1.1 billion for CEO Stewart Mills III and other shareholders.

A company executive, Mike Sidders, didn’t respond to a telephone message last week. said Greene Holcomb is the investment banker. No comment there either.


Vidku, flush with cash and software, launched

Vidku, the video messaging app for friends and affinity groups to share select material, launched this month in the Apple App Store and on Google Play. In a nod to the simplicity of haiku, the traditional Japanese 17-syllable poetry, Vidku videos are limited to 17 seconds.

Charlie Miller, Vidku’s co-founder and a University of Minnesota design professor, led the development team behind Flipgrid, a popular video-sharing app for educators, and the technology that inspired Vidku.

The company was spun off from the U earlier this year.

“We designed Vidku to provide users with simple and powerful controls,” Miller said. “On Vidku you can be who you want, when you want, with the groups you want.

“Hosting a Vidku group is like throwing a party. You spark the reason … invite friends and decide when everyone should go home”

– to make sure that people watch and enjoy other’s videos,” said Jim Leslie, Vidku co-founder and CEO. “People are more likely to watch and react to short videos from their real friends, not followers, so we’ve made it easy to create and share an amazing narrative in 17 seconds, all without editing.”

Vidku Inc. was spun out as an independent concern in February with a $17 million investment round led by Arthur Ventures. Vidku’s chairman is semiretired technology executive Phil Soran.