Manny Moreno, a south Minneapolis custom woodworker and business owner, had many admirers and several orders for his Adirondack-style chairs that he displayed last Sunday at the Open Streets festival on E. Franklin Avenue.
Moreno, a onetime corporate guy, has remade himself as a handy, artistic entrepreneur. His one-time hobby has evolved into a growing business.
Similarly, E. Franklin, once on the skids west of Hiawatha Avenue, is growing more small businesses that reflect the colorful many-cultures area.
Moreno was one of several dozen artisans, food vendors and other businesses on display along Franklin east from Portland Avenue in the Phillips neighborhood.
It’s a cornerstone near-southside commercial artery that is staging a nice comeback after declining since the 1960s.
This is a good thing for the neighborhood and the city.
Twenty-five years ago, E. Franklin, between Interstate 35W on the west and Cedar Avenue on the east, was crowded with gin joints and cheap liquor stores and related behaviors that made it a hot spot for police calls, a financial drain on taxpayers and a neighborhood of declining sensibility and property values for the working-class homeowners and renters.
Today, the American Indian, Latino, African heritage of many area residents, as well as the traditional Norwegian heritage of what also has long been an immigrant neighborhood, is celebrated through business, art and food establishments rooted in several continents.
Moreno, 45, the son of Mexican migrant farmworkers, graduated from college and taught school in Minneapolis for several years before joining Target as a vendor manager for about a decade. However, the travel demands kept him away too much from his young family.
Moreno took a job in health insurance. However, he lost that through a round of layoffs at Medica last spring.
Moreno, staked by a modest severance package, decided to turn his woodworking hobby into a business.
Last week, he was rushing to complete orders for nine cedar chairs, which can sell for more than $300 apiece, depending upon customization. Options include the name of your state, favorite team or whether you want a chair with inlaid LED lights to highlight what is featured.
“I’m a handy guy and I just started making these chairs,” said Moreno whose website is dowoodson.com. “The customization started when I was going to cut some excess wood off the back of one and my daughter suggested I shape it as the state of Minnesota.
“I’m working festivals on the weekend and 12-hour days during the week. One customer wanted to feature Vermont, with lights. Another wanted the saying ‘All Are Welcome Here.’ The business is really taking off.”
A half-block away from Moreno’s exhibit, I chatted with a Latino family buying Norwegian waffles from a vendor outside the Norway House interpretive center.
The two-year-old center, connected to the 1922-vintage Mindekirken Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church across the parking lot, features an Ingebretsen’s deli.
Meanwhile, a Mexican Aztec dance troupe of St. Paul’s Indigenous Roots delighted visitors with their music, vibrancy and colorful costumes.
Tens of millions of dollars have been invested in hundreds of renovated and new units of much-needed affordable housing between Portland and Cedar avenues, including for those who struggle with chemical dependency. They have names such as Anishinabe Bii Gii Wiin, Collaborative Village, Many Rivers East, the Jourdain, the Wellstone and the Rose. A visionary, Theresa Carr of the former Great Neighborhoods Development Corp., redeveloped the flagging Franklin Circle Shopping Center in the 1990s. Later came the adjacent brick-warehouse renovation into Ancient Traders Market. The development was stocked with an Aldi supermarket, Maria’s restaurant, Northland Native Products, a retail bank and more.
Affordable housing developers such as Aeon, Project for Pride in Living (PPL) and American Indian Community Development Corp. have been busy cobbling together deals financed by multiple sources, including banks, foundations, individuals and government. The much-needed workforce housing, including individual building owners, that has attracted residents who support new and old businesses along Franklin.
The gin joints and liquor stores, most of which were denied license renewals in the 1990s because of the related crime and neighborhood degradation, have been replaced.
Today, the area boasts businesses such as Roger Beck Florist, Franklin Street Bakery, assorted stores and coffee shops, and the world headquarters of PPL, the housing-and-employment training nonprofit business that has worked the area for 45 years.
Open Streets Minneapolis closes select inner-city avenues to motorized traffic a few times a year.
Upcoming Open Streets include West Broadway on the north side (Saturday, Sept. 9) and Nicollet Avenue (Sunday, Sept. 24).