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‘Two Bettys’ grows from 2 to 120 with its green cleaning service

Posted on 23 January 2018 by calvin

Two Bettys Green Cleaning Service is an eco-friendly company that uses only non-toxic cleaning products: no bleach, no ammonia, and no petroleum-based irritants. Headquartered at 3258 Minnehaha Ave., the company currently employs 120 people, and serves upwards of 1,100 clients in the Twin Cities and first-tier suburbs.

Two Bettys started small a little more than a decade ago. Company co-founders Anna Tsantir (photo right by Margie O’Loughlin) and Sam Meyers (who passed away in 2014) were both artists struggling to find time to practice their art. They were too busy working their day jobs and thought there had to be a better way. They quit their jobs and started cleaning houses. Both Bettys found that the work was peaceful, the income decent, and the scheduling more flexible than the 9-5 routine.

Over time, Tsantir and Meyers hired contractors to help with increasing demand for their services. There were a lot of people looking for jobs for whom flexible scheduling was a priority: artists, activists, students, and single parents. As their business grew, it became clear that their business model needed to change too. Tsantir said, ”We scrapped the idea of hiring cleaners as independent contractors a couple of years ago, and brought them on fully as company employees.”

Tsantir believes this has strengthened the company in many ways. “We’re currently hiring,” Tsantir said, “and our starting wage is $15 per hour. Cleaners’ wages rise to $19 per hour after the first year. We’ve been testifying at Minneapolis City Hall for a livable wage for years, along with other progressive small business owners. We offer a 50% health insurance cost share for employees working at least 30 hours per week. If an employee has been with us for a year or more and is injured, either on or off the job, they’ll receive disability payments for up to three months. We pay for drive time between jobs, and all cleaning supplies and products. We can do much more for our cleaners now that they’re actual employees and not contract staff.”

Two Bettys welcomes new clients, as well as new employees. To schedule a free, in-home or in-office estimate for cleaning services, call 612-720-8768 or visit

“Many of our clients are busy with long hours at work or in care of others,” Tsantir said. “We believe that a cleaning service can open up more time to engage with community, family, and friends. Our services are tailored to meet our clients’ needs. For that first estimate, we’ll send a member of our sales/client service staff to you, to learn which aspects of your home or office frustrate you the most from the standpoint of cleaning.”

One of the company’s 2018 initiatives is developing another Longfellow property at 4010 E. Lake St., just west of the Hi-Lo Diner. Tsantir explained,”We’re building out a refill station where our employees will go to get their cleaning supplies. Almost all of what you buy in a bottle of cleaning product is water, which results in a tremendous amount of packaging waste and inefficiency in transportation/use of fuel. We’ll be purchasing 1,000 lb. barrels of super concentrated cleaning solutions, which our employees will refill into reusable bottles. We look forward to partnering with Climate Generation and local artists to create a ‘Wall of Hope’ mural on the alley side of the property, with a message of the many successes that climate activists have had in recent years. Contrary to what we hear in the news, some good things are definitely happening.”

Two Bettys Green Cleaning Service received a huge accolade last year when they were awarded the 2017 Minnesota Women-Owned Small Business of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration.


Did you know…?

Tsantir said, “There are virtually no trade regulations about labeling cleaning products. Truly, anyone can put ’green’ on their product line. As a consumer, it can be hard to stay up to date.” An online search confirms that a common cleaning product, Comet Disinfectant Powder, contained 146 different chemicals, including some thought to cause cancer, asthma, and reproductive disorders. The most toxic chemicals identified were formaldehyde, benzene, and chloroform; they were not listed on the label.

Tsantir recommends using an online resource called the Environmental Work Group to check the ratings of more than 2,000 household products. The non-profit research group gives each product a grade from A-F, based on how hazardous it is to health and the environment, and how much ingredient information is on the label.

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Lawless aims for lighthearted cocktails that reflect Minnesota roots

Posted on 23 January 2018 by calvin

Cocktail lounge offers winter Minnesota experience complete with fire, decor, and music

Lawless Distilling (2619 28th Ave. S.) takes a lighthearted approach to cocktails, making spirits that are approachable and not so serious.
Drop by the cocktail room for a Minnesota winter experience, complete with decor and a Minnesota music playlist. Order one of the hot cocktails from last winter’s menu. Or, select from the beverages that were part of the big holiday pop up called Miracle at Lawless.

The menu includes a Hot Buttered Rum (which comes with a marshmallow to roast), a Hot Dog! Toddy or a Sweater Weather. Prefer something cooler? Perhaps you’d like a Sno-ball Old Fashioned #2, a Snow Shoes Glüg, or a Boundary Water. All cocktails feature Lawless Distilling Company spirits and other house-made additions.

The holiday cocktail bar—the only such event in Minnesota—was a pop-up concept in partnership with Cocktail Kingdom, explained Nate Karnitz of Seward, who owns Lawless with his wife Kristen Karnitz, and friend Chris Kulzer who lives near Powderhorn Park.

Photo right: Lawless Distilling bartenders Mark Sather and Nora Curcio mix up one of the lighthearted cocktails Lawless is known for. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

“The concept originated in New York City a few years ago and has since grown to include over 50 bars across the country. The response was overwhelming. It will be coming back bigger and better next year,” the Seward resident promised.

Minnesota born
The three-year-old company was born out of an idea Karnitz had while earning an MBA at Carlson School of Management. He wrote the business plan but didn’t decide to pursue it until shortly after his graduation when legislation changed to allow distilleries to operate cocktail rooms. Nate, Kristin, and Chris came together, flushed out the concept, and brought the business plan to life.

The trio first focused on the distilling end. They opened up the distillery in October 2014 and began distributing to liquor stores and bars. They moved on to add the cocktail room a year and a half ago.

Lawless Tippling House Vodka is hand-crafted in an area of Minneapolis once known for its flourishing tippling scene and notoriously labeled the “Hub of Hell.” The beverage is named after the illegal home bars enterprising residents of Minneapolis opened before, during and after Prohibition. More functional than fashionable, the tippling house was the speakeasy’s less cultured counterpart.

Photo left: Lawless Distilling bartender Eli Morris lights up the cinnamon fire pit served alongside a Hot Buttered Rum while Longfellow resident Andrew Matthews looks on.

The Greenway Gin pays homage to the evolving Greenway Trail a few blocks away by blending the past and present to create a traditional dry gin with a touch of modern character. Beginning in 1872 the Milwaukee Road passenger train carried travelers into Minneapolis on a stretch of land running through the south side of the city. Today, a portion of that defunct passenger rail line has been transformed into the Midtown Greenway, a bustling bicycle highway that transports people differently.

Both beverages are distilled from Minnesota red wheat and sugar beets. The wheat is grown on the family farm owned by Chris’ aunt and uncle in Cold Spring.

In addition to the two spirits Lawless distributes, others are available only in the cocktail room, including Juniper Gin, rum, aquavit, and numerous liqueurs.

“Our Greenway Gin is more of a new western style gin, more floral and citrusy, less piney. The Juniper Gin has more of a traditional flavor profile with a very heavy focus on the juniper berry,” observed Karnitz. “We put the juniper through a unique maceration process, which brings out a very green and fresh pine flavor.”

Partnership with Bittercube Bitters
From the start, Lawless has partnered with Bittercube Bitters, which developed its Minnesota-themed cocktail program.

Bittercube Bitters offers two regular classes at Lawless, which fill up quickly. One of the classes focuses on how to make specific drinks from the Lawless menu, including direction on how to make some of the ingredients that go in them. The other class is the Bittercube 7 Pillars class, which focuses on the seven basic drink ratios that can be used to make hundreds of drinks. Information on the classes is available online.

“The classes are small and personal,” said Karnitz, “part education, part entertainment.”

His own favorite drink to make is a classic. “The gin old fashioned is delicious and easy to make at home,” remarked Karnitz.

New spirits coming
Lawless has recently added Sunday hours and is expanding its production capabilities.

“We’re working on bringing some liqueurs to market, some of which will be unique collaborations with Bittercube. First up are Bitter Orange, Fernet, Creme De Flora, and Pink Gin,” said Karnitz.

He added, “Look for a number of new products to hit liquor stores in the coming months.”

More can be found at

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Caliber Works Watch Repair offers unique service to South Minneapolis

Posted on 23 January 2018 by calvin

Like a lot of people, Tyson Niemeyer wasn’t happy working in the corporate world. She’d been at American Express for about seven years, she said, when her mother sent her an article from a local newspaper. Her mom knew she was looking for another professional path and the article, about St. Paul Technical School’s Watchmakers of Switzerland Training and Education Program, captured her interest.

“I took the aptitude test. They gave us a watch movement and had us take it apart and put it back together. I’d never taken a watch apart before,” she said. “I didn’t know how to hold tweezers. I know I put some parts in upside down.”

“I always like how watches looked but never opened one up before, and school seemed like a good idea at the time. It sounds flippant, but that’s how I ended up there.”

Image right: Tyson Niemeyer loves the stories behind the watches that she repairs. (Photo by Stephanie Fox)

The school thought she had the right stuff and she was accepted into the two-year program, one of three women in a class of 10 students. When she graduated, she got a gig repairing watches for HUB Jewelers and as a watch repair freelancer for 20 small jewelry shops. When HUB closed, she started working from her chilly basement but found that the basement wasn’t good enough.

“I couldn’t stand the basement. It was isolating. I had to talk with people. The two dogs and three cats weren’t enough.” she said.

Last year, she started to search seriously for a space to open her own shop, touring empty storefronts, at first near 43rd and Chicago. “Those stores needed too much work to get them ready,” she said. And then, she found a spot around the corner from Todd Park, at 815 E. 56th St. It was just what she’d been looking for, she said. She moved in and last Aug. 1, and Caliber Works Watch Repair opened for business.

“It’s better than the basement,” she said of the sunny store with powder blue walls, shiny hardwood floors, and bookcases displaying decades of bound yearbooks from Horological Times (see Editor’s Note at the end of article).

Most days, Niemeyer sits at her desk fixing broken watches and clocks. Many customers come in seeking a replacement watchband or battery.

But, others bring in ancient clockworks that need healing.

“I really like it when I can take someone’s favorite watch and make it keep time,” she said. “Plus, I don’t like to see people toss away useful things.”

Although Niemeyer majored in studio arts in college, she claims she’s not an artist.

“I’m a mechanic,” she said. ”Some people can design watches, but my mind doesn’t work that way. I like to look what’s visibly wrong with watches. It’s similar to car repair. It’s diagnostic.”

Niemeyer’s current wife and business partner, Karyn Mickelson, runs the non-diagnostic end of Caliber Works, putting together publicity and advertising and keeping track of the financial end of the establishment. Niemeyer calls her the chief personnel, financial and marketing officer, part-time since, said Niemeyer, “She’s got a real job. She’s a teacher.” The couple also shares the care of their three children, 8th-grade twins, and a 6th-grader.

The shop also sells collectible watches, some from the 1970s, but others going as far back as the 1800s. Her private collection numbers about 1,400 watches. “People give them to me. Clients give me bags of watches that they don’t want to repair and I get some at estate sales.

One of her favorites is from 1876, picked up at an estate sale. “It still runs pretty well for a 142-year-old timepiece,” she said. “There is a keyhole in the back, and you have to put a key there an wind it up.” It’s a high-quality Rockford watch, originally popular with railroad workers and now admired by serious collectors.

“I love the stories behind the watches,” Niemeyer said.

One pocket watch, brought to her by an elderly client, belonged to the man’s immigrant grandfather, who might have come from Scotland. The watch is from England, made sometime in the 1700s.

“It’s got a different kind of movement called a fuse. This chain links around these barrels,” she pointed out as she displayed the piece. “That’s the power source. The chain is broken, so I’ll have to make it.” The chain is too small to see clearly without a strong magnifying glass.

“I’ve never worked on one before,” she said. “But, I have high hopes that I’m going to be able to do this.”
Caliber Works Watch Repair is located at 815 E. 56th St., in the heart of the West Nokomis neighborhood. It’s open Tues.-Fri., 10am-6pm and Sat., 10am-2pm. Call 612-822-8282 for more information.

Editor’s Note: Horology is the art and/or science of measuring time. Clocks, watches, clockwork, sundials, hourglasses, clepsydras, timers, time recorders, marine chronometers and atomic clocks are all examples of instruments used to measure time.

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Lock and Key Escape Rooms busting out on Minnehaha Ave.

Posted on 23 January 2018 by calvin

Behind an unassuming storefront at 4020 Minnehaha Ave., brothers Alex and Tony Ducklow have created an adventure-based business called the Lock and Key Escape Rooms. While the doors to the three themed escape rooms are never actually locked (it’s against the law), the key to freedom lies in solving puzzles and riddles with team members—in 60 minutes or less.

“We first heard about escape rooms 3½ years ago,” Alex said. “We went to one in Uptown, and we loved it. Both of us had a light go off, and we thought, ‘Wow, people will pay to do this!’ As former church youth directors, Tony and I share a love for setting up games for kids, and connecting with people.”

The brothers originally opened their business in the Shasta Building in 2016. “When that building was sold,” Tony said, “we knew we wanted to stay in the Longfellow neighborhood. We were lucky that Alex happened to find our new location when he was just out driving around.”

Image right: Brothers Alex (left) and Tony (right) Ducklow are co-creators and business partners in Lock and Key Escape Rooms.

So, what happens in an escape room? Alex explained, “Our three rooms are immersive, story driven. It’s like you’re in an adventure movie, and the movie comes to life around you. We like to say though, if this really were a movie, it would only be rated PG. There’s nothing scary or claustrophobic about the experience, and it isn’t frustrating either. The skill level for our rooms is medium because we want people to succeed in solving the mysteries.”

“People usually pick rooms by availability,” Tony said. “They’re all really fun. We recommend that customers be 13 years old at a minimum. The puzzles are designed to keep ten adults busy for an hour or so. We book the rooms on a 90-minute schedule, in case a group runs overtime. The groups that come through here most often are 20-30-year-old friends, families with older kids, and corporate groups.”

A lot of work goes into creating the themed rooms. The brothers plan to change one or more of the themes every couple of years, but probably not before. Their father’s skill as a contractor and builder have come in handy, as has Alex’s experience working in theater set design and construction.

The three room themes at present offer something for everyone. In Professor Jones’ Office, a famous archaeologist has recently gone missing after discovering an important artifact. The challenge is to keep that artifact from falling into the wrong hands.
In the Quest for Excalibur, the famed King Arthur has left the kingdom of Camelot along with all his knights. His sword, embedded in solid stone, must be freed.

In Escape the Locker Room, a sports team has made it all the way to the championship game—but the opposing team has trapped them in their locker room by jamming the door. Will they get out in time to play?

The Lock and Key Escape Rooms are open Thursdays, 5:30-9pm, Fridays 12-10pm, Saturdays 10am-10pm, and Sundays 12:30-8:30pm. Cost is $25 per person; groups of 15 or more receive a 20% discount. Reservations are required and can be made by visiting their website at or by calling 612-643-0539.

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LoLa sponsors first-ever fine art exhibit at Squirrel Haus Arts

Posted on 23 January 2018 by calvin

The public is invited to the first-ever fine art exhibition put on by The League of Longfellow Artists (LoLa), planned for mid-February at Squirrel Haus Arts, 3450 Snelling Ave. The opening is planned for Thur., Feb. 15, 6-9pm and will include food and beverages sponsored by businesses that support LoLa. The show can also be seen during gallery hours, Sat. and Sun., Feb. 17-18, noon-5pm.

“The Winter Fine Art Exhibition” will present the work of member artists in a gallery format, with one to three pieces for each participating artist. The show is being organized by LoLa volunteers, and the gallery hours will also be staffed by LoLa artists and volunteers. A wide range of media will be displayed, including painting, photography, printmaking, mosaic, collage, jewelry, and sculpture. Most artists will be at the reception to give the public an opportunity to meet the creators and ask any questions their works provoke in this centralized and intimate location.

This exhibition is a different format from LoLa’s September neighborhood art crawl, which is more of a sales event with each artist presenting a wide range of their work from their home, studio, or at a hosted location in the neighborhood.

“Squirrel Haus owners Michael and Donna Meyer have been great supporters of LoLa since they moved to the neighborhood in 2015. We love the support and energy they are bringing to the arts in our neighborhood,” said LoLa representative Megan Moore Smith.

Photo right: Nadine Mercil Corazon, “Solitario, no.4.” (Photo provided)


Image left: Jewelry by Teresea Chillingworth. (Photo provided)








Image right: “Untitled Red and Brown” by Lisa Anderson. (Photo provided)







Image left: Molly Keenan’s “Dreaming MN Timberwolf.” (Photo provided)









Image right: “Dancing with Raven Spirit” by Gordon Coons. (Photo provided)









Image right: “Still Life with Box Elders” by Megan Moore. (Photo provided)









Image right: “MN Love” by Karen Grimm. (Photo provided)

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Longfellow Girl Scout Troop 16566 learns ‘every voice matters’

Posted on 18 December 2017 by calvin

Eleven Dowling Elementary fifth graders in Girl Scout Troop 16566 are concerned about safety on the streets around their school, and they went to city hall on Nov. 29 to ask the City Council to do something about it.

Nine of the 11 troop members also serve on the safety patrol at Dowling.

Photo right: Girl Scout spokesperson Hadley Dobish, age 10, asks city council members to consider street safety improvements around Dowling Elementary School, and all other schools in the city during a council budget hearing on Nov. 29. (Photo submitted)

“First of all, we would like to have 4-way stop signs at the intersection of E. 38th St. and Edmund Blvd., and at the intersection of Dowling St. and Edmund Blvd., and at the entrance to the school parking lot at Dowling St. and 48th Ave.,” said spokesperson Hadley Dobish, age 10, during the City Council budget hearing. “I do safety patrol on those corners, on different days, and I can tell you that cars go way too fast and careless through all these intersections.”

“Secondly, we propose to make Edmund Blvd. a one-way, southbound street, starting at Dowling St. until Folwell Dr.” Dobish continued during her two-minute speech. “All the school buses line up along Edmund Blvd., and the street is just too narrow to have traffic in both directions plus parents trying to drop kids off and cross in front of buses. And if someone is parked on the street, then two-way traffic is near impossible.

“We, as Girl Scouts and as safety patrol, agree that if we can get this short stretch of street, turned into a one-way street, it would be a great benefit to the whole community, to keep kids safe.”
The Girl Scouts didn’t stop there.

“Ideally, we hope the city can look at all intersections around schools in Minneapolis, and make sure that all schools have as many stop signs and safety considerations as possible,” said Dobish. “In this day of distracted driving with cell phones, we think it is necessary for these precautions to keep kids safe.

“Thank you for listening, and for helping us figure out how to make our ideas a reality and improve our city!”

The Girl Scouts were the first on the meeting agenda, because, as City Council President Barb Johnson, explained, she had been a Girl Scout and a troop leader.

“In my four years of listening to the public while considering the budget, these speakers really stood out; they clearly identified their concerns, brought forward potential solutions, and even had an accompanying illustration (a first!),” remarked Ward 12 Council Member Andrew Johnson. “They tied their localized concerns (at Dowling school) to a broader ask for more city-wide attention to school safety. I could tell that the full City Council was just as impressed with them as I was.”

Photo left: Ward 12 Council Member Andrew Johnson chats with members of Girl Scout Troop 16566 in the city hall chambers during a visit on Nov. 29. The Girl Scouts learned about the importance of citizen involvement in government. (Photo submitted)

The council ultimately passed a budget that included two new positions dedicated to improving pedestrian safety, and part of their work will be focused on schools. The ideas from the Girl Scout Troop were also duly noted and are being looked into, according to Johnson.

Girl Scout members include Dowling Elementary fifth-graders Dobish, Violet Mueller, Emilie Numrich, Maura Davis, Yossi Enestvedt, Suzi Priest, Soledad Serena, Khloe Albertson, Hazel Murphy, Abby May, and Giovanna Zanabria.

Dobish’s mom, Leah Drury, serves as co-leader of the troop that formed when the girls were in first grade. “Marian Wright Edelman’s quote, ‘You can’t be what you can’t see,’ has always resonated with me as a parent, and now as a Girl Scout troop leader,” observed Drury.

“I hope that by exposing the girls in the troop to even a small sliver of what happens in City Hall and in Minneapolis government,” Drury added, “it will contribute to their growing world view and leadership skills—and we will see strong female leaders emerge from this experience in the not-so-distant future!”

Striving towards highest honor
In addition to attending and speaking at the city council meeting, the Girl Scouts also toured city hall and had dinner with some of the females working behind the scenes to make things happen in city government.

Their excursion and work preparing for it earned them each an “Inside Government” badge. They are also striving to earn the Bronze award, one of the highest honors a Girl Scout Junior can earn. It requires working together as a group to identify a need in the community, and put in 20 hours of service to do something that will have a lasting impact.

“Our troop has been talking all fall about, ‘What can we do to help our city?’ And we decided to keep it local and connected to our school, since we spend so much time there!” explained Dobish, who met council member Johnson during a block part in her Ericsson neighborhood earlier this year. During that conversion, Johnson suggested that her Girl Scout troop visit city hall, and then helped arrange it, timing it with the city’s budget hearing.

Every voice matters
Troop 16566 is part of the Lake Nokomis/Stone Arch Service Unit in the River Valleys Girl Scout Council. This year, the national council has launched the G.I.R.L. (go-getter, innovator, risk-taker, and leadership) experience. The focus is on four areas of leadership: STEM, Outdoor Skills, Entrepreneurship and Life Skills.

“Our troop is working towards being future leaders, and they were so honored to have the women leaders of our city take time to eat pizza with them,” remarked Co-Leader Karrie Mueller, who lives in Morris Park. “The girls also enjoyed hearing about our women leaders’ childhood ‘aha’ moments which propelled them into the leadership/civil service positions they hold today.”

Photo right: Members of Girl Scout Troop 16566 post outside Minneapolis City Hall after touring it, attending a reception with female department heads, and speaking during a city council budget hearing on Nov. 29. Girl Scout members include Dowling Elementary fifth-graders Hadley Dobish, Violet Mueller, Emilie Numrich, Maura Davis, Yossi Enestvedt, Suzi Priest, Soledad Serena, Khloe Albertson, Hazel Murphy, Abby May, and Giovanna Zanabria. Troop leaders are Leah Drury and Karrie Mueller. (Photo submitted)

The leaders the Girl Scouts met with included: Minneapolis Health Commissioner Gretchen Musicant, Director of Public Works Robin Hutcheson, Deputy Director of Public Works/City Engineer Lisa Cerney, Regulatory Services Operations Director Kim Keller, Director of Civil Rights Velma Korbel, Director of Human Resources Patience Ferguson, and Deputy City Coordinator Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde.

“The girls learned about how they can make an impact on a local level, and that there are many people behind the scenes all working to make Minneapolis work and are continually working to improve the city. Meeting the women in charge of the departments of engineering, regulatory services, civil rights, and more, opened up their view of the ways to be involved,” stated Drury. “Seeing the hallways full of people waiting for their turn to speak to the council, and listening to some the speakers share their requests for the city budget, also made quite an impact about the importance of citizen involvement and how every voice matters.”

Johnson remarked, “As these girls grow up and choose career paths they are passionate about, I hope they consider public service—they can be the civil engineers, public health professionals, firefighters, animal care and control veterinarians, department leaders, and council members of tomorrow!”

He added, “The younger you are, the longer you’ll have to live with the decisions being made, so help make them!”


Highlights of Girl Scout Troop 16566’s visit to Minneapolis City Hall

Hadley Dobish
“I liked the huge statue called Mississippi and that it was good luck to rub his toe. I needed that good luck before I talked in a microphone in front of the City Council. I also learned that there are way more jobs involved in running the city than you think. I liked learning about animal control!”

Yossi Enestvedt
“There were a lot of women working there at the top, like the woman engineer who had worked there a long time, and it was cool to see a lot of women in the room who were in charge along with the men. It was an experience that was amazing to me, and I want to go back again!”

Maura Davis
“[The best part was] seeing some of the cool things such as the statues and the tiles engraved by people and the fake marble in the building. I also enjoyed going to the city council meeting and seeing the cool designs on the wall and listening to people speak. While we were eating pizza, I also enjoyed hearing important women talk to us about their jobs and getting to ask them questions.”

Soledad Serena
“Some of the highlights about visiting City Hall were: Learning about the jobs of the people who work at City Hall, visiting the library, and learning about some of the history of City Hall.”

Violet Mueller
“Got to meet some really cool people like the mayor-elect, but the most amazing was all the GIRL POWER that runs our city- yeah! The man of the Mississippi statue was pretty cool, too, and it turns out he has a lucky toe.”

Khloe Albertson
“The people that worked there were the best part because I like the job that they do. It seems like a really cool job.”

Emilie Numrich
“I really liked that I was able to see the whole City Hall and learn how it was built. It was exciting to have some of my friends speak to the City Council. I really liked meeting the new Mayor. Thank you to the City Council members for allowing us to do this. I am glad that my City Council Member Andrew Johnson was a nice as I thought he would be.”

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Snelling Yards development in preliminary stages; input sought

Posted on 18 December 2017 by calvin

Snelling Yards is the name of a parcel of land between 44th and 45th streets, and Hiawatha and Snelling avenues. The City of Minneapolis has owned the land for more than 60 years, using it most recently as a storage facility.

According to Steve Minn, project principal with Lupe Development, his company along with partners Wall Construction and Ecumen (a non-profit that focuses on innovative housing for seniors) was awarded exclusive development rights for the property in August of this year.

Photo right: The Snelling Yards as they appear today on Snelling Ave. between 44th and 45th streets. If the two, five-story buildings that comprise the Snelling Yards Development are approved and constructed, they will be completed in 2020 at the earliest. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

“We partnered with the Longfellow Community Council for a meeting in October that was minimally attended,” Minn said. “Afterward, our partners huddled and agreed that this project was not going to succeed without neighborhood input and participation. We mailed a letter to every resident in the immediate impact area (125 residents) that explained the project and invited them to our next neighborhood meeting held Dec. 11.”

He continued, “We want to clarify to the neighborhood what affordable housing means from a development standpoint. Our company has holdings of more than 1,000 affordable rental units across the Metro. The average income of our renters is $32,000-$38,000 for a household of two, and up to $44,000 for a household of four. We create housing for people who go to work every day.”

To underscore the impact of the affordable housing shortage in the Twin Cities, Minn said, “We have a flagship development called the Mill City Quarter along the Mississippi River near Downtown Minneapolis that we’re trying to replicate with the Snelling Yards. It consists of 150 units of what we call ’affordable workforce housing.’ We have 0% vacancy there, and more than 1,200 names on the waiting list. In the last 12 months, 20 units became available and were rented in less than four hours. Finding affordable housing is nearly impossible in the Twin Cities right now. The pace of replacement just can’t keep up with the pace of loss.”

Affordable housing is created in the following way. Developers of an affordable housing project can take a federal tax credit equal to a percentage of the cost incurred for development. Developers typically propose and complete a project, certify its cost, and rent to tenants who meet certain income guidelines. The tenants must demonstrate their income eligibility each year. The developers agree to limit rents for 30 years, following rent tables that are indexed to an area’s median income. After 30 years, the developers may raise rents to market rates—ending their commitment to providing affordable housing. Affordable housing is meant to bridge the gap between market-rate housing, and what lower income earning renters can afford.

The Snelling Yards Development is designed as an inter-generational campus of affordable workforce and senior housing oriented to the existing Hiawatha Corridor transit infrastructure. The five-story workforce housing building will have 125 one and two bedroom units, underground parking for 69 cars, and above ground parking for 22 cars. The five-story senior housing building will have 128 one and two bedroom units, underground parking for 69 cars, and above ground parking for 40 cars.

The intent is also to create the first connective block of bike and pedestrian access between the Sabo Bridge and Minnehaha Park, in what is being envisioned as a substantial “Greenway of the Future” along Hiawatha Ave.

Illustration left: Diagram of proposed development at the Snelling Yards. (Provided by Lupe Development)

“Our development team believes that the Snelling Yards will be a demonstration project of extraordinary value,” Minn said. “We will provide durable cement exterior materials, architectural grade metal, high-performance sound mitigation, and quality interior finishes that rival market rate properties. Our design choices will compliment the neighborhood, including over-sized warehouse-style windows in accordance with some of the surrounding buildings.”

The Snelling Yards Development website states that, “Longfellow has a substantial aging-in-place population living in ­single-family homes, and an even larger workforce population that wants quality, affordable housing at a variety of price points. We believe that our housing options will add vibrancy to the neighborhood, and address a chronic shortage of affordable housing in the community.”

If the project goes through as proposed, it will include a combination of green spaces and public amenities, coupled with high quality, sustainable development practices. On the Snelling Ave. side, the two buildings will share a Green Commons and a pocket park built over an infiltration stormwater management system. The system will remove no less than 70% of the total suspended solids in stormwater (90% if the project is selected by the Mississippi Water Management Organization for demonstration purposes.)

The development team plans to incorporate a 40 kW photovoltaic solar collection system on at least one of the two buildings. The system would be made possible by the Minnesota-Made Solar Rewards Program, and subject to the award of certain federal and state tax credits. Few housing development teams in the Twin Cities have the combined solar and tax credit experience to build such a system into an affordable housing project.

For more information on the Snelling Yards Development, or to hear results of the public meeting held at the Longfellow Recreation Center on Dec. 11 (after the Messenger deadline), email or call him at 612-843-4068.

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‘Made in Cuba’ exhibit showing at Longfellow gallery

Posted on 18 December 2017 by calvin

This painting by Isabelle de las Mercedes is an example of one of Cuba’s self-taught artists who developed her art to a high level. Her work is shown at the Havana Museum of Fine Arts alongside other self-taught artists like Noel Guzman Bofill, and both are recognized internationally. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Exhibit at Squirrel Haus Arts takes counter approach to Cuban exhibit on display at the Walker Art Gallery

A mixed media exhibit called “Made in Cuba/Hecho en Cuba: Recycling Memory and Culture Part II” is showing at Squirrel Haus Arts in the Longfellow neighborhood. The exhibit opened in November and will stay up through Jan. 14. The work of 70 artists is featured, exploring a wide range of themes and disciplines, including posters, photography, folk art, ceramics, and wearable art.

Photo right: Minnesota native/exhibit curator Sandra Levinson has been traveling to Cuba as an independent traveler and as a tour guide since 1969. When asked how many trips she has taken, Levinson said, “I stopped counting once I got to 300.” (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Sandra Levinson, executive director of New York‘s Center for Cuban Studies, curated the exhibit and was in town for several related events in early December. “What we really wanted to do was bring vibrant, accessible Cuban art to the Twin Cities,” she said. “There is a show about Cuban art running concurrently at the Walker Art Center called ‘Adios Utopia.’ We have some of the same artists on view, but also many others. We also have original works of art for purchase, not digital prints of original work.”

Photo left: Viewer Cristina Lopez said, “I appreciate the grounding in Cuban cultural context that this show provides.” (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

According to Levinson, the exhibit at the Walker makes a point of showing Cuban-born artists who mostly opposed the Cuban Revolution and immigrated to the US. The show she brought from the collection of the Center for Cuban Studies makes a counter-point. Levinson said, “I’m critical of the show at the Walker. We felt it was important to provide a simultaneous exhibit with a broader view of contemporary Cuban artists who still live in Cuba, like Alberto Lescay and Jacqueline Brito. Our show doesn’t have a political agenda.”

Another strong feature of the exhibit is that it shows the work of self-taught artists. “We have collected so many pieces over the years by artists who taught themselves how to be expressive,” Levinson said. ”Their work is very authentically Cuban, and speaks to the rhythm of daily life on the island.”

One of the most recognizable elements of Cuban art is political posters. Volunteer Kate Bix explained the popularity of posters in Cuban culture, both as a form of expression and as a form of art. She said, “The Cuban people have always celebrated with posters. One of the most popular artists to document the Cuban Revolution was Raul Martinez, and we have some of his pieces in the show. You can see how he told the story of the 1959 Cuban Revolution to the people of the island, who were largely illiterate before the Revolution took place. He used vibrant colors and almost comic book-like themes to communicate what was happening.”

Squirrel Haus has been an arts incubator and community gathering space in Longfellow since 2015. Owned and operated by Michael and Donna Meyer, it continues to evolve into a gallery, rehearsal space, set design location, event center, and meeting/workshop venue. It is also the permanent studio home of artists Donna Meyer and Maris Gilbert. Gallery hours for this exhibit are Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 12-5pm. Squirrel Haus is located at 3450 Snelling Ave. in Minneapolis.

(Editor’s Note: the Squirrel Haus gallery does not have regular hours unless there is a show going on, and the hours vary as to who is exhibiting.)

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For some, homelessness is sometimes just an illness away

Posted on 18 December 2017 by calvin

You have no privacy.
You have no place to rest.
If you are sick, you have no place to lie down.

These are some of the most significant challenges of being homeless, according to Fernando Anderson (photo right by Jan Willms).

Anderson is a young man who grew up in St. Paul’s Rondo area. “My dad was active in the community,” he said. “He was an election judge and a delegate for the DFL.”

But medical issues and unpaid student loans set Anderson on the road to homelessness.

“I was going out to college in Mesa, AZ, but I kept getting sick,” Anderson recalled. He was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, an auto-immune disease that attacked his stomach. “I was hospitalized two to three times, and I am supposed to have a couple of surgeries,” he noted. “I was bleeding inside.”

Anderson decided to return to Minnesota. He fell behind on school loans. He hoped to get enough money from a tax refund to get back on his feet, but the government took the refund.

Anderson now resides in a homeless shelter at Nicolett and 28th, sponsored by the Simpson Methodist Church. “It’s one of the better shelters,” Anderson said. “They offer free clothes, and people from restaurants donate and cook food.”

He said the shelter resembles a dorm, with a men’s section and women’s section. People sleep in bunk beds.

“Altogether there are about 70 people in that shelter,” Anderson said. “But because it is cold out, the shelter has been full. There are couches and a dining room, and they have been letting people sleep on the couches. They have reached a maximum of 73 people.” The shelter lets people stay from 5pm until 9am, and then everyone has to leave for the day.

“I am in a situation where I am supposed to be resting,” Anderson continued, “but I have to leave. And sometimes I have nowhere to go. I was frozen out of my car the day before yesterday, and it was really cold. I was stuck outside at the shelter for an hour and a half because they don’t let you come back in.”

Anderson said people who are sick are not separated from those who are not, and the situation can be difficult.

“The other day a person with Stage 4 throat cancer passed out. She has been working, but she doesn’t get a chance to rest. I think the person was just exhausted,” he said.

Anderson said he thinks what would help most in reducing homelessness is a change in laws so that credit checks and bankruptcy checks could not prevent people from getting housing.

“The fellow who bunks above me has been working at Valvoline for ten years, but he can’t get into a place because of his background and credit. He has a son, who stays with his cousin, because he can’t get housing, even though he has been saving up.”

Anderson said some people who are in the shelter are working, trying to save up enough to find a place to live. “They pay application fees, but are then denied for poor credit or a checkered past,” he said.

There is definitely a stigma to being homeless, according to Anderson. “Society thinks a lot of homeless people are on drugs or alcohol. I am not, and I have a clean rental history, but my credit is bad. And so that has prevented me from getting housing.”

“A lot of people see people like us, and they think we don’t have skills or don’t want to do anything. I have had my own business since 2009. It’s a small business; I do a little bit of landscaping.”

He said that in his situation, he was working but not earning enough to prove he could pay rent.

Bernadette, who did not want to give her last name, said that she is concerned about women in general who are forced to live in a shelter.

“We like to have our dignity,” she said. “Some women do not know how to take care of themselves, and others do, but we are all lumped together. Some of us are older, and we have raised our children, and we are used to doing for ourselves. Some thought they would be able to stabilize themselves, but things got worse, and they have fallen through the cracks.”

Bernadette stressed the importance of hygiene in a shelter, as she commented that some think because you are homeless you are not clean.

“Some of the women in shelters need to be in recovery; others are ill and having a hard time. They should separate us into categories, rather than all in the same place. I do think those who are ill should have a priority in getting housing,” she said. ‘”What is needed most is for women to get themselves back on their feet, and get help with the steps needed to get housing.”

Anderson said he understands how people’s spirits can go down. “I know that discouragement everyone is feeling. I have felt it myself.” Anderson recalled the work he has done from volunteering in the block club with his father to working with Save Our City Kids, Step Up, the U of M. “I have delivered papers, cut grass, raked leaves, helped seniors and been involved in community engagement work,” he said. But he is concerned about his need for two more surgeries and his credit difficulties getting in the way of moving forward. “I see people much sicker than I am who are not getting affordable housing. So I am not optimistic about any person in my situation who is going to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.”

And yet, Anderson does look toward a brighter future. He said he is passionate about teaching people about sustainable living, agriculture and ending hunger. “I want to empower people to take care of themselves,” he said. In that vein, he has started a website at He is hoping that by raising himself out of homelessness, he can help others to do the same.

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Mactír Irish dance owner loves freedom of running her own business

Posted on 18 December 2017 by calvin

Mactír Academy advanced dancers perform their opening number at the 2017 Irish Fair of Minnesota. Left to Right: Bella Johnson, Julia Amerongen, Mallorie Moe, Zoe Sullivan, Aislin James, Lillian Pettigrew, Kendal Ellingson, Caoimhe Woodburn, Hannah Martinez, Abby Moe, and Maddy Lemay. (Photo submitted)

Dancers learn life skills—time management, teamwork, critical thinking, communication—while learning routines

For Mactír Academy of Irish Dance studio owner Emily Wolff, opening her own business has been one of the most rewarding experiences of her life.

“To have the opportunity to do something I love every day feels like a dream come true,” remarked Wolff, who runs the dance studio at 2241 E. 38th St.

“My advice to other small business owners is to always push yourself out of your comfort zone, try new things, and keep trying them. Your business needs will always evolve, and you have to be ready to adapt when that happens!”

She also encourages new business owners to have a long-term vision for the business at the start. “Build your business mission and philosophy from day one, and then let that drive how your business grows and evolves,” stated Wolff. “When you are in times of major growth or change, go back to that mission and philosophy to help push you forward.”

Photo right: Mactír Academy of Irish Dance studio owner Emily Wolff lives just four blocks from the studio in Corcoran. (Photo submitted)

For Wolff, the most significant challenges she faces center on the business side of things. “While I can run the accounting side of things, and track costume inventory, it’s certainly not my favorite thing to do,” she remarked. “However, it’s all well worth it to have the freedom to run my business the way I choose to run it. When you are the owner and director of the school, you set the tone for how your dancers and families make an impact in the community.”

She also loves the hands-on nature of what she does.

“I never opened a dance school so I could sit in my office all day,” said Wolff. “Teaching classes six days a week and working with people of all ages is just the type of environment where I thrive. I love that I can showcase both my creativity and my leadership, skills!”

SENA good fit for school
Mactír Academy opened in the spring of 2013 in the “Eat Street” area in the Old Arizona Building along Nicollet. The school moved to its current location in the Standish-Ericsson neighborhood in June of 2015.

While it was a pure coincidence that the dance studio ended up in the SENA neighborhood, it has been a great fit for the Mactír community. Wolff had set out to find a larger space and knew she wanted the school to remain in Minneapolis as it is the only performance and competitive school that is based Minneapolis.

“Our dance families absolutely love the neighborhood, and we have built fast connections with the elementary schools in the area, with many of our dancers attending schools in the neighborhood,” remarked Wolff.

Over 125 students take classes for all ages and abilities. The youngest dancers, the “Wolf Pups,” start as young as three years old. From there Mactír offers beginner, intermediate, and advanced level classes to children and teenagers. Dancers attend classes anywhere from 1-4 times per week depending on their age and level. Mactír offers both competitive classes and team performance classes, based on the time of year.

There is also a thriving adult program at Mactír. Three levels of adult classes are offered, and beginner adults can start throughout the year with the six-week skills classes on Mondays.

Learning life skills
As a child, Wolff grew up two doors down from the editor of “The Irish Gazette,” Jim Brooks. He had a daughter about her age, and the two were friends. When Irish Dancing became popular again in the early 1990s with the start of Riverdance, a school opened in St. Paul.

“I was four years old, and my parents really didn’t have a strong Irish heritage, but they thought it would be something fun for me to do with my friends,” noted Wolff. “Our classes were held in bar basements and church gyms, but we were having so much fun.”

Photo left: Some Mactír Academy’s beginner and intermediate dancers greet the MC before a St. Patrick’s Day show at Hale Elementary. Left to Right: Amelia Schmidt, Silje Wicker, Connor Luby, and Berit Wicker. (Photo submitted)

The school she started at has long since closed, but she kept right on dancing. Now she’s been dancing and teaching for 25 years.

“I love that Irish Dance is about so much more than dance,” observed Wolff. “Yes, it keeps me fit, and my mind working in unique ways, but it’s the life skills that I have learned that are the most valuable to me, and something that I try and instill in my dancers now. From time management, to communication, to teamwork, to critical thinking, Irish dance has so many more benefits than people realize.”

Wolff also loves the social aspect of Irish Dance.

“Irish dance is such a unique sport. It can be done in so many different environments,” she pointed out. “I have performed and competed all over the country from a nursing home in Alexandria, Minn., to dancing at the largest Irish Festival in the world with International musicians. Irish Dancers can dance in the most informal settings, and the most elegant of affairs and still fit right in.”

Striving for excellence
According to Wolff, Mactír Academy strives to be the premiere team-based competition school in Minnesota, where dancers and families choose their own journey. That may be going to a couple of feiseanna (competitions) a year, performing with local and international bands, or competing in the Irish Dance World Championships.

“Our dancers are taught to always strive for excellence in and out of the dance studio and take those skills with them wherever life takes them,” stated Wolff.

The school’s next big performance season will be in March. “St. Patrick’s Day is our busiest day of the year!” said Wolff. “You can catch us at the Landmark Center in downtown St. Paul on Mar. 17 and 18, and also in the Minneapolis Parade on Mar. 17.”

For more, browse, email or call 651-261-8575.

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