When graphic designer Brian Cornell and his wife Kari moved to Longfellow in 1996, the Riverview Theater stood proud at the intersection of 38th Street and 42nd Avenue – but there wasn’t much else happening there. Within a few short years, the Riverview Theater underwent renovation, Mother Earth Gardens and the new Hiawatha Clinic opened, and a video store was remade into the Riverview Café and Wine Bar.
Brian and Kari started a tradition of meeting friends for coffee every Wednesday, and the Riverview Café became their favorite stop. Cornell said, “We had all bought homes in the neighborhood recently, and everybody was just starting out. These get-togethers went on hiatus when several of us had young children, but our connection to the place remained strong.”
That corner, and especially the Riverview Café and Wine Bar, has a special place in Brian Cornell’s heart.
Recognize what matters
Cornell said, “I’ve known owners David and Mara Bernick since they opened their business 23 years ago, and we’ve talked all through this tough summer. After a community meeting in Longfellow Park in late May, I joined a group of neighbors dedicated to supporting small business owners. Several of us helped David and Mara put boards on their windows during the uprising. These experiences ratcheted up my sense of what it means to live in this neighborhood. That corner is always on my mind. It means a lot to me.”
Cornell was formerly the advertising art director for City Pages, and has been on his own as a freelance creative for almost two decades. He thrives on what he calls, “hypothetical rigor and making connections.”
Long after the boards were taken off the windows, he was still thinking about how to protect the Riverview Café and Wine Bar. There was the threat of physical damage this summer; now the challenges are economic.
He said, “With the Hiawatha Clinic closing permanently this month, Mother Earth Gardens slowing down after Christmas tree sales, and the Riverview Theater open only for popcorn a few days each week, there is real concern about how David and Mara are going to make it this winter. They count on people passing through the neighborhood.”
A neighborhood treasure
The weekend after the election, the Riverview hosted a pop-up event to celebrate: with $5 glasses of wine and live music in the parking lot. Cornell and his wife put on their masks and walked over. They bumped into neighbors and friends they hadn’t seen in ages. They talked and laughed; it was sort of, almost, like old times.
Cornell had noticed a note in the Messenger about sponsoring a business ad, and he mentioned it to a few neighbors that night. Cornell liked the idea of supporting the local newspaper and the Riverview at the same time. With his advertising background, he offered to design the ad himself. When the ad idea came up in conversation that night at the pop-up, other families asked if they could contribute to the cost. Cornell said, “Here we all were at this great, socially distanced gathering. Where else could we have come together safely like this?”
Time to give back
With a long winter looming, Cornell hopes residents will think of creative ways to keep supporting the small businesses that define this neighborhood. Sponsoring an ad in the community newspaper is one way he chose to act. Ordering take-out is another way, especially when the café and wine bar are closed for in-person dining.
David and Mara Bernick have café and wine bar gift cards for sale, as well as bottles of their specialty “South Side Sauce.” Buying one or both is an easy way to give the gift of food and drink during the holiday season and beyond.
Cornell said, “Anyone who has ever organized a school fundraiser or a silent auction for a community event knows that David and Mara have been extremely generous over the years. It’s time to give back, to ensure that businesses like the Riverview Café and Wine Bar will be here when we can all go out again safely.”