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Entrepreneurship : Development News

98 Entrepreneurship Articles | Page: | Show All

Segways settle into St. Paul, offering three-hour, 7.5-mile tours

The unlikely pairing of local history with Segway rides has propelled tour operator Mobile Entertainment, LLC, to success in both Twin Cities. Marketed as Magical History Tours, the $80-per-person excursions are now in their seventh season in Minneapolis and second in St. Paul.

The appeal of joining the lines of "people on a stick" that snake through the downtown Minneapolis riverfront and the elevated outskirts of downtown St. Paul is a "yin-yang thing," says owner Bill Neuenschwander. People enjoy experiencing the novelty of Segways while they take in historic sights and stories.

Many people in other cities have tried to copy Neuenschwander's model but have fallen short, he says. He has tried 27 Segway tours around the country and found some to be joy rides minus the joy. Without the element of history-on-wheels, he says, riding at 12.5 miles per hour from Point A to Point B gets dull fast.

Last year, the St. Paul tours operated out of the Minnesota History Center. This year the Segways have a storefront of their own on Grand Avenue. Next year they'll move to another a couple blocks down the street. (The company will also begin offering tours focused on sculpture and architecture in downtown Minneapolis, and possibly outlying locations like Stillwater or Northfield.)

The tours have proved different in St. Paul, where the emphasis of the narrative is on the Who--colorful personages who populated the frontier town's blufftop Gold Coast, Summit Avenue.  In Minneapolis, Neuenschwander says, the focus is on the What--the technological advances that built the city's industries, especially flour milling.

At 7.5 miles long, the St. Paul tour takes as much time as Minneapolis but is a mile longer--a difference made possible by full-throttle travel on the flats of Kellogg Boulevard between Cathedral Hill and the state Capitol.

Elsewhere on the circuitous St. Paul route, the Segways take an off-beat path that cars, pedestrians, and bikes wouldn't or couldn't follow, Neuenschwander says.

From a Segway perspective, he says, "St. Paul is eclectic, gnarly, and kind of bizarre."

Source: Bill Neuenschwander, Mobile Entertainment, LLC
Writer: Chris Steller

Local innovation "The Thing" follows 70 real-estate markets

Sometimes an innovation is so welcome that it doesn't need branding.

When medieval Icelanders needed a name for their big invention, the world's first parliament, they settled on simply calling it the All-Thing.

This summer the Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors (MAAR) faced the dilemma of naming its invention, an online, interactive database of local real-estate activity.

The MAAR staff took the Icelandic route. They called it The Thing.

Click on thething.mplsrealtor.com and you become the master of your own real estate data. Choose a Twin Cities neighborhood, a date range and a metric such as Days on Market, and colored lines appear, stretching across a chart to tell the story you want.

The Thing grew out of a desire to do better at communicating data, says Jeff Allen, who directs research at MAAR: "We were frustrated at our own inability to explain to our Realtors what was happening in the market in a way that was digestible and understandable to them."

MAAR "stumbled onto a business model" while trying to solve that problem, Allen says. Now its data-gathering arm, 10K Research, follows 70 markets for local realtors' associations. Some prefer a members-only approach to Multiple Listing Service (MLS) data, which is included in The Thing's database, but Allen says that in the Twin Cities the attitude is that "information should be transparent."

So far Allen says the "vast majority" of The Thing's users are real estate professionals seeking market information for their customers, says Allen. But the website is open to all and may eventually draw more lay users. "It's still in its infancy," he says.

Source: Jeff Allen, Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors
Writer: Chris Steller

Boneshaker Books shakes up old Arise! space

From the ashes of the Arise! Bookstore, which closed up shop in May, will soon rise Boneshaker Books, in the same spot on Lyndale Avenue in Minneapolis. Boneshaker, a collective, bought the one-story building from the Arise! collective to continue an outpost of progressive publications there. But the seven-member Boneshaker crew--including some veteran members and volunteers with Arise!--also wanted to make a clean start. That meant a summer (or more) of renovations to the approximately 1,500-square-foot space.

To cover costs in the interim, Boneshaker Books is leasing the space to Storefront in a Box, an organization which in turn is offering rentals by the week to anyone with a good idea for using it--from a weeklong "Nerd Party" to a rummage-sale fundraiser for a one-woman theater production. The Women's Prison Project, which distributes books behind bars, will maintain its small space in the building. Meanwhile, Boneshaker is holding its own events at a variety of off-premise locations, including Washburn Fair Oaks Park and the Triple Rock Social Club.

Boneshaker Books' name derives from an early name for bicycles, though collective member Tom Schumacher says the association has grown diffuse and the name is now an "empty signifier" open to interpretation. The collective is calling its group of donors of $250 or more the "Skeleton Crew"--each of whom can choose a book that will stay in stock in perpetuity.

Schumacher concedes that opening a new independent bookstore is "somewhat quixotic." But he says the collective is counting on support for its niche market (progressive politics, defined more broadly than by its predecessor) as well as a solid base of support from the the neighborhood (Whittier, and across the street Lowry Hill East).

Source: Tom Schumacher, Boneshaker Books
Writer: Chris Steller

Psycho Suzi's set to move down Marshall to 15,000 s.f. riverfront site

Psycho Suzi's, a popular, tiki-themed "motor lounge" in northeast Minneapolis, will move six blocks down Marshall Street to a 15,000-square foot space that used to house Gabby's, a riverfront saloon in a swirl of controversy until its recent closing.

Leslie Bock, Psycho Suzi's' owner, says she was moved to buy the expansive, 1.5-acre property because it allows more elbow room and the Mississippi River frontage holds strong appeal.

"I think tons of people are drawn to waterfront dining/drinking and we're all hoping we don't screw it up,"  Bock says via email. "The space and location will truly allow us to be all we can be. We need space to be creative and artsy, and obviously Northeast Minneapolis is that place."

The building will allow Bock to triple the 80-seat indoor capacity of her current location. She says she'll also be expanding the menu ("slightly"), and "adding some nonsense to keep the space interesting."

The new building is one of several commercial and residential properties along that stretch of Marshall Avenue that border the river. That's a rarity in the city, where most of the riverfront is parkland--or, in the "Above the Falls" sections of North and Northeast Minneapolis, industrial.

The short distance from the current location should make the move--now planned for the fall, close to the establishment's seven-year anniversary--easier, though still a daunting prospect. As Bock puts it, "We are excited and scared out of our pants.

"Psycho Suzi's concept was also meant to be oceanfront. What was I thinking?" she writes. "There are plenty of oceans to be had in Minneapolis ... via the Mississippi River gateway!"

Source: Leslie Bock, Psycho Suzi's
Writer: Chris Steller

For Birchwood Cafe, branching out means watering roots too

The Birchwood Cafe occupies a special place in the Twin Cities--and not only because it's perfectly poised, five blocks off the Mississippi River and five blocks from each of two major south Minneapolis thoroughfares: East Lake Street and East Franklin Avenue.

The Birchwood is also the consummate neighborhood cafe in a neighborhood that, to many inside and out, is the consummate Twin Cities community: Seward.

That special perch complicates Birchwood owner Tracy Singleton's desire to expand what has become a landmark for locavores and lovers of its environmental vibe and "good real food."

The building began life in the 1920s as a dairy, becoming a neighborhood store in the 1940s that lasted until Singleton made it a cafe in 1996--with the Birchwood name a constant. Business, however, has not stayed still, and Singleton's excitement and anguish over expansion options have played out publicly in venues such as the cafe's monthly newsletter and a neighborhood blog.

A bid for a commercial building across the street to house the cafe's catering arm was aborted in the face of concern for existing tenant businesses (though Singleton promised to preserve several). Now Singleton is again contemplating an alternative that would be a blow to the personal roots she has laid in Seward: sacrificing her own home next door to the cafe.

"Last month I said that we were going to expand the Birchwood without using my neighboring house on the corner," Singleton writes in her latest newsletter. "Now it looks like we cannot achieve the breathing space we need without considering this option in the mix."

Source: Tracy Singleton
Writer: Chris Steller

Wanted: Flat-topped building to host Midwest's first commercial rooftop farm

Actually operating the Midwest's largest commercial rooftop farm may yet prove to be the biggest challenge for Sky High Harvest, LLC. But in the meantime, founder Dayna Burtness has discovered that finding the right location is a challenge in itself.

"It's not like there's a directory of flat roofs," Burtness says.

Burtness is seeking to turn her four years of organic gardening experience into a for-profit business, raising high-end, interesting vegetables such as heirloom tomatoes, kale, greens and root crops.

But instead of growing food in the country, as she did while a student at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Burtness wants to grow it in the city, close to the market where it will be consumed. And since Minneapolis lacks expanses of available vacant land for farming, she's looking up for a building that could support a farm. Prerequisites include an EPDM surface, at least 10,000 square feet of virgin roof surface, and two access routes up.

That last one is a toughie -- but necessary to meet the fire code if farmers are to be toiling and tilling on top of a building. So Burtness has been scanning Google Earth's aerial images of Minneapolis, looking for the telltale shadows from twin pilot houses indicating two sets of stairs, on a nice, flat roof at least a half-acre in size.

Burtness is in consultation with rooftop farmers in New York City and Chicago and says she feels it's now or never for commercial rooftop farming to take hold here, in part because of the city's current "Homegrown Minneapolis" program.

Source: Dayna Burtness, Sky High Harvest
Writer: Chris Steller

Heavier-than-expected vehicles delaying food carts in downtown Minneapolis

People whose mouths began watering this spring, when they heard the word that street food is finally coming to downtown Minneapolis, may want to grab a granola bar to tide them over.

The first batch of applications for food-cart licenses share two problems. First, the food-service vehicles being proposed are heavier than city staff anticipated and could damage downtown sidewalks. And the prospect of setting up and taking down big vehicles at requested high-traffic sites is presenting unforeseen logistical challenges.

Some of the more recent applicants asked for smaller carts, says Ricardo Cervantes, the city's deputy director for licensing, and they'll probably be able to start serving food this summer.

City staff are looking for alternatives that will work for bigger vehicles, including finding second-choice sites. "We've got to be creative," Cervantes says. One idea: an apparatus lighter than a truck to move cart trailers into place.

Some food vendors may be able to operate out of private surface parking lots, where they could also have the option of using the property owner's power supply. (Food carts on public right-of-ways must be able to provide their own power.)

A rough winter of freeze-thaw cycles has loosened granite sidewalk pavers on the Nicollet Mall, a prime food-cart site, making them more susceptible to damage from heavy loads.

Tony Perella, general manager at Hell's Kitchen, contacted by email on an overseas trip, says his restaurant's plans for a food cart (reportedly to be called Hell on Wheels) will probably be pushed back to 2011.

Sources: Ricardo Cervantes, City of Minneapolis; Tony Perella, Hell's Kitchen
Writer: Chris Steller

Urban Garden showcases $1 million in landscaping options in farmers'-market setting

The Minneapolis Farmers' Market on the outskirts of downtown is already a seasonal sensation, a place where the chance to jostle with other shoppers past 240 stalls of flowers and food is guaranteed most summer mornings.
Now the adjoining Farmers' Market Annex, where crowds spill over to shop at 160 more vendor stalls, has turned a little-used parking lot and storage area into a showplace for home landscape and garden services called Urban Garden.
Owner Scott Barriball compares Urban Garden to a permanent home and garden show in a farmers' market setting--a sort of outdoor version of the nearby International Market Square design showplace. The offerings range from pergolas, fire pits, and bubbling boulders to handmade willow furniture, birdhouses, and tomato trellises.
Barriball says the equivalent of close to $1 million in labor and materials went into the creation of Urban Garden, transforming a site he says used to be "an underutilized mess." Vendors and contractors tore out blacktop and built landscaping attractions that include three outdoor kitchens, two waterfalls, and a rain garden.
Barriball's Annex is a for-profit counterpart to the nonprofit Farmers' Market operated by the Central Minnesota Vegetable Growers Association. Together they lay claim to having the largest selection of any market in the Upper Midwest, with an atmosphere like a European bazaar, drawing as many as 25,000 people daily.
Source: Scott Barriball, Minneapolis Farmers Market Annex
Writer: Chris Steller
98 Entrepreneurship Articles | Page: | Show All
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