For Minneapolis restaurants and small businesses, a summer of ‘escalating’ break-ins and robberies

Left: Wienery owner Pat Starr sweeps up. Right: The scene at the Lowbrow after a late-night break-in last week.

Left: Wienery owner Pat Starr sweeps up. Right: The scene at the Lowbrow after a late-night break-in last week. Facebook

On September 1, Lowbrow owner Heather Bray called her handyman about boarding up a window that had been smashed in an attempted robbery the previous night.

He told her he’d head that way… just as soon as he finished boarding up Sisters’ Sludge, which had also been broken into—hours before the Lowbrow was.

Over at the Wienery on the West Bank, a “disheartened” staff closed shop last Thursday after they were robbed twice in the span of a week. When owner Pat Starr called a window repair guy, he learned he’d just finished boarding up windows at the Hard Times.

“I was joking, if he needs some business, he should just come down Cedar Avenue,” Starr chuckles.

A certain amount of liability comes with owning a business in the city. Scott Meyer, who co-owns and bar manages Sisters’ Sludge, says the place has been broken into so many times over the past 23 years it really doesn’t affect them all that much. At least this time, they didn't get anything, and they didn't bust up the shop.

Even still, he says, “We are getting very concerned about the uptick in crime in the area.” Last month a customer left the coffee shop/wine bar and was mugged less than a block away, and the staff is increasingly worried about being robbed at gunpoint. Owners recently emailed John Baumann, a Minneapolis Police Department crime prevention specialist for the Third Precinct, asking about the recent trend in the area, and have yet to get a response.

(CP also reached out to Baumann and received an auto-reply that he’s out through September 14.)

Not everyone has been so lucky. Less than a mile from Sisters’ Sludge at A Baker’s Wife—the old-school pastry spot at the corner of 42nd Street and 28th Avenue—Olga Shogren says the neighborhood has seen a series of robberies. She guesses A Baker’s Wife was the third or fourth business to get hit earlier this summer.

“We were robbed right before closing,” Shogren says. “There were four individuals who came in and went to the back and made themselves at home, punched one of our guys in the face and took the money and ran.”

She guesses it’s the same group of kids, and she says they’re getting bolder: “It’s escalating, kind of … the crime is going up for sure. I’m just thankful that nobody got hurt in a terrible way, but it was a very traumatic experience for our kids, for the guys that work nights. What do you do?”

Business owners don’t really know, other than to keep showing up. “After the riots and everything it’s like, hey, at least we’re not burnt to the ground,” says Starr at the Wienery. Yes, it’s annoying and expensive to replace the stolen phones; yes, he’s bummed about spending hundreds of bucks to replace the panes of glass.

But mostly, he hates having wood over the windows. The West Bank has felt different lately, abandoned. Until recently there’s been no Hard Times, no Palmer’s, no Wienery. “It was really fun to get that going again. It just kind of hurts when you get hit like that.”

Like other business owners, he empathizes with the folks doing the smashing. Video footage from the Lowbrow showed a child—Bray’s best guess is the kid is around 10 years old—with an older person in their teens or early 20s.

“We went from feeling angry to like… this is just a tragedy,” she says. “That somebody is using a child to get into a space and look for money. It just breaks your heart.”

“I think the city as a whole is feeling uneasy,” says Josh Klauck, owner of the bicycle shop/cafe Angry Catfish a few doors down from A Baker’s Wife—which, yes, also had its door busted open within the last few days. “But we’ve certainly had our windows smashed numerous times in our years of being open, so.”

Klauck’s sentiments are echoed by the folks behind other local businesses. As Shogren says: It can’t be perfect all the time. And on the other hand, the outpouring of support has been phenomenal.

“Our experience this week has actually been a net positive, I would say,” says Bray. She shared the post about the break-in Tuesday morning, and it promptly went locally viral. The Lowbrow was so busy that they had to shut down their online ordering platform; even after adding extra staff Wednesday, they couldn’t keep up.

It was the same for the Wienery: “In fact, my guy told me if he ever needs me to have him throw a rock through the window, just give him a call to drum up business,” Starr laughs.

For him, the tough thing is that businesses in the neighborhood are already fighting to stay open due to the pandemic. He used to live in the West Bank, and he’s owned the Wienery for two decades. His wife runs the West Bank Business Association (and would like to encourage you to show the neighborhood some love with BOGO gift cards).

“I think what brought me to reopen the restaurant and re-double-down on things is that it is my neighborhood, it’s a lot of people’s neighborhoods,” he says. “The COVID thing is so rough because half of restaurants are not going to make it. To see my neighborhood just gone… it’s really rough to see. The dynamic nature of the West Bank just isn’t happening.”

But the support is there, from Cedar-Riverside to Standish. “We had enormous support from people coming in and expressing, just: ‘Oh, sorry,’” says Shogren at A Baker’s Wife. “In the sweetest ways. The neighborhood is really tight, it’s really friendly.” She hopes people have heard about the break-ins, that they’re watching out for their homes and being more vigilant as business owners.

Bray sees it as the two sides of living and running a business in the city: You have extra exposure to crime, sure, and there’s more risk.

“But you also have the opportunity to be centered in a community that supports you, that comes out and rallies around you in your time of need,” she says. “Ultimately, this has been one of the most gratifying weeks since coronavirus happened.”