Last Stop Shop

Even though Sullivan's New Market on West Broadway in North Minneapolis is the only grocer in the immediate area, its parking lot fills up only a couple of times a month. Aghast at what they see as Sullivan's poor customer service and substandard merchand

While conceding that his store has customer-service problems, Sullivan's Manager Mark Happley protests that the city has abandoned the neighborhood. He says he can't interest the City Council, and the Minneapolis Police Department is wholly unresponsive. For instance, he's been trying to get rid of the jitney cabs outside the store for years, he says. He's worked with Council member Jackie Cherryhomes, who represents the area, to secure new cab licenses but still can't get the legal drivers to pick up fares at the store.

Happley also denies neighbors' complaints that his prices are higher, but adds that his overhead includes paying for security. Starting pay for Sullivan's employees, he says, is $5.55 an hour. Workers who stick around for two and a half years can earn more than $10 an hour.

Neighborhood residents, by contrast, say the store effectively holds them hostage and shouldn't expect praise for hiring area residents. Impoverished consumers, they add, can't vote with their dollars as can the more affluent residents of, say, Uptown, who have multiple stores within a similar geographic area.

Cory Rasmussen

Phil Greenberg, property manager for the shopping center where Sullivan's is located, says he's never heard complaints about the grocery store. He says Sullivan's management has worked hard to keep the store up to code and has even "gone out of their way to hire people from the community." Greenberg says Sullivan's has been "a good tenant" and has "undertaken initiatives on their own which have been positive. However, there's always room for improvement for anyone."

Not surprisingly, the West Broadway Business Association, a clearinghouse for small- to mid-level businesses on West Broadway, has given Sullivan's what amounts to a seal of approval. WBBA and the University of St. Thomas recently completed a preliminary study of the shopping habits of people along the West Broadway corridor. WBBA Executive Director Rod Wooten says no comprehensive data has been collected on just how many people, if any, are complaining about the store. "Generally they liked the store," says Wooten, whose job is to be a booster for area businesses. "I'm not sure who was talked to. But generally they felt that the store's service delivery was okay."

Toi Miller, a South Sider whose North Side job requires her to spend time near the store, agrees that improvements could be made. However, she contends that Sullivan's isn't the only party responsible. Miller, who has worked as a manager for Target as well as a consultant for other businesses, says her experience with other urban retailers tells her that service and product quality suffer when crime is higher. "There's two sides of the story," she proclaims. "It wouldn't matter what store or grocery store [was there] because I honestly believe the prices are going to be higher in that location because the profit loss is so great.

"I remember a time when New Market had steaks--good steaks--and I remember when they put those steaks out I could guarantee you that those steaks would be on the street being sold hot," she says. "This is money walking out the door from them." Poor customer service, she adds, indicates that too many of the workers in the immediate community lack the basic job skills businesses require.

Happley agrees, explaining that last year, he hired 371 cashiers, and a similar number were fired or quit. "I've tried to recruit from outside but no one wants to come into community. We deal with an element that, I will use the word, is chronically unemployed," he protests. "It's going to take finding a quality of employee that enjoys customer service. I don't see that with some of the employees we have now. A lot of them quite plainly come in with attitudes. It's very hard to train that out of them."

It's this kind of view of the North Side market that area residents fear drives the decisions made by business owners who might otherwise build a Byerly's or a Rainbow here. They fear that store owners in poorer neighborhoods (and media stereotyping aside, there's no real evidence that the three neighborhoods surrounding Sullivan's are collectively any worse off than their neighbors in Robbinsdale) feel justified in expecting less of employees, in selling lower-quality products for a higher price because crime is "inevitable," and in neglecting their property.

"There's absolutely no excuse," says Parrish. "If they really took pride in their job, in their work and their store then they would be a little more particular about the people that they hire--from the neighborhood or not."

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