Friendship comes at a price for the new Seward co-op


A few dozen people stood outside the new Seward Co-Op Friendship Store, waiting. For what, it was hard to say.

There was supposed to be an "announcement," but the only proclamation was the intent to sign a "statement." And a statement should not be confused with an "agreement." That could take several months.

The alleged "press conference" was attended by just one full-fledged journalist. Me. And I had but one question: What the hell's going on here?

But I kept it to myself. No one could answer.

Construction of the $11 million store was taken by some as the first sign of a light-skinned invasion in the block-to-block gentrification of the Central neighborhood in south Minneapolis.

Black and Hispanic organizers feared the co-op would lead to new, more affluent residents demanding new, more expensive properties. Central, a multi-shaded elbow in the Powderhorn area, is about one-quarter white, though everyone I've seen with a lawn sign supporting the co-op looks like she's dressed up as Jane Goodall for Halloween.


Faced with an onslaught of seasonal squashes and backyard-brew honey, neighborhood leaders issued a lofty list of demands, calling for 70 percent of the co-op's employees to be people of color, each receiving a $15 minimum wage. Another bullet point sought bigger discounts for poorer members.

The co-op warned that said demands could sink the store.

On Friday, the three concerned "parties" — and, let's face it, races — were represented. There was Sean Doyle, a general manager of the co-op; Ishmael Israel, leader of the Bryant Neighborhood Organization; and Henry Jimenez of the Central Area Neighborhood Development Organization.

Reading from a jointly issued statement, sometimes nervously, they told the assembled crowd that they were close to terms that would be good for the co-op, its customers, and its neighbors. Details are still in the offing, though the business had already surpassed a 60 percent minority-hiring goal, all but a handful from the neighborhood.

Credit for the agreement to someday agree went to Dave Ellis, a former prison guard and oak tree of a man, who now consults on all manner of city, county, and state initiatives. Ellis spent Friday's whatever-it-was leaning against a wall, nodding, and instantly diffusing an agitator's rant with the manner of a bouncer who'd just come from church.

Every American metropolis could use a dozen Dave Ellises.

The cynical side of me recalled America's record of mixed-race accords: "Sign here, brown man, and we shall both be free." But the hungry part of me wanted some lunch, and my new neighborhood is starving for options.

I've lived in Central just long enough to bring a pot of water to boil. Not true for Sen. Jeff Hayden (DFL-Minneapolis), a party leader and his race's closest hand to the gears that grind black people down and the levers that might lift them up.

Hayden's great cause is the shameful gap between white and black health. The numbers are scary. Saddest and starkest is the fact that a black Minnesota baby is twice as likely to die in its first year as a white one.

Hayden's neighborhood — he lives about two blocks from the co-op — has long been a food desert, with no steady provider of fresh sustenance within a mile in any direction. This grocery store looks like an oasis.

At one point during the gathering, one young co-op-er said to another, "If this wasn't a co-op, if this was any other business, we wouldn't even be having this kind of thing."

Exactly. If this were a Whole Foods or a Trader Joe's — the nuclear submarines of the gentrification wars — anyone loitering in the parking lot would have been steamrolled under two feet of asphalt.

Hayden agreed.

"I don't think any other business that's opened up in the city has gone through this process," Hayden said. "They're doing it in the right way. They are feeling some of the heat. But that's the byproduct of being good citizens."

These punks and hippies, radicals and moms, vigilantes and organizers had gathered in some parking lot to express concern about what winds up on their dinner table — and at what cost.

But for Hayden, the goal isn't to think of how to get the co-op to fit in a low-income neighborhood. It's figuring how to turn this into something other than a low-income neighborhood.

Hayden will shop here. "My wife has been vocal in support of it," he says. "I don't see a reason why not to."

Me neither. At least not yet. I'm trying to get invested in a neighborhood. Plant roots. Be involved in something.

In the meantime, I'll keep an eye on the horizon for the armies of gelled hair and spray tans pooling outside our gates. My pitchfork will be sharp. But for now, all it will be used for is to stab some yams.