What’s on Selby Avenue in St. Paul – Southside Pride

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BY DEBRA KEEFER RAMAGE

ReConnect Rondo Proposal (Photo/HGA)

Rondo – reconnection or repairs, or both?

The St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood was the center of the black community in the Minneapolis–St. Paul area for much of the 20th century. The intact neighborhood of Rondo was economically active, social and self-sufficient. Rondo’s core was demolished between 1956 and 1968 to make way for construction of the I-94 freeway. At least 650 families have been displaced from the neighborhood, along with many businesses and community places.
On August 18 of that year, St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter III proposed the creation of the Legacy Fund to help former low-income Rondo residents purchase homes. Residents earning less than 60% of the region’s median income are already eligible for $40,000 grants; Carter offered to use money from the existing housing trust fund for an additional $50,000 ($60,000 if they buy within the boundaries of the old Rondo neighborhood) to help with the refundable down payment. .
Here’s what repairs might look like. Of course, as is always the case with repairs, for some it will be too late. I thought of that while reading the story of Reverend George Davis, the late grandfather of Nick Khaliq of St. Paul. Nick Khaliq was born Nick Davis in the Rondo neighborhood at his grandparents’ house at 304 Rondo Ave. Later, his mother and children moved in with them, but Nick remained close to his grandparents.

The Selby Avenue Jazz Fest from Walker West’s Facebook page

In an article published by Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, Nick describes the trauma of being evicted from the family as a young teenager:
“I came home that day and saw the big moving truck and saw police cars. I looked around wondering what was going on. I knew my grandfather didn’t want to move. I asked, ‘Where is my grandfather?’ When I walked in I saw they were ripping stuff up to make sure he wouldn’t come back in there. One of the policemen said, ‘I will take you to where your grandparents are.’ »
When Nick arrived at his grandparents’ new place, a rental across town, he found them sitting in the dark. Their eyes said it all. “It broke my grandfather’s heart because the only thing I think a black man had back then was his dignity, his pride, his self-esteem and his independence. He didn’t ask anyone. He was a pastor, and people in need came and he helped them with prayers, food, or a word of encouragement. Although a healthy man, Nick’s grandfather died a year later.
If you want to learn more about the history of the construction of I-94, an online resource called MNopedia is a good place to start, with the article “Neighborhood Resistance to I-94, 1953 – 1965”. Use the search function on the homepage: www.mnopedia.org.
Another approach to repair is to repair the neighborhood itself. This is the goal of the Reconnect Rondo project. From their website, reconnectrondo.com:
“ReConnect Rondo is leading a restorative movement. ReConnect Rondo is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization whose goal is to bring prosperity to the Rondo neighborhood. We look forward to righting the wrongs of the devastation caused by the original construction of I-94. We stand ready to work with the Rondo community and others in Minnesota to reverse systemic oppression once and for all. We are passionate about creating an African American cultural business district connected by a community land bridge.

Jennifer Becker at work in her violin shop.

Shops and services on and near Selby Avenue

Selby Avenue looks much healthier today than it did in 1980, about 15 years after I-94 was completed. According to Wikipedia, at that time businesses could not obtain insurance, 20% of the residents of the avenue were below the poverty line, and three of the four corners of Selby and Dale were vacant. Homes as well as commercial sites were empty with boarded up or smashed windows.
Now most of Selby Avenue looks vibrant and thriving. There are all the types of businesses that make a neighborhood desirable. One of them is Walker

Walker West’s summer camp ends with a concert.

West, a community music academy at 760 Selby Ave. (its third location, not counting the founder’s house where it all started). Walker West was founded in 1988 by two musicians, Reverend Carl Walker and Grant West, to teach piano to neighborhood children. Established shortly after the Selby Avenue nadir, the school has seen two moves, a few crisis points and a few reinventions. They have added other instruments and skills over the years and now employ a full staff of teachers from all aspects of music.
Walker West’s current executive director is Braxton Haulcy, who brings 35 years of business experience to the position. Haulcy’s vision is to raise Walker West’s profile so more funders know they’re there, and to partner with schools to replace the music lessons they’ve dropped out of over the years by due to declining enrollment and funding.

Gary Moore’s furniture for J. Selby’s

Jennifer Becker’s Violin Makers and Restorers at 1161 Selby Ave is another long-standing business also tied to music. Becker has been making violins since 1970, trained by her father and grandfather, both named Carl Becker. She came to Minneapolis from Chicago in 1978 and moved into her current studio on Selby Avenue in 2015.
There is another interesting story behind Gary Moore of Gary Moore Custom Furniture at 787 Selby Ave. Moore’s interest in woodworking and furniture design “was sparked at school in England, and kindled by a grandfather with a ‘make and fix’ attitude, who was into sustainability and l eco-conscious long before ‘green’ was a thing.” Moore initially pursued printing as a profession, but moved on to his passion for woodworking at age 37.
After design school, marriage to a Minnesotan, and fatherhood, Moore moved with his family to St. Paul and opened his business. “My designs are drawn from the natural world and inspired by great architecture. I love the hexagons of a honeycomb and use them frequently in my designs,” says Moore. “I mostly use sustainably sourced wood and with offcuts from large furniture orders I make smaller pieces (cutting boards, iPad stands). Like my grandfather, I hate to see anything wasted. Even our sawdust… is given to a woman who raises urban chickens.
The last company we highlight is Mother Co., Plants. This is a company that sells indoor plants of all types, as well as the equipment necessary to take care of them, both retail and wholesale. The business was launched in northeast Minneapolis in 2018, and the branch at 162 Dale St. (just south of Selby) opened in November 2020. This business has a great reputation, judging by all the happy blogs and Instagram posts from St. Paul’s customers who no longer have to cross the river to get a new plant or expert advice.

Some restaurants

Leah Raymundo, co-owner of Kalsada

Kalsada, a “modern Filipino” restaurant, is now open at 1668 Selby Ave. This is a new venture from the couple who own Cafe Astoria. Kalsada serves Filipino dishes with contemporary interpretations – “authentic flavor, proudly delivered in an inauthentic way, not your lola’s cooking”. You can download a menu and also order online on their website. They are open for dinner from 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, with additional hours for brunch from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
J. Selby’s, a vegan restaurant in St. Paul, is still in operation, with the dining room open again. They’re at 169 N. Victoria St. (Try the soft serve.) Their September special is the Kimchi Brat-wich, which consists of a Beyond Brat, bok choy, mustard kimchi relish, and mayonnaise on a pretzel bun (can also be made gluten-free). Check out their reviews online to see how much people love J. Selby’s food, staff, and surroundings. As one reviewer wrote, “This is THE vegan restaurant. I can’t even begin to describe how good the food is. Even the meat-loving skeptics (i.e. me before d ‘have their cauliflower wings) can find something to fall in love with. By the way, in an interesting juxtaposition of business-to-business hyperlocalism, Gary Moore designed and built the furniture for J. Selby’s, so be sure to admire the next time you are there.

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