With apologies to the Witch District, with Fractal Cactus on one end and the state’s only dedicated baseball glove repair shop on the other, the west side of Minnehaha Avenue at 38th Street has to be Minneapolis’ most idiosyncratic row of shops. Most Sundays and a few interspersed weekdays, that’s where you’ll find Jimmy Lonetti plying his trade: fixing, restoring and selling leather baseball mitts.
D&J Glove Repair is a throwback in more ways than one. It’s a brick-and-mortar business in an online era, and a place that fixes stuff when repairing anything smaller than a bicycle has largely gone out of style. But the little shop, a sandwich board sign posted outside whenever Jimmy is around, points to the value of small storefronts with affordable rents and the way that sidewalks can bring people together.
D&J Glove Repair is a long rectangle with bright green walls, maybe 20 feet wide, but it’s immaculate and full of tchotchkes. You can tell that Lonetti spends a lot of time decorating and cleaning the place, open 14 months now, and nearly every surface of the establishment boasts some kind of conversation starter, everything from pennants to stickers to a row of different-colored leather laces. Not that there are ever queues, but it makes the waiting area in the front of the shop a relaxed affair.
The shop is partly named for his son, Dom — thus the D&J moniker — because Jimmy got his start working on his kid’s Little League glove. He graduated alongside Dom through the ranks of amateur baseball, to fixing gloves at Highland Park High School, St. Mary’s University in Winona, and now town ball league for teams like the Eagan Bandits or Dundas Dukes. Dom still works in the shop once in a while, but it’s mostly Jimmy that holds down the fort.
“We just started taking care of his glove, and then noticed some players that had a broken string in the web,” Jimmy Lonetti said. “I fixed his teammates’ gloves, and did a few more for the teams in the league and, after a while, a guy I know in the advertising industry made our first logo. Back then it was just a fun thing for me and my son to have.”
The Lonettis’ also share a family legacy in the leather repair business. Jimmy’s grandfather was a cobbler on St. Paul’s East 7th Street when he was growing up; the old Singer sewing machine on the pedestal at D&J is the same one his grandfather used. For me, as well, both baseball and shoe repair are steeped in romantic nostalgia, which makes Jimmy’s a rather special place in the Minneapolis retail landscape.
Still, I wanted to talk to him, because it seemed like the kind of business you could easily run out of your house. Why lease out a storefront? What is the appeal?
“Heat,” was Lonetti’s reply when I asked about the biggest difference from the garage. “I was working year round in the garage. It was a struggle to keep it at a working temperature in the dead of winter, and in the summer too, it gets super hot. This is great. Plus I always had a bunch of my baseball memorabilia displayed in the garage, now this gave me an excuse to really go all out.”
The result is a small baseball museum dedicated to the Met Stadium era of Minnesota Twins history. There’s everything from pennants to paintings of Rod Carew to old family bowling trophies to an actual blue wooden seat from the old Met. (It’s surprisingly comfortable, in my opinion.) Because of the store, random people pop in from time to time, and thanks to Jimmy’s online presence, everyone knows where to find him.
There were other reasons to move into a commercial building. Working out of the garage gradually brought too much foot traffic to his back alleys, and his dog was getting irate about it. A soon-to-be retired Postal Service employee, Jimmy Lonetti is looking forward to spending more time in the Minnehaha Avenue shop, looking out the large plate glass window in the front and chatting with his landlord Eileen, who runs the salon next door.
One of the benefits of the storefront is the randomness. Jimmy Lonetti described how last year’s Open Streets Minnehaha was a boon for window shopping and random connections, telling me that a record number of “looky Lous” came through, using word of mouth to spread the word about the business.
“The visibility is great,” Lonetti told me. “I get people mentioning they just drove by and didn’t know I was here. It’s a good spot. Last year, Open Streets was great when it was here. Got a lot of walk-ins. I sometimes get some calls from gray-haired old ladies who want me to fix their leather dress glove or something.”
(Jimmy has fixed the occasional leather boot, but he admits he’s no good at it.)
I won’t predict an urban renaissance led by baseball glove repair. There are only so many mitts out there, and Jimmy Lonetti seems like he’s got half the metro covered with his services at this point. After a small bit of research, D&J Glove Repair might be the only brick-and-mortar, dedicated baseball glove repair shop in the country. (The others are invariably run from people’s homes.)
Jane Jacobs once wrote that “new ideas need old buildings,” referring to how older buildings with cheaper rents can boost small business and innovation in ways that new retail spaces cannot. It reinforces the fact that entrepreneurialism comes in many forms. Judging by all the vacant storefronts for lease in the city, it’d be nice to see a few more small businesses emerge out of the woodwork, hang their signs over the sidewalks, and bring Minneapolis’ streets to life.