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Daily Glean: Grandma’s, we hardly knew ye

By David BrauerFriday, May 2, 2008 All the hospitality news that fits in Friday’s local news roundup: waiter pay holds up a higher state minimum wage; a pro-smoking bar gets a theater license, and Grandma’s is closing!

The State House passes a higher minimum wage ($7.90 an hour by July ’09) but AP’s Martiga Lohn quotes Gov. Pawlenty saying the bill is “overbaked.” He won’t link the wage to inflation and doesn’t want it to go to tipped workers making over $15 an hour. House Republicans say servers shouldn’t get more while $8-and-hour dishwashers or cooks don’t. Take it from this ex-waiter: such wage envy is real. Should we use the principle to disallow high-exec-pay deductions?

Some ammo for the GOP: Grandma’s on the West Bank is closing, the Minnesota Daily’s Joy Petersen reports. The hangout for a generation of U students will cease operations May 22. The president of the wonderfully named Grandma’s Corp. blames the smoking ban and, yes, that he has to pay tipped workers the minimum wage. New owners who purchased the building 18 months ago couldn’t be reached for comment.

Related: The state health department is going after another bar for bogus “theater nights,” KARE reports. This time, it’s South St. Paul’s Buggs Place. “You have to be an actor to smoke. If you’re not, we do ask you to leave the establishment,” says the owner, who received a theater license from the city.

The Strib says Gov. Pawlenty “gently corrected” potential ticket-mate John McCain for inaccurately blaming the 35W bridge collapse on pork barrel spending. The PiPress says Pawlenty “carefully avoided criticizing” McCain, but Norm Coleman says the nominee is “mistaken,” according to MPR. Dems say McCain is politicizing the disaster; the Strib notes Pawlenty’s similar admonitions to DFLers early this year. MPR’s Bob Collins unearths reports showing similar McCain quotes right after the bridge fell.

Late-breaking bridge news: House and Senate DFLers agreed on a bridge-survivor fund. It totals $38 million, and victim awards technically don’t puncture the state’s $400,000 liability cap, AP reports. However, there’s a supplemental $12.6 million for those with the worst injuries. Not sure how that doesn’t bust the cap and set a precedent, but all will be explained at a morning news conference.

The Strib says “hundreds” of people marched in local pro-immigrant rallies. It’s the third annual protest, and people weren’t asked to walk off jobs because of “a climate of fear.” Compelling stat: Minnesota had 2,000 deportees in January-February; last year’s 12-month total was 4,100. Marchers want the state to let central cities keep police out of immigration raids and reduced aggravated felony penalties when false IDs secure jobs. MPR posts Gov. Pawlenty’s defense of such policies here.

The Strib’s Dee DePass reports that Minnesota’s manufacturing economy tipped into the growth range in April on strong farm income and biofuels production. It was all about the weaker dollar, says the economist who authored the Creighton University report, who expects unemployment to fall this summer. The PiPress’s Jennifer Bjorhus hits the bad news: Regional inflation hit “another 13-year high” and supply managers’ confidence levels hit a 13-year low.

Crazy: Ford Ranger truck sales continue their upward ascent, the PiPress notes. January-April sales of the St. Paul-made trucks are up 12.3 percent from a year ago, the second-best rate among Ford models. No one talks about how this affects the local Ford plant’s looming closure, though the silence is deafening. Ford also makes the trucks in Thailand. The story doesn’t say so, but previous reports have credited the Ranger’s (relative) fuel efficiency for the gains.

Sign of the times: Home Depot is closing a local store, part of the chain’s first-ever national pare-back, the PiPress’s Gita Sitaramiah reports. Cottage Grove is the Minnesota store among 15 jettisoned. All told, 108 local workers may lose their jobs. Retail property vacancy rates rose from 5.8 percent last summer to 6.9 percent in January. The store will holding a closing sale beginning Saturday that will run until all the stuff is gone.

Back to wages for a sec: KARE’s Rick Kupchella questions the state’s “prevailing wage” ordinance. It prevents out-of-towners from undercutting wages on government projects, and doesn’t raise public costs in the metro area, he says. However, “as close as St. Cloud and throughout greater Minnesota … prevailing wage drove labor costs far beyond the market rate.” One outstater complains about $44/hour pay for a “common labor” position.

High-tax hell? The Business Journal notes that the Twin Cites ranked fifth last year for building and expanding corporate facilities. In Selection magazine’s 2006 rankings, we were 15th. Chicago is first.

The annual list of Minnesota endangered historic places is out.
WCCO has a nice report on St. Matthews Lutheran Church in St. Paul, and the Pioneer Press has a nice slideshow.

Local citizen-journalism site The Uptake has compelling video of its folks being thrown out of Minnesota GOP conventions. Republicans have cracked down on taping, and even Republican blogger extraordinaire Michael Brodkorb complains his party is heavy handed from the floor of a DFL convention. Dems have a policy of letting videobloggers into their meetings.

Everyone updates the every-parent’s-nightmare case of the baby burned in a bassinet fire. Bottom line: they still don’t know why flames erupted at Coon Rapids’ Mercy Hospital in January, burning Maverick Werth over 17 percent of his body. The Strib’s Josephine Marcotty says two minor safety-code violations weren’t related to the accident, and static electricity from ultra-low hospital humidity is one working theory. The PiPress doesn’t decouple the violations from the accident.

Minneapolis artsy types are planning a “massive 24-hour party” before the GOP national convention. The PiPress’s Jason Hoppin reports that the event — held the Saturday and Sunday before the convention — would have outdoor stages for music, theater and dance productions. If the still-gestating event comes off, it could be a national event, but it’s not like we don’t have a packed summer festival calendar around here.

Churches can tell gun toters to get lost with whatever signage they want, and keep ’em out of parking lots, too. The Strib’s Rochelle Olson reports that the state Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of a lower court ruling upending state-mandated sign wording and permitting parking lot gun bans.

How not to tamp down coverage: Oak Grove tells beleaguered fire fighters to shut up about the “delay and indecision” surrounding an elderly man’s house-fire death, the Strib’s Paul Levy reports. The city administrator says the chatter will compromise a pending investigation. The city may hire an independent investigator to look into the incident and allegations that less-qualified recruits have gotten top firefighting jobs.

Sweeps month: KSTP embarrasses the Geek Squad with the computer-repair shtick. They simply unplugged a hard-drive cable, but unlike other repair shops, two Best Buys recommended expensive repairs. It’s all more straightforward than the Chris Jenkins “serial killings,” cases that blustering Wisconsin Congressman James Sensenbrenner wants the FBI to reopen. WCCO showcases a good idea: distributing 10,000 decks of “cold case” playing cards to prisoners hoping to spur leads. Card faces have victim and case info.

The Strib’s Neal Justin says hyperkinetic comic Robin Williams will do three nights at Minneapolis’s cozy Acme Comedy Co. next week. He’s trying out new material before hitting bigger venues. Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. Monday and should last as long as Daily Show tix did yesterday.

Nort spews:
Literally nothing happened. But the sports sections are still as big as the metro sections!