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Why are so many Twin Cities businesses still boarded up?

After months of virus-related closures and subsequent damage during protests, local businesses now face a new challenge to reopening: glass repair backlogs.

Ananya Dance Theatre’s Shawngram Institute for Performance & Social Justice, also on University Avenue, had property damage.
Ananya Dance Theatre’s Shawngram Institute for Performance & Social Justice, on University Avenue in St. Paul, had property damage.
The violence that followed the killing of George Floyd has mostly subsided in Minneapolis, so why do so many businesses remain boarded up?

Turns out, owners who struggled to source ample plywood to cover their storefronts amid looting and vandalism just weeks ago now face lengthy waits for glass repairs due to a backlog of requests. And that glass shortage is exacerbating problems for many small businesses, which had already been closed for months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As of June 6, more than 400 Twin Cities businesses had been damaged during the riots that began after Floyd’s May 25 death, with rebuilding costs estimated at more than $500 million, according to a Star Tribune report.

And the damage continues. “There are people that are trying to kind of keep it going by still vandalizing certain areas—walking by with a bat at a gas station or kicking something,” said Andy Lange, owner of Shoreview-based Trustworthy Glass. “People have a sense of ‘we can get away with this now,’ I think.”

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Luke Shimp, owner of the Red Cow and Red Rabbit group of restaurants, says his Hennepin Avenue Red Cow, which has been closed since March, sustained multiple panes of broken glass during the nights of social unrest in May. Shimp had been planning to reopen the restaurant in July, but was told by suppliers not to expect window pane glass until the end of July. As a result, Shimp has been forced to postpone Red Cow’s reopening until after Labor Day.

“We’re waiting for glass repair along with everybody else,” said Julie Ingebretsen, owner of Ingebretsen’s Nordic Market on East Lake Street. Most of the shop’s windows are broken. “We got on our glass company’s list as early as we could and are just waiting for them to get their supplies in time,” she said, “so we’re thinking a couple more weeks.” Meanwhile, Ingrebretsen’s is only able to offer limited curbside service.

“It’s definitely a challenge getting contractors and bids for work right now,” said Doug Huemoeller, owner of Kitchen Window on Hennepin Avenue in Uptown. His store was almost entirely looted on the night of May 27. The glass on the Calhoun Square side of his store was seriously damaged, he said. “The glass people are just struggling with the amount of requests, as are their suppliers; the contractors are doing a good job, but their suppliers are where the delay issues are.” Huemoeller currently hopes to reopen, at least partially, on July 17, but it’s unclear right now if the Uptown storefront will be completely repaired in time.

John Fluevog Shoes on the corner of Hennepin and Lagoon avenues had three of its windows smashed on the night of May 28. “I was told the following week that it was going to be a three-week wait to get our windows replaced,” said manager Jamie Liestman, “but it did turn out that they under-promised and over-delivered because they were able to get the windows replaced in two weeks.” She said the glass repair company was sympathetic to the fact that the shoe retailer wanted to reopen as soon as possible—whereas some of the glass supplier’s other clients were going to remain closed a while longer anyway due to the pandemic. The glass company worked hard to get the work done as quickly as possible.

But that recovery was short lived for John Fluevog Shoes. On June 21, nine days after the repairs were made, a mass shooting took place in front of the store leaving 11 people injured and one of the Fluevog store windows shattered again.

The replacement glass has, again, been ordered, Liestman said. “If I’m lucky, I think I’ll get it replaced in another two weeks maybe.” But this time, the store will remain open even with the boarded up window. It can’t afford not to.

Jeff Herman of Urban Anthology Commercial Real Estate owns around 50,000 square feet of commercial space in Uptown, including the storefronts occupied by Apple, Salons by JC, and the restaurant Barbette. The majority of his tenants also saw their storefront windows and doors smashed between the nights of May 27 and 28. Finding a repair service proved challenging, Herman said. A glass fabricator he’s done business with, but did not wish to name, initially told him that it did not want to send people into the Uptown area at that time. When he inquired further and asked them to be sympathetic to his tenants’ situations, Herman said the company acquiesced, but told him it would be six to eight weeks before they’d be able to get to any of his tenants.

So instead, Herman turned to Mike Anderson at Top Lite Contract Glazing, Inc., an Osceola and Lindstrom, Wisconsin-based company that specializes in commercial aluminum storefront and curtain-wall frames and glass. The company repaired all of Herman’s damaged storefronts in just one week—even quicker, Herman notes, than usual commercial glass repair under the best circumstances.

“We’re just trying to help out,” said Anderson of Top Lite. “It’s not the kind of business we like to see, but we’re trying to help get everybody back to normal again.” But the work keeps piling up. Anderson said that while he was able to repair the windows of Herman’s tenants in just one week in early June, now his suppliers are backed up around two weeks.

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Citywide Glass in northeast Minneapolis also reported longer than usual wait times for glass replacement, said office manager Angela Grasstrom. Usually, Grasstrom said she receives around three to four estimate requests a day; since the unrest, she’s been responding to around 10 per day.

For Trustworthy Glass, Ingrebretsen’s supplier, glass isn’t the only delay. The repair company is also struggling to keep up with the workload. Trustworthy, which has just four employees, has already received around 60 riot-related calls, Lange says, with more coming in every day. “Some stuff is taking four weeks; some stuff is taking six weeks,” said Lange. “But thankfully, people do seem to understand that there’s not really anything anyone can do about it. Everyone’s in the same boat, just trying to get through it.”

This article is reprinted in partnership with Twin Cities Business.