‘Welcome’: Last original tenant reopens at shopping center off Lake Street


One by one, familiar faces walk into the Stop N Shop gas station and convenience store inside Highland Plaza just off Lake Street in Minneapolis, as another business reopens more than a year after being damaged during the riots following the murder of George Floyd by the police.

With each “hello” and “welcome”, owner Joe Zerka smiles, as does Glenda Pinos, the store manager who has worked there for 18 years.

These faces include a mailman who has regularly stopped at the store along his route and a customer who regularly asks for $ 10 in gasoline at the eight pump. One elderly man in particular felt compelled to wrap his arms around Zerka in the center of the store.

“A lot of people are saying thank you, and I wasn’t expecting it,” Zerka said. “I feel like I’m the one who should say thank you.”

On Tuesday, Zerka reopened her family’s convenience store and gas station, as well as the adjoining A to Z Tobacco store. Either store has been open for over 16 months.

And it was an important step for Highland Plaza in the reconstruction. These complement the re-openings for the original tenants of this mall on Nicollet and South 1st avenues, one block south of East Lake Street in Minneapolis.

The looters caused more than $ 1 million in damage to the Stop N Shop, gas station and tobacco store. After looking at security footage, Zerka determined that more than $ 50,000 in tobacco store products had been stolen within an hour. The destruction of the two stores resulted in the displacement of 13 people, including Pinos, who worked in Zerka’s uncles’ store in the meantime.

Highland Plaza owner Tom Roberts spent $ 5 million to rebuild the center. The mall was one of more than 1,200 commercial properties damaged in Minneapolis and St. Paul in May of last year during riots, generating more than $ 500 million in estimated damage.

By all accounts, Highland Plaza is a better mall than it was before the riots, property manager Barry Mahaffey said. Most of the damaged center facade has been replaced and the storefronts and signage are new, Mahaffey said.

“I would say it looks a lot better than before,” he said.

Zerka called Roberts and Mahaffey a “gift from God”.

“Without them you wouldn’t see this,” Zerka said.

Highland Plaza has only 5,000 square feet of space left to fill, about a third of that at the Office Depot which has closed and has not returned. The majority of the space has been taken up by a new Walgreens.

The Lake Street Council says most businesses damaged in the riots have reopened. The nonprofit estimates that restoring the hardest hit mile-long strip will cost more than $ 250 million.

Other shopping centers open on Lake Street. Earlier this month, Wellington Management hosted a grand reopening of the Hi-Lake shopping center on Lake Street, which includes tenants from Citi Trends and Aldi to Pineda Tacos, FashionExpress and HD Laundry. The redeveloped mall now also includes retailer Burlington.

The Stop N Shop has been rebuilt to nearly double its previous size at 4,000 square feet, and now includes a Champs Chicken franchise that Zerka purchased this year. About 10 people work between the three companies, almost half of what Zerka needs to run them. Zerka has hired nearly 20 people, but more than half have not shown up for work this week, he said.

Zerka’s father and uncle bought the store and gas station in 1997. Her father, Halim, became the sole owner in 2013 and ran the business until 2016 when health problems l ‘forced them to withdraw. The store was operated by Joe Zerka and his brothers until Joe became the main operator in 2018 when he added A to Z Tobacco.

Halim Zerka was unable to see the restored Stop N Shop. He died in June after a long battle with progressive supranuclear palsy. He was 69 years old.

“Daddy’s store” had to survive, Zerka said.

“This is how we put food on the table for my family and me,” he said.

It is also an integral part of the Lake Street community.

“This store is right in the middle of so much,” Zerka said. “People would have to go very far (to shop elsewhere) and not everyone can drive. Some people have to walk or are in a wheelchair or they cannot afford metro transportation. We are that store for so long. of people, and has been for so long. “

Zerka endured months of sleepless nights, infuriating conversations – or lack thereof – with her insurance company, and meetings with contractors, only to see Stop N Shop and A to Z Tobacco reopen. On Tuesday there was finally a feeling of relief.

“It was so good,” he said.

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