Businesses, neighbors strengthen community

Kamariea Forcier

Como neighborhood residents used to have to walk eight blocks into Dinkytown to buy clothing or a cup of coffee, or rent a video. But with new shops and services in the area, many people now head in the other direction, from Dinkytown to the corner of Como Avenue and 15th Avenue Southeast.
The neighborhood renaissance started in 1994, when Mike Welna decided his wide collection of foreign and independent films might appeal to people in the University community. He opened Rendezview Video that year, the beginning of neighborhood development as an active gathering place for residents.
“He started it,” said Monte Warren, co-owner of That Place on Como, pointing out the window across the street to Welna’s shop. “He was the first guy to start investing himself in the neighborhood.”
Since then, Warren said, neighborhood business has taken off.
Other neighborhood business owners seem to agree.
“I think business is on its way up,” said Bret Dryden, owner of Idlewilde Cafe, an organic coffee shop across the street from That Place on Como.
“People are investing themselves into their businesses instead of just their money,” he said. “They’re investing into the city instead of cash-flowing everything.”
As for his sense of community, Dryden said he can see it growing, not just among business owners but the people who live there.
“I see people going out for coffee with their neighbors. I see people bumping into their neighbors. It’s becoming a focal point of the neighborhood.”
Next door to Dryden’s shop is the used clothing store Villa Coola, owned by Kathryn Lawrence. She spoke highly of the friendly neighborhood business atmosphere.
“I love it. It’s diverse, but it still has a great sense of community,” she said, “I think the shops contributed to that a lot.”
Before Lawrence and the other new business owners moved into the community, the corner had hosted a shoe repair shop, a travel agent and a printer. Now the area has two coffee shops, a video rental outlet and a trendy used clothing store.
“Before, when I lived here, I went to maybe the corner grocery and hardware store,” said Warren, looking left and right out the window down Como. “I didn’t even know what was here. Nothing stood out as interesting to someone in my age range.”
In spite of the recent establishment of the businesses, they are already cooperating to draw customers into the area, said several of the owners.
Store owners are held together by a shared sense of what their customers need, Lawrence said. “Instead of going to the mall, they can come here. For social things, we have the coffee shops. It’s where it’s at.”
And local residents said they enjoy the neighborhood’s rebirth, as well.
Kirsten Busse, a University senior who has lived in the area since September, said that she has made That Place on Como her hangout.
“Como’s convenient to campus,” she said, putting aside the books spread across her table. “It’s far enough away from the University, but not too far.”
A smoker, Busse said she likes studying at the Como coffee shop because it’s quieter and less smoky than the cafes in Dinkytown.
“It’d be nicer if they could stay open later,” she said. “It’s really easy to study here.”
Because of zoning policies, area businesses must close by 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. But most owners are hoping that will change.
Welna said that despite the restrictive zoning, he’s happy with the way the neighborhood has been changing. But he refused to take credit for kicking off the neighborhood’s turnaround.
“Maybe it’s just a coincidence of timing and luck,” Welna said.
Warren added that the neighborhood renaissance hasn’t changed the fundamental character of the area.
“It’s like, we’re still a small community,” Warren said. “Everyone goes on walks, goes to the park, but we’re still only a mile from downtown.”