Police swarm Hard Times

Thomas Douty
Staff Reporter
The Hard Times Cafe was the center of police attention on the West Bank Wednesday afternoon when it was raided and closed down. The Minneapolis Police Department arrested two men on charges of felony narcotics although charges have not yet been filed. Police seized a small amount of drugs.
In a completely unrelated incident, police discovered the body of a 72-year-old tenant who died in an apartment above the cafe. The cause of the death is yet to be determined, although people who knew the deceased said he had been ill for some time.
Police entered the Hard Times Cafe at about 2:30 p.m. and ordered people to leave. The situation was relatively peaceful except for a couple of people who did not want the cafe to close down, said patrolman David Monjeau.
Two patrons were also arrested in the raid, one for an alleged liquor-license violation and another for possession of drug paraphernalia.
The Minneapolis Police Department expects up to seven more arrests of adults and juveniles in connection with the investigation.
After closing the cafe, police proceeded to the cafe’s office in an upstairs apartment. Peter Dodge, the building owner, who was actually on site to check on the welfare of one of his tenants — unrelated to the police action — gave police access to the office.
Dodge was visiting the tenant because other residents had not seen the tenant for six days. Dodge asked for police assistance in checking on the tenant.
Upon entering the apartment police found that the resident had been dead for some time. The tenant’s death was unrelated to the narcotics investigation.
Four months to close
The Hard Times voluntarily shut down because of Hennepin County health and building inspections, said Sgt. Jeffrey Miller.
The cafe had to close voluntarily or be forced to close by the police, said Officer Kevin Bakken.
Miller said the health inspector was brought in because of police observations of conditions of the cafe in the past.
Law enforcement officials began investigating the Hard Times Cafe in August 1999, following an increase in the number of crimes being reported at the cafe, as well as information provided to them about alleged drug dealing in the area.
According to a press release from the Minneapolis Police Department, crack cocaine, marijuana and hallucinogenic mushrooms had been purchased from several individuals in and around the cafe.
Since 1997, 96 reports have been filed with law enforcement officials, according to the press release. Five crimes have been reported at the cafe since Jan. 1. One of those crimes was a drive-by shooting Jan. 13 when five shots were fired into the restaurant.
Miller said it is unclear when the Hard Times will reopen. The owners must appear at a hearing before they can legally open for business.
Public outcry
Christopher Deangelis said the Hard Times Cafe was a respectable business that did its part to rid the area of criminal element.
Deangelis, a coordinator for nearby North Country Cooperative, was on his way to the Hard Times Cafe to place an order for pastries and baked goods when the incident occurred.
“They’ve kicked people out for drug trafficking. They’ve removed a negative atmosphere from the street out front in the past,” he said.
Laura Church, a former cafe employee, said that there has been pressure in the past by development interests in the neighborhood to close Hard Times. Others in the community felt that the cafe was being unfairly targeted as being responsible for the neighborhood’s problems.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if there was some people there who used drugs, but that’s the case for any public place,” said David Markle, a regular at the cafe. “It would be a loss for the community if it doesn’t reopen.”
Other than being a meeting site for neighborhood residents, the coffee shop was also an example of a successful business — run as a cooperative — organized by young people.
“It was the first business in this location that had succeeded as a coffee shop and restaurant in a number of years. Others tried and failed,” Markle said.
A Quiet Death
The tenant in the above apartment who died quietly without anyone noticing was considered reclusive and depressed in recent years, Markle said. It was normal for the tenant to be out of touch for days at a time. Markle had known him for nearly 20 years. The tenant had a history of illness; those in the community were not surprised by his passing.
“He wasn’t in touch with his family,” he said. “I’ll be very sorry if his children didn’t know about their father’s death.”
The tenant operated a moving business that he and his wife had taken over from his father-in-law some years before. In recent years, as a retiree dependant on Social Security, the tenant did some cleaning work for a local Riverside neighborhood bar to stay active and supplement his income.

Thomas Douty covers police and courts and welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3223.