Gears shift abruptly at Hampden and Raymond


While the rest of us were filling out tax returns in mid-April, owners and tenants of the Odd Fellows building at Hampden and Raymond — all of them either volunteers or small business owners — found themselves with some extra challenges.

Customers at the Parkview Cafe learned around April 12 that the restaurant would close imminently. The weekend brought farewells, followed by rumors, misunderstandings, a news article, negotiations — and the announcement on April 16 that Hampden Park Co-op had leased the space being vacated by the Parkview.

The co-op grocery store, which has existed in the southern half of the Odd Fellows building’s ground floor and basement in one form or another since the early 1970s, will occupy the former Parkview space as of May 1.

Co-op leaders say they expect to expand the retail area by about 50 percent and add a checkout lane. They hope to open the new area in September.

The Independent Order of Odd Fellows stated that the building has not been sold, contrary to a sign posted in the Parkview’s window during the week after the restaurant closed. They declined to say whether they are interested in selling it.

But co-op leaders say they have not ruled out an eventual purchase of the building, and Odd Fellows officer John Reynolds said that “it’s hard to rent this little building” because of property taxes and other expenses, suggesting that there could be pressure to sell. Reynolds drives in once a week from Hutchinson, Minnesota, to take care of administrative tasks. He said he does not know of any members of the order living nearby.

Ramsey County records show 928 Raymond Avenue as a commercial property with 14,580 square feet of finished space. The estimated market value for 2008 is $575,000, increasing to $632,500 projected for 2009. Total property taxes and special assessments for 2008 are $15,548. Taxes and assessments in 2004 were $11,972.

Gregg Richardson, co-chair of the co-op board, said the co-op has long wanted more room. He said their lease gave the co-op “the first opportunity to rent any additional space within the building which may be vacated by another renter. As soon as the building space became available, we moved quickly to negotiate a lease for the space.”

Other tenants of the Odd Fellows building include an artist and an Irish dance group, both on the second floor. The Minnesota Grand Lodge — the statewide network of Odd Fellows chapters — has its offices there as well. Reynolds said there are no plans to move state headquarters to another location.

According to David Lanegran’s book “St. Anthony Park: Portrait of a Community” (1987), the “Victorian patterned-brickwork building with five arched vertical windows” was built in 1902 by Charles R. Aldrich and has housed a drug store, a grocery store and a dry goods store. For decades, Odd Fellows Lodge No. 3 was located there.

Reynolds said he did not know how long the Odd Fellows had owned the building, but that it became the order’s state headquarters around 1980. No local lodge currently occupies the site.

“We really are keeping this space for the neighborhood to use,” he said.

The Odd Fellows are an international charitable order; they are a nonprofit but must pay property taxes because they rent out the space, Reynolds said. There are 23 chapters of the Odd Fellows in Minnesota, two of them in or near St. Paul. The order operates the Three Links Care Center in Northfield, Minnesota.

Hampden Park Co-op traces its history to two locations: St. Anthony Park Foods, now closed, which once existed near the University of Minnesota campus, and the Green Grass Grocery, which SAP Foods acquired in 1979 and renamed SAP Too. The business became Hampden Park Foods in 1990, then reorganized as Hampden Park Co-op in 1993.

A fact sheet for members, issued as the expansion was announced, cited growing membership and strong sales and stated, “Based on estimates, additional income generated from the increased space will eventually sustain the cost of expansion and our present expenses.”

The December/January Hampden Park Co-op newsletter listed total membership at 2,446 as of November 1, 2007, with 1,505 “active members.”

Departing business owner Denny Bure said the Parkview Cafe has occupied the corner of the building facing Hampden Avenue since about 1955. He said he’d like to know more of its history and encouraged neighbors to correct or add to the story via their Web site:

Bure and his partner, Lisa Murphy, have owned the Parkview for seven years. Their Web site says they could not come to agreement on a renewed lease with the Odd Fellows because of “the clause that terminates our lease if the owners sell the building.” They said they hope to open another restaurant in the neighborhood but haven’t found a good location yet.

“We would love to open up Parkview Cafe somewhere else,” Murphy said, referring to the Web site as a way for neighbors to suggest locations.

Bure said that before taking over the Parkview, he cooked at the Lexington, Forepaugh’s and W.A. Frost restaurants. Murphy worked in private security and also managed a cattle ranch.

Asked about their memories of the Parkview, both recalled the hours following the attacks of September 11, 2001, not long after they’d established themselves as the Parkview’s new owners. A waiter alerted them to the news, Bure said, and asked them to turn on the radio so that customers could hear. For the rest of the morning, he said, “all the customers were quiet, listening to the play-by-play.”

Murphy recalled the quietness lasting for several days. “The place was full, but it was really quiet.”

She fondly remembers much noisier times, including regular appearances by a harmonica player named Steve, who got the whole restaurant singing “Oh, Susannah!” She said another round of singing broke out recently when a group of office workers came in to celebrate a co-worker’s birthday, and other customers joined in on “Happy Birthday.”

“We’re really going to miss our customers,” Murphy said.