Where the thistles grow: The new business landscape


When a volcano erupts it can destroy the landscape for miles in all directions. When the ash, mud and rock settles all that is left is usually more like the surface of the moon than that of our own colorful planet. Most plants are hard pressed to survive let alone even grow in this environment. But consistently one plant always comes back first. Despised by most farmers and gardeners but certainly rugged and robust, the thistle holds the title as the first plant to come back after volcanic devastation.

As our economy continues to flatten and level the business landscape, businesses are searching for ways to break through the mire and come back strong. Through this struggle many have embraced an ecocentric strategy. Like thistles they are striving to be strong through the tough economy as they embraces new strategies.

Fueling the culture

Some of these businesses have come up with creative ways to be green. One business exhibits green behavior by choosing to support the green lifestyle. Urban Bean at 33rd and Bryant is a vital node of the Bryant Avenue Bicycle Lane that runs north and south through Uptown. Greg Martin, the owner since 1995 is a recreational cyclist himself and commutes to his shop most days from the Whittier neighborhood. He says his business is certainly feeling the pain of the economy but will survive. He knows people are working less and staying home more often. And he sees a lot more people commuting by bicycle these days. This is the backdrop to his idea for a Free Coffee Monday for Cyclists.

Martin said, “I wanted to do something to help kick-start the economy. Mondays are the toughest days of the week.” He explains that biking in the winter is especially hard and cold. He thought a free cup o’ joe would help people get out of the house and keep them going on the way to work. He even worked with the city to install as many bike lock posts to his sidewalks as legally allowed. And as always, he sells only organic fair-trade coffee.


PC Doodle, new on Hennepin and 26th Street, is also trying something new. Owners Derek Traxler and Jeff Abercrombie opened their PC computer repair shop across the street from First Tech, an Apple reseller and Repair shop. The shop’s primary business is computer repair but they also merchandise gently used PCs at reduced rates. Their plan is to eventually make house calls and computer deliveries by battery assisted bicycles.

Traxler explains that unlike an automobile fleet that requires insurance and an expensive maintenance budget, a bicycle fleet is much simpler and inexpensive. The primary setup for the fleet will be a lithium battery-supported electric motor to run or assist the bicycle. Lithium batteries are much lighter and longer lasting for this type of use,” says Traxler. He plans on retrofitting existing bikes with frame extensions and then adding the battery motors.

He’ll use pre-existing kits to build up the bikes with Milwaukee Cordless Lithium-Ion batteries. He likes that brand because lithium batteries that aren’t well tested can be unreliable. Because they’ve been field tested for years he doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel to get that part of the project going.

Then as the second stage of this idea, PC Doodle will offer services to retrofit customer’s bikes this way for a fee. The idea is bold but the payoff is a niche market on the edge of a growing sector of the economy.

Geothermal joe

On Lake and Bryant, Dunn Bros, owner Sanjeev Azad has plans for a water exchanger. Building heating and cooling requirements are one of the industrial world’s largest generators of greenhouse gases and energy consumers. “Why should we keep depending on foreign oil,” says Azad. He believes it makes good business sense financially but more importantly that it’s the right thing to do.

His plan is to dig eight wells in his parking lot. Water will run deep underground far enough to where the ground temperature stays the same year around. Through heat exchanging, water will either get relatively warmer or colder depending on whether it is summer or winter. That temperature difference will then help cool or heat the building. In the end he’ll use a lot less conventional fuel to heat and cool his building. He believes his project is one of the first in the city.