Groveland Tap
The Groveland Tap's renovation and expansion plans on Saint Clair and Fairview avenues are displacing long-time tenants Uncle Sven's Comic Shoppe and the Curl Up & Dye hair salon.

The Groveland Tap, 1834 Saint Clair Ave., has announced a renovation and expansion plan that would provide it with new equipment, an outdoor patio, new entrance and other upgrades. However, the plan involves displacing two tenants, Uncle Sven’s Comic Shoppe and the Curl Up & Dye salon, which have been located next to the bar and restaurant for decades.

Stephanie Shimp, co-owner of the Blue Plate Restaurant Company that operates the Groveland Tap, presented initial plans for the building refresh to the Macalester-Groveland Housing and Land Use Committee on December 1. She said the building is more than 100 years old and in need of a new roof, heating and cooling equipment, refreshed bathrooms, and other improvements, some of which are required to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. One ADA change will be a wider entrance without an outdoor step.

During the pandemic, the Groveland Tap added more sidewalk seating and commandeered its parking lot for outdoor dining. Shimp wants to make outdoor dining permanent by building a patio in back and returning the lot to parking.

“We’ve learned through COVID that people really enjoy sitting outside, so we are intending to expand our patio area,” Shimp said. “We had picnic tables on the corner in the parking lot that we own. Throughout COVID, they were well received by the neighborhood.”

Blue Plate’s plans for the patio and expansion still are being developed, but the rough timeline calls for completion of the work by next summer. During the process, Blue Plate found that both of its tenants would be displaced for months in order to comply with codes. In September, the company notified them about their plans and asked them to leave by December.

After giving them the news, Blue Plate stopped charging them rent. “We appreciate them, they’ve been there as long as we’ve been there, and we want to make sure that we take care of them,” Shimp said. “We gave them ample notice, three-plus months, and we think that we’ve provided a generous off-ramp for them to prepare for such a transition.”

Groveland Tap
Uncle Sven's Comic Shoppe, left, has closed, while Curl Up & Dye plans to move out by the end of December.

Blue Plate suggested they could occupy the empty storefront east of the Groveland Tap. Shimp said she also spoke to Ward 3 City Council member Chris Tolbert, who suggested the city had resources to help the two tenants find new locations.

Neither tenant said they had much of a formal lease contract with Blue Plate, with Sven’s calling it a “handshake” agreement. Both of the tenant spaces are less than 500 square feet. Part of the remodel includes repurposing those spaces for more room and improved traffic flow.

Kathy Golden, owner of Curl Up & Dye, said she had been at the location for 38 years. She decided the empty space next to the Groveland Tap would be too expensive, and said she never learned of any additional support in finding a new location. The Groveland Tap’s expansion generated social media criticism because the announcement “was too hush-hush,” Golden said.

“We gave them ample notice, three-plus months, and we think that we’ve provided a generous off-ramp for them to prepare for such a transition,” said Blue Plate Restaurant Company co-owner Stephanie Shimp.

Rather than receive a notification to move out, she wished for something more. “I would have appreciated the owner coming in and telling me,” Golden said.

Curl Up & Dye plans to continue operating until the end of December. Customers will find Golden next year working at Rouge Urban Salon, 1743 Selby Ave.

Sven’s, which closed on November 27 after 39 years of operation, billed itself as the oldest comic shop in Saint Paul and likely the Twin Cities, said Patrick Brynildson, manager of the Source Comics & Games in Roseville, which owned Sven’s for the last 15 years or so. He said that tradition will now end unless he finds another location.

Brynildson said Blue Plate asked him to close Sven’s before the holiday rush. While he would have liked to continue at least through Christmas, he said he is not angry over the decision. “It’s more disappointment than anger,” he said.

Brynildson said he understands why some people are upset with the shop’s closing. “It’s like their local institutions are just going away. But, you know, things change, right?” he said.

Dave Schmidt, who goes by the nickname “Colonel,” began working at Sven’s in 1990 and managed the store for almost two decades. He suffers from multiple sclerosis and had few employment options before original shop owner Ken Svendsen offered him the job. Schmidt recently has been cleaning the store out and cataloging comics at the Source’s warehouse.

Though saddened by the store’s closure, Schmidt said Blue Plate was the “best landlord” of the three that owned the building since the 1980s. He said he no longer had to use his walker while shoveling snow from the sidewalk because Blue Plate handled it. The store’s bathroom also finally had hot water after Blue Plate took over and Sven’s never saw a rent increase.

He relishes the memories. For a time, he said the shop served as a type of free daycare for kids who would stop in to buy comics after school. “It was a neighborhood hangout that was good for the kids,” Schmidt said. “We always had kids in here and it was great.”

Neighbors react on social media

On the social networking service Nextdoor, more than 160 people commented on a comic book-style post by a neighbor who accused the building’s owner of being “a rapacious landlord” that has “seen fit to destroy these two tiny concerns” despite owning nearly a dozen other restaurants.

In addition, neighbors complained about the “harsh” treatment of the two tenants without knowing many of the details. Others praised Blue Plate and saw the need for the renovation.

Members of the Housing and Land Use Committee raised no objections and wished Shimp well in creating a new version of the Groveland Tap next year.

“I’m so excited that you’re willing to reinvest in our community,” said committee member Cathy Plessner. “Thank you for coming and for sharing that (plan). I want to clap for you. I can’t say enough about what your restaurants mean to me.”

— Frank Jossi

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