Saturday, February 21, 2009

Al Flowers Disrupts UROC Conference (Plus More Details Of The UROC Conference Than You Can Possibly Stand)

For part of yesterday and nearly all of today, Saturday, the University of Minnesota did what it does best when it comes to North Minneapolis. Talked. Made promises. Talked more. Tried to talk, wasn't allowed to talk, but then finally managed to talk. Yes, it was the "UROC" conference at the offices of PICA at 700 N. Humbolt Ave.

And guess who was there? AL FLOWERS, one of the stars of "As The Neighborhood Turns," the ongoing Jordan soap opera. (Seriously, wouldn't a daytime drama that revolves around pressing neighborhood issues be, like, a great idea? I'd watch it! Well, I'd probably write it...)

In any case...

...UROC was having its little meeting...well, not so little, it dragged on for TWO DAYS, including a primo Friday evening and most of Saturday. I heard about it from some sources, and I get tired and worn out just thinking about two days of, oh my word, CONFERENCING. But right at the beginning of the event, professional gadfly and winner of a multi-dollar legal judgment Al "I Am The Community" Flowers showed up, and went off on conference organizers about how it was such a terrible thing to shut down Snow Foods--site of the future "North Minneapolis campus outreach" thingie associated with UROC--and then he started doing the Al Flowers thing.

How does the Al Flowers thing go? Well, first he starts making loud accusations--I GOT FOUR RESIDENTS SAYS YOU WAS ILLEGAL, KIP--that kind of thing. In this case, he was ranting and raving about the tragic loss of Snow Foods and (though he apparently didn't mention it) all the crack dealing that took place in the parking lot, practically within site of the 4th Precinct Headquarters. Next, Al Flowers gets around to asking a QUESTION--after all, it's a question and answer format, so even Flowers can only rant so long--so he asked a question, finally, and I heard something about how it was "laced with profanity." But, like a contestant on Jeopardy, he got the words out in the form of a question, awkward and un-question-like though it may be.

So one of the organizers tried to answer. But, once again, Al Flowers does the Al Flowers thing. He interrupts, he shouts accusations, he fires off MORE questions. I hear there was at least one video camera present, and some of this was captured on video, but word has it this may be a UROC organizer with the film, so just try getting it out of the University of Minnesota.

(Open records request, cough cough)

Al Flowers finally just up and left. Well, at least he didn't shove anybody, this time, or get escorted out by the police. Too bad. If Flowers wins this current lawsuit and manages to latch on to another one, Flowers could potentially be up as much as NINE DOLLARS in damages.

Now is the point where I suddenly change course and say: I could find some common ground with Al Flowers, here. I hate to admit it, but Snow Foods was, at least, a grocery store with a produce section. That building has been sitting vacant for almost a year while the University has--good grief--A TWO DAY CONFERENCE. Was there FOOD at this conference? I forgot to ask my sources. Well, I'm willing to bet there was, and I bet it involved some nice fresh produce.

Talk is cheap. Fresh produce is something I can put on my plate. I know the University wants to talk to residents of the neighborhood and make sure it has a consensus and all of THAT but you know what? This talk could have happened SEVERAL MONTHS AGO. The "U" is dragging its feet on this project, once again substituting blah blah blah for action. To the "U" I say:

Get your (expletive) in gear and get the boards off the windows of that building.

In other UROC events, (if you want to call people talking about things an "event") former JACC Executive Director Jerry Moore was in attendance and introduced himself as--surprise, surprise--the former JACC Executive Director! During the (tedious and inevitable) small group sessions, Jerry Moore talked about the need to do financial audits about where money goes in North Minneapolis. He also talked about the need to "build community from within" instead of relying on "outside institutions" and (he actually used this word) "carpet baggers."

To this I respond: residents of North Minneapolis are not rabbits. We can't reproduce THAT fast. There are so many vacant houses that, to occupy those homes, SOMEBODY will have to move to North Minneapolis. It is only a question of who that will be, and how to control, shape and influence that influx, and how to make sure that influx becomes active and productive in their new community.

Oh, another tidbit of info: word is Jerry Moore is no longer the chair of the Northside Marketing Task Force, but remains a member of that board.

This blog remains open to comments and to hearing all sides of issues.


Anonymous said...

more auditing of the money that is moving through the organizations??? really? can we say guilty conscience anyone?

jerry hopping on the financial auditng bandwagon is just as rich and enetertaining as it was a year or so ago when he hopped on the foreclosure prevention bandwagon.

jerry you need to hop on the next train out of the northside and go swindle some other community. buh-bye

Margaret said...

Ask the residents of the blocks surrounding Snow foods and you will find that none of them were sorry to see it go. That and Uncle Bill's across the street were a public nuisance. Yeah, they sold produce but they also functioned as a drug dealer supply store (just like Bill's) and they were very well aware of it. The rest of the mall was empty by the time it was shut down. The parking lot was a bazaar for drugs. People got shot buying groceries. It was a major frustration of the 4th precinct cops. How can you justify keeping a 24/7 watch on that place when there is crime happening in other parts of the precinct. Even West Broadway doesn't get that kind of attention and arguably it's worse.

We've learned that vacant is better than being a drug dealer magnet. Occupied, with a legal business that doesn't encourage illegal activity would be better but they've yet to come up with an alternative.

The U's project could have worked. It is a shame that they backed out. They had done a lot of preliminary work, convincing the neighborhood to accept it. Some people thought the U was going to experiment on black people. In a way, it was true since they were going to train social workers and psychologists but the protesters were thinking more along the lines of the Tuskegee Institute.

I thought Al's apartment was in Jordan or Hawthorn. Snow Foods is/was in Willard-Hay.

Anonymous said...

How come Al Flowers hasn't seen fit to raise his righteous rage over the closing of Jug Liquor? He has 4 winos who want his to press this issue with those who hold all the power. Keeping the chronic inebriate from his Thunderbird or Boone's Farm is an affront to all Al stands for.

Anonymous said...

Think of the worst, most predatory, drug-paraphernalia business you can imagine. It is sitting on the corner of your block. It finally goes away. Now imagine someone from another part of the city chastising you for not being sorry that it is gone, because the drug paraphernalia business also had a couple of wilted heads of lettuce in the nearly-bare produce section, which anyone was welcome to purchase, once running the gauntlet of drug dealers in the parking lot. This is the reality of Snow Foods. Of course we want a decent grocery store in our neighborhood. We don't agree with you that, in the absence of a decent grocery store, we should thank our lucky stars for the privilege of having a drug-paraphernalia store that enjoys promoting itself as a grocery store. If it was, as you say, such a fabulous addition to the neighborhood, why do you feel that neighbors didn't actually shop there, but, instead, made the long slog up to Cub Foods on Broadway? Just because they hate the idea of a neighborhood grocery store?

Anonymous said...

Snow Foods was NOT an asset to the northside. Northsider's should not LOWER the bar and settle for less than acceptable. Just because a retail establishment sells items that can remotely resemble fresh produce does not mean it's in a different category than say, Big Stop, Wafana's or Uncle Bill's. Snow Foods wasn't closed down by the city in the same way as those 3 in-convenience stores were, but none the less, the area is better off for having it closed down. Yes, people who got some 'food' there at snow foods should be PO'd at the owner of the store and the owner of the strip mall - NRRC!!! Yes, NRRC! the resident's council owned the drug dealing strip mall! NRRC also owned several problem property apartment complexes, including at least one in which drug-dealing gang-bangers shoot and kill each other!

It IS in fact possible to have a retail business in northside in which it is not over-run by illegal activity. Look at Dean Rose and BLO - Dean has done a nice job of raising the bar for the visual presentation of his store, he has raised the bar of the inventory he carries, he serves a wide range of clientelle, he pays good money to have a zero-tolerance policy for misbehavior inside and outside his store. Yes I have seen some solicitation of probably drug dealing in the alley across from the parking lot but a call to 911 will result in squads responding and putting a stop to it. The local people no that seedy behavior IS NOT TOLERATED at BLO and therefore it has been successful business.

Snow Foods owner and NRRC the strip mall owner did NOT SUCEED at establishing a ZERO TOLERANCE policy and local thugs knew what they could get away with, yes, just doors down from the police precinct. Unfortunately laws are more protective of criminals than of fighting the war on open air drug dealing. Ex-chief McManus was known to say that the MPD was not 'trained' to take down open air drug dealing. Apparently McManus wasn't interested in providing the proper 'training', so he left town.

Johnny Northside said...

Wow, I managed to get up one post that day and yet look what a discussion took place.

My post about Snow Foods emphasized they "at least" sold produce. What I'm saying is the U has an obligation to move MUCH MUCH FASTER to put something there, since they took away a grocery store that AT LEAST sold produce. (And I was very clear about the constant crack dealing in the parking lot)

I'm not sorry to see Snow Foods go so much as I'm sorry to see the U not moving to replace it with anything, dragging its feet. However, I want to make this clear: the U has NOT backed out of the project, though one comment above makes it clear some folks believe the U has.

No, they haven't backed out. They've just substituted talk for action and the place still sits there empty while they have a two day "conference" about "consensus."

I'll address some other comments, too: I was inside that store. It was a GROCERY STORE. It was not a crack pipe store "disguised" as a grocery store. I didn't see any crack pipes for sale or I would have written about it back when I wrote a column about it for the Minnesota Daily. I'm not saying glass pipes were NEVER sold there. I'm saying I didn't see any there shortly before the place was closed down.

Snow Food was much larger, provided more useful goods than Wafana's or Big Stop and can't be casually placed in the same category.

Here in the Hawthorne Neighborhood--"another part of the city," as some might put it--we have a strip mall on West Broadway with constant open air drug dealing. Not sure what it's called. I call it the Strip Mall With No Name. It has a McDonalds, a Spin Cycle Laundromat, a sports apparel store, etc.

It also has CONSTANT OPEN AIR DRUG DEALING in the parking lot.

So should we shut down McDonalds, the laundromat, the sports apparel store, maybe the separate but nearby Little Caesar's Pizza for good measure?

No, I'm not sorry to see Snow Food go so much as I am sorry to see nothing taking its place. At some point--and I think almost a year later is a good point--you have to say, "What is going to replace Snow Foods? And didn't that place AT LEAST SELL VEGETABLES? When is the U going to get its butt in gear and go forward?"

I think they are dragging their feet because they don't want to spend a lot of money on that facility until the economy improves, if the U actually follows through AT ALL. So they have this "conference" to get "consensus." A conference doesn't cost much.

I see it as my duty to call b.s. on this foot dragging and bring up--yes, I will say it again--SNOW FOODS FOR ALL ITS FAULTS AT LEAST SOLD VEGETABLES.

And, by the way, Snow Food did not sell "wilted lettuce." Though lacking in variety, their produce section was not a pathetic little assortment of wilt. It was a standard produce section. I remember the potatoes looked particularly good and were on special. Somebody who worked in the produce section tried to keep it looking decent, doing honest work for honest money.

So don't stretch the facts to make a political point.

Johnny Northside said...

The MEAT section, however, was...dreary.

Here's the URL to my column about Snow Food. It has been a long, long time to wait for anything to happen there.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Johnny Northside, it's clear that you know much better than the neighbors of Snow Foods do what is best for us, and that if you tell us that we should be grateful to have Snow Foods, then clearly we need to change our minds immediately. Only Hawthorne deserves to raise the bar on local businesses--Willard Hay should accept the fact that it only deserves businesses where crack is hidden behind the spices, so that the drug dealers out in the parking lot don't get caught holding it. The fact that Johnny Northside believes that drug paraphernalia that is held behind the counter outside of open view doesn't "count," and that he also doesn't recognize drug paraphernalia when he does see it, means that we should all give up on improving our neighborhood immediately. It is clearly the fact that any store owner who is complicit with gang activity should be completely immune from public scrutiny so long as they sell even a single grocery item. Hey, potential predatory business owners, did you hear that? Johnny Northside has practically written your business plan for you!

Anonymous said...

*It IS in fact possible to have a retail business in northside in which it is not over-run by illegal activity. Look at Dean Rose and BLO*

That is exactly right! Look also at Handi Stop, Yuan Yuan, Cub Foods, and other excellent Broadway businesses, not to mention North End Hardware on Penn & 31st. What, is Broadway somehow an easier, more conducive business environment than next door to the 4th precinct on the incomparably more placid Plymouth Avenue? It is an insult to these excellent business neighbors to suggest that Snow Foods was ever in their league. It is an insult to our neighborhood to suggest that because Snow Foods has been allowed to operate, that that is evidence that it is impossible for a legitimate business to operate on the Northside. If NRRC had not wasted all of the neighborhood's money and run themselves into massive debt, they would have been in a financial position to act in the interests of the neighborhood and evict Snow Foods long ago, rather than choosing to turn a blind eye to their tenant's activities.

Johnny Northside said...

Replying to both of the anonymous posters above: those are interesting details and thank you for providing them. And, yes, I do recognize that some items are drug-related even if it's not obvious, like the glass tubes attached to roses purchased at check out counters...but I didn't see drug related items there. I don't DOUBT what you're saying, though.

I never said one should "thank their lucky stars" for Snow Foods. What I've said, repeatedly, is the U took away a grocery store that, yes, SOLD GROCERIES and they have substituted NOTHING, yet, NOTHING. And they are dragging their feet. And I'm calling bullshit on that.

As for the second anonymous: I saw drug dealing happening in front of Yuan Yuan just TODAY while I was in the McDonalds nearby renting a vid from the Red Box. A friend of mine was driving a van in the parking lot of Cub Foods, and had a prostitute hop right in the vehicle. Yes, criminal activity DOES happen at those locations, too.

By the way, I found out the "Strip Mall With No Name" is actually called "Hawthorn (sic) Crossings," and I plan to write more about that.

I really don't consider myself a defender of Snow Foods. My criticism of the U is not a defense of Snow Foods. Snow Foods had problems, but while it was operating there was still the potential for that place to turn itself around. Now there is nothing there and what has the U put in that space to replace it? NOTHING.

Anonymous said...

Even if nothing ever moves into the strip mall, the University will have done the neighborhood an enormous service by contributing to the closing of Snow Foods. You may not agree with it, but that is how people who actually live near the store feel. Are you saying that you wouldn't rather live next door to a neatly boarded foreclosed home than an active drug house? That is exactly why we prefer the strip mall in it's present state. If the University bought up a bunch of drug houses in your neighborhood and boarded them up or tore them down, would you hate them for that, too?

Anonymous said...

The link to the second half of "Al Flowers Disrupts UROC Conference..." doesn't work

Anonymous said...

To above who stated Cub as an exceptional business...WHAT? That place is a horrible example of a grocery store. Even though there is a police presence I have been approached to buy drugs and experienced unwanted sexual advances in the Cub lot. The store is dirty and does not carry all of the items a you would find at grocery store else where. Just because I live on the northside I don't feel that I should be expected to lower my standards of cleansliness and safety! We should expect more and set our standards higher! Things that are below subpar should not be called examplary just because they are better than some other Northside businesses.

Johnny Northside said...

In regard to Cub Foods...I have also felt unsafe shopping there. There's not nearly enough of a security presence. But that's true of, well, almost every North Minneapolis business, in my book. It's a really decent Cub foods with more variety than I'll ever need, and some decent specials. Not as good as So Low, of course, but you can't measure Cub by So Low.

As for the comment about the link not working to the rest of the post, it clearly does work or nobody would be able to read these comments.

Anonymous said...

What's up with the case of the murdered pregnant girl? Is she so quickly forgotten?

Anonymous said...

Hey Johnny...What happened to your regular blogging? We miss the updates.

Kevin said...

To the last anonymous poster: I have no idea how you can say these things about our Cub? I guess you're entitled to your opinion, but most of what you say simply doesn't register with me.

Dirty? How, where, what? Have you taken a look at the surrounding neighborhood? Basically this store is a little hunk of Edina in the middle of a garbage dump. How they do as well as they do simply amazes me.

My sister who lives in Coon Rapids actually likes our Cub more than she likes the ones in her neighborhood. In her opinion at least we have way more variety than she does especially when it comes to produce. I think we can thank our ethnic diversity for that and a store which recognizes that fact.

I can still remember the days when our only grocery store was the one on Broadway and 4th - where the Habitat for Humanity store is now. Talk about a dump! Produce consisted of maybe bananas, apples, oranges, maybe head lettuce, maybe broccoli and onions. That was about it. I once asked if they had any eggplant and the produce guy laughed at me. Too exotic.

The last time I was in there before they closed for good, a fight broke out between a female cashier and a female customer. As the punches and fowl language flew, the store manager stood by helplessly not having a clue as to what he should do. I walked over to him, gave him my cart and walked out.

I've heard rumors (the last one from a police officer) we just might not have our Cub store in future. Evidently, shoplifting is a huge problem. So what do we do then?

Johnny Northside said...

Kevin: I, too, rejoice in the variety at "our" Cub, but I reiterate that there's not enough security, and I don't always feel safe there.

Yes, I've heard the rumor the place is in trouble, but not because of shoplifting: because the mortgage crisis has caused the population of North Minneapolis to dip so drastically, there aren't enough customers.

Could just be a rumor, though.

Johnny Northside said...

To the poster asking about the "murdered pregnant girl," that is to say, Annshalike Hamilton.

The police don't appear to have enough info to make an arrest. I have my own theories and my closest friends know what they are. I don't expect this crime to remain unsolved forever but the way it looks right now, it's taking a long, long time.

Jeff Skrenes said...

Wow, one innocent little post starts a whole discussion over produce quality!

I also love "our" Cub and I love how many residents use that word to take ownership of a community asset.

However, having moved from Frogtown where I shopped at the Midway Cub for years, I have to say that you can't find the same variety of Asian noodles here and the vegetables (esp. bell peppers and sugar snap peas) are just nowhere near as fresh. Even so, I do my best to shop there almost exclusively.

Kevin said...


OK, there is one thing that bugs me about our Cub: I can't find dried black mushrooms. How can you have an Asian section without dried black mushrooms?

Tip of the Day: Soak your snap peas in cold water, in the fridge for a few hours or overnight. They get all snappy again.

Johnny Northside said...