Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Very Big Dreams In A Really Small Office--Seeking More Insight About Lennie "The Heckler" Chism

Photos By John Hoff

After writing so much about 1901 Glenwood Ave. N., the office of Lenny Chism--the guy in a blue shirt who heckled Council Member Don Samuels during the 5th Ward DFL Convention--I became incredibly curious to see the building in question where so many schemes and dreams were hatched. A virtual walk on the Google Earth didn't reveal much; I wanted to get a "boots on the ground" grunt view of reality.

Reality was, indeed, a revelation...

The building sits on a corner and it is small. It's really small. How small is it?

Well, when my son Alex was little he once asked me, "Dad, how big is big?" Once I figured out what he was trying to understand, I had to explain the concept of size being RELATIVE. If something was this large--demonstrating with one's hands--it would be a BIG mouse, but it would be a very SMALL melon, because people have a certain sense of what is normal size for different objects. Likewise, even a "small" car is very big considering almost every normal household object. Incredibly, there are objects in the universe which can be called "small" though they are larger than the whole earth...

Anyway, getting back to Lennie's former building at 1901 Glenwood Ave, let me say this:

It would make a very LARGE hot dog stand.

The building is obscured on Google maps street view because, at street level, there is a roughly-constructed billboard display which features, inter alia, a sign for Lennie's real estate business. So, I realized, my hunch was right: Lennie is the same Twin Cities real estate agent who received only one review of one star, calling him "shady."

Now, some might wonder why I have this intense interest in Lennie "Heckler" Chism. Recently, somebody suggested I was making a play on words because "Lennie Heckler" sounds like "Denny Hecker," the very well known local car dealer. First, I'll say such a play on words was not deliberate, though it kind of works: Denny Hecker says "Nobody walks." What does Lennie say? "Nobody TALKS." At least, no public official talks without Lennie shouting and interrupting--over and over--until every person in the room must turn from the OFFICIAL process and take in the UNOFFICIAL disruption.

Lennie made himself a public figure--at least more of a public figure than he already was with his relentless efforts to distribute the ideas in his brochure about building wealth--so I'm just giving this public figure the kind of inquiry and attention he merits, at least on a blog about North Minneapolis. At the end of this post, I'll give Lennie his say again--via an email he sent--and the comment threads, as always, are available for substantive comment.

WHERE WAS I? Oh, yeah, 1901 Glenwood Ave. which has no business licenses on record with the city--not from what I could find online, anyway. (If somebody knows different, tell me different)

The whole building appears capable of housing one fairly good-sized office. I'm not sure if it has a basement level. One could keep files down there. The building may be small but it has EIGHT MAIL BOXES on the exterior.

The building has fallen on hard times. A pellet gun scored multiple hits on a plate glass window near the door. (Sorry, however, pellet gun damage doesn't count as "bullet holes." Pellet gun damage is nowhere near as sexy as digging a bullet out of the wall of your house and showing it to a bunch of your friends at Broadway Pizza)

Broken glass--not from the pellet gun damage, it appears--litters the grass embankment near the door. Some floodlights at the base of the small building have been damaged, possibly kicked out. A pile of leaves has blown into a corner near the front door. In the small, cute backyard (which is surrounded with a tall white fence, a very attractive and sturdy fence, I should say) a small shed has two gas cans sitting in plain sight. One of the wooden steps leading up to the elevated back yard is broken. 

When I heard Lennie Chism had paid $100, 000 for a commercial building, my first impression was, "That's not so bad, for a commercial building." Now I look at the building and think "Well, this isn't really what I pictured."

I will explain the photos above, and then (as before, in a spirit of fairness) I am printing a recent email from Lennie which gives his point of view about--among other things--why some of his business ventures failed.

From top to bottom: the first photo shows a view of the building from the street, at a slight angle. It would have been nice to put somebody in the picture for scale, but I didn't want to trespass. However, you can probably get some idea of the size of the building from the tree out front. That tree is RIGHT NEXT TO THE BUILDING. It is not ten, twenty feet away from the building, closer to the viewer. The building reminded me of the cute-as-cute-can-be "little church by the highway" chapels one sometimes happens upon if you drive a lot of midwestern countryside, only this building is...well, a real estate office and some kind of headquarters for--what?--about half a dozen organizations at one time or another?

Second photo: eight mailboxes on the exterior. Count 'em up, Sesame Street-style, if you don't believe me. The first mailbox says "Lennie Chism."

Third and fourth photos; the array of signs, front and back, including one which invites potential customers to get a beautiful home with NO MONEY DOWN.

Next, some of the pellet gun damage. There are about as many pellet gun holes as mailboxes. The next photo shows one of the busted flood lights. Last two photos: gas cans visible underneath the shed in the back yard, broken glass littering the grassy embankment.

Now, in a spirit of fair play, here is a recent email from Lennie with some of his points of view:

JNS, I am more impressed with each passing comment from your readership.

In my defense of heckling Don Samuels, well, that was the first DFL event I ever attended. They were cheering him, so I booed him and I cheered for Kenya. My bad.

Some have asked for specifics from me as to how I might make an economic change.

One underlying theme is that my business skill are lacking due to perceived failures. My answer is simple; I have been on that corner for years combined with over 20 years of self employment. Many long time entrepreneurs are failing today not due to any overall deficiency, GM, Circuit City, Denny Hecker, and so on resulting in millions of layoffs. I have watched many go under, beauty shops, clothing stores, etc. Enough said about that.

Basic strategy of capturing the wealth that is generated by our impoverished community that flows out to other communities.

First, currently we have only one MN DOT certified DBE (Disadvantage Business Enterprise) that can bid on the millions of dollars of MN DOT (MN Department of Transportation) contracts to build the roads and bridges from the stimulus money along with the new 8.5 cent gas tax passed last year located in North Minneapolis. We need capacity building grants and business incubators to grow businesses to employ more of our residents. Do we have any MN DOT workers in our community?

Second, we need prison contracts to provide basics supplies such as toiletries, food to MN prison system. We supply the commodity - inmates to Stillwater, Lino Lakes, Shakopee. The correctional system puts millions of dollars into those communities by farming inmates out of North Minneapolis--providing jobs to their communities.

In summary, where do all those proceeds from the lottery, new Heritage Sales tax, new gas tax go? What roll does the city and state government play in creating economics opportunities--have you seen the new home of the Guthrie? Ask the city council; ask the Mayor, ask Senator Higgins, and now ask Bobby Champion. Ask for our share of those proceeds. I invite anyone to come with me to the capital to see the process.

Are we receiving any of the stimulus money? If not, why not?

Lennie Chism
Executive Director/Founder
1901 Glenwood Ave North
Minneapolis, MN 55405


jhop said...

To be fair: That tree out front is HUGE. Really. Google Street View has a nice visual along Morgan Avenue. Decent looking place but nothing to write home about.

Eight mail boxes for that building does seem like overkill. I doubt the place has a functioning basement.

JNS Reader said...

His response did not explain the 8 -- Haa Haa Haa, count them 8 Haa Haa Haa -- unused mailbox businesses. About as preet as the store front churches on the northside. Anyhoo, JNS, check his facts, but this doesn't sound accurate:

"First, currently we have only one MN DOT certified DBE (Disadvantage Business Enterprise) that can bid on the millions of dollars of MN DOT (MN Department of Transportation) contracts to build the roads and bridges from the stimulus money along with the new 8.5 cent gas tax passed last year located in North Minneapolis."

I have to say, I love that Lennie is blogging with JNS. Maybe you guys should strike a deal and write a booklet together -- I suggest you be the editor (no offense intended Lennie).

Johnny Northside said...

I'm adding some more info, doing it via comments thread because this is the easiest way. The City of Minneapolis informs me that the billboard is, indeed, a zoning violation. (Incident No. 08-0660764)

An order was issued. The order wasn't complied with so the matter was forwarded to the legal department for a summons as of 3/3/09.

I should add the response to my inquiry with the City of Minneapolis was amazingly quick.

Anonymous said...

I dare someone to call that rental sign and try and rent an apartment TODAY.

Report back here please.

Anonymous said...

what do you mean it's not big!

sorry, bad joke


johnny northside, your blog is just wayyy to fun to read. I'm totally addicted and highly entertained. keep it coming!

Anonymous said...

This sign for predatory real estate practices (IMHO - "no money down" etc., is the epitome of that) is in front of a 501(c)(3)charitable organization? Really?

Anonymous said...

Vincent Brown Trucking and Rolloff Service - Only MN DOT Certified Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Downwload the directory, and check my address of appox 330 businesses.

Not sure if Moltron is still around. Shocklingly True!!!


Johnny Northside said...

Lennie sends me the following email, which I am going to post here as a substantive reply and commentary to the issues raised in this post.


The little building was to be an incubator for other small home based businesses to grow. If you need to fax, a meeting space, internet access, I
provided. The eight mailboxes were designed to help the home based business person, which I was for many years, have a physical address without the
physical cost.

Northside lacks a Kinkos. Now I wonder why. The small entrepreneur could get their mail delivered to the office from FedEx, UPS, etc. who will not drop mail off in North Minneapolis in most cases.

Unfortunately, finding takers of the opportunity was much more difficult. Few people are willing to start a business or want to operate a business on
the Northside.

Ironically, the Northside is federally labeled as one of 11 Empowerment Zones in the country. When I sought to receive grants for faƧade improvements, I sought the normal city sources. To no avail, the answer was NO. Like yourself, I researched who received the money, and surprisingly, only loans were available to businesses, with grants going to non-profits.

As you are aware, the non-profits number in excess of 200 on the Northside.

So, the Empowerment Zone money was overwhelming design for social programs,
not economic improvement, as it has shown, throughout the country. With all that money, you would think we would see growth.

The signs in violation drove the drug dealers off the corner. They could no longer stand there in dark. And yes, as reported about Don Samuels, I drove them off the corner.

JNS, I have attached the Empowerment Zone Funding Allocations and U of MN Northside Asset Mapping.

I have met with Commissioner McElroy of MN DEED and submitted a grant request for a business and resources incubator grant for the Northside. The
answer was "NO".

I ask your readers to request the city, state, and federal government officials to provide the resources to our community as they do greater
Minnesota for business development.

Is the Northside unemployment rate in dire need of the political will of all the resources of our city, state, and federal government? If not, why not?

Lennie Chism
Executive Director/Founder
1901 Glenwood Ave North
Minneapolis, MN 55405

JNS replies as follows:

OK, I'll bite. Why don't we have a Kinko's? Is it some kind of CONSPIRACY to keep down-and-out people from being able to PHOTOCOPY DOCUMENTS?

As for your assertion that Fed Ex and UPS will not drop off mail in North Minneapolis, if you sincerely believe that then, mentally, I will have to put you in the same category as certain rubes in North Dakota who believe--sincerely, with all their heart--that a loaf of bread is "twice as expensive" in the Twin Cities as it is in their own lovely flat wasteland.

Fed Ex delivers to North Minneapolis. I have personally received Fed Ex packages in North Minneapolis. And I have seen PLENTY of UPS trucks around making deliveries. Maybe you can pass off a whopper like that in certain circles you run with, Lennie, but my blog will call bulls*** on it.

As for the other stuff, it's a substantive commentary and I leave it stand. The two documents you sent me are interesting indeed and I hope to get them up on the JNS PDF support site very soon.

Anonymous said...


Kinkos needs more business and consumer disposable income to be in our community. As for FedEx and UPS deliver need to be home to receive in that area for most packages. No conspiracy.


Anonymous said...

johnny - can you find out how many 9-1-1 calls were made about drug dealing on that corner? maybe between the years of 2006 through 2008. I don't know who the crime prevention specialist is down there, but that would be the person who could tell you.

Jeff Skrenes said...

Here's a shocking idea:

Instead of some vast governmental conspiracy, maybe Lennie didn't get approved for his grant or loan applications because THERE WERE MORE QUALIFIED APPLICANTS.

Now I do agree that too often, north Minneapolis can get the short end of the stick. But it's also time that folks recognize that just because we're a low/moderate-income community and somebody wants to do something about it, that doesn't automatically make them eligible for FUNDING.

Johnny Northside said...

Lennie, you're either stretching the truth again or you're just MISTAKEN again about Fed Ex.

I've received two Fed Ex packages in North Minneapolis. One was a big catalog from a company that installs cabinets, delivered just days after I bought my house, delivered Fed Ex.

The second, most recently, was two t-shirts from Pete's Hardwood Floors, one for me and one a "Size Dental Floss" for my friend Connie.

Both times, these packages were left at the door.

In regard to UPS, you can just sign a slip saying to leave the package at the door on the next round, and they do that.

So why you're saying anybody needs to rent a mailbox to receive packages...hmmm...doesn't add up. Perhaps a minor point.

Johnny Northside said...

To the poster commenting about the drug dealing on the corner, Lenny's signs, etc.

Nobody was standing on that corner when I went by there. I don't know if the corner is really a problem or not, and whether Lennie's signs (which are indeed wired up to be illuminated) drove anybody off that corner.

Somehow I doubt that driving drug dealers off the corner had very much to do with the erection of the signs, which appear purely promotional.

Anonymous said...

I think it depends on the company sending the package. I have received quite a few UPS packages over the years, but I have also had one company say that they won't drop off packages in my zip code. I can't remember what company it was, but it may come to me.

Anonymous said...

We have received many UPS and FedEx packages through the years. The packages have even been left on our porch if we weren't home. We have also sent packages out from our we conduct business here in our home we have never felt our business has been limited by our northside address.

Pat Carney said...

Who needs kinkos? Albinsons at the corner of Glenwood and Cedar Lake Road is a local business that's been making copies in Minneapolis since the 1940s.

Support your local business and you'll have local businesses.

Anonymous said...

I live about three blocks away from this building, and I pass it daily. I didnt even notice it was a tiny separate entity from the building behind it.

Anonymous said...

If you want to improve N. Mpls, pick up the litter, cut the weeds and the grass. Mend your fences and maintain them. Wash the windows. Replace broken windows. Call people out when they act in a manner inconsistent with the principles and values of responsible property ownership and/or residential behavior. Take ownership of what is yours and be proud, even if you do not have a lot. Make the most of what you have. Don't take advantage of people. Don't buy into the philosophy of victimization, and don't wait for someone to hand you something just because you breathe. Work. Work hard. Own your space, and be courteous. Excercise and Read.