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Against the odds, some new businesses have taken root in West St. Paul in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The future is unpredictable for all of us,” said NK with the soon-coming World Famous Momo. “But it will get better.”
Last fall we reported on how businesses were coping with COVID-19. At the time, there were several new businesses opening or in the works. On the corporate side, Starbucks, Chase, and Xfinity all opened in a long-planned Cub Foods outlot development. On the local side there’s a flurry of activity:
- There are new businesses such as Mela Thai, Tii Cup, and others.
- There are businesses expanding into new locations such as Lavilash Lashes and Northland Cabinet Source.
- The BLVD expanded and renovated, Micho Love rebranded, and Jameson’s Irish Bar both renovated and rebranded.
It’s part of the record-setting development trend in West St. Paul.
In the Works
World Famous Momo was actually in the works before the pandemic, as was the new Tii Cup.
“Despite the pandemic, we started building the shop in the midst of it all,” said Tii Cup co-owner Saysana Pommalath. “We knew it was risky, but we believe in the quality of our products we serve, so we took a chance and it paid off.”
West St. Paul was a homecoming for Pommalath, who has a long history here.
“I still remember spending lots of time at the Signal Hills shopping mall back when there was a movie theater right in this same spot,” said Pommalath. “Opening Tii Cup at this location brought back so many fond memories, which is why we’re so happy to have the business here!”
Other businesses saw opportunity. Lavilash opened in Sola Salon two years ago, but in the middle of the pandemic they were ready to expand.
“I was prompted to open an independent location when I realized client feedback was incredible,” said owner Adrienne Brown. “Most clients mentioned how their experience was one like they’ve never experienced! So I decided that more people should be given the opportunity experience it.”
The shutdown forced Lavilash to close for three months last year, but demand bounced back.
“Beauty is something that is always in demand next to confidence and self-esteem,” said Brown. “We continued to have steady clients because people still want to feel beautiful even if they’re working from home.”
Lavillash moved into their own space in Signal Hills, officially opening on June 2.
“The move was decided in the middle of the pandemic last year and has been on hold due to not knowing what the future would hold,” Brown said. “This became the perfect time to expand when we realized we were booked out for weeks!”
But this season hasn’t been without its challenges. Lavilash saw a continued pandemic impact on their busy spring season with proms, weddings, and more. They’ve also had a hard time finding new staff, which is a common problem.
“We’ve had to throw out old staffing models and ways of thinking about hiring, hourly pay rates, training, team building, communication—everything,” said Ann Ulrich, co-owner of FoodSmith, a new sit-down restaurant that opened a week befor the shutdown. “It’s a constant work in progress and our new challenge is the very real and critical staff shortage across the service and hospitality industry.”
Between their two restaurants, Ulrich had to layoff 43 employees during the pandemic, including herself and husband Robert Ulrich. They ultimately closed their Mendota Heights restaurant, Mendoberri, switching to a virtual format.
FoodSmith has also struggled with supply chain issues and adjusting to the takeout boom.
Even now Ulrich describes the recovery as “slow and still herky-jerky.”
“While we’re thankful that all the business restrictions are being lifted, we are digging ourselves out of a very, very, very deep hole,” Ulrich said. “It’s going to take a significant period of time to get business back to a sustainable and profitable level.”
Sherry’s Dearest Treasures is a discount gift shop that opened a brick and mortar store in July 2020 after operating out of owner Rachael Terry’s home.
“I did this because I wanted to try and help people obtain merchandise for an affordable price,” said Terry. “I was raised by a single mother and I know the struggle is real for people.”
But the shop is struggling as well.
“Every dime has been spent on keeping the people paid that work for me,” says Terry. “Unfortunately people are not coming in the door.”
They’ve been able to get some government grants, but weren’t able to find a lender for a Paycheck Protection Program loan.
“The future looks bleak if we will be able to make it through this,” said Terry. “Right now we have a lot against us, but I am staying the course.”
That positive, against-the-odds attitude is common.
“All said, we remain positive about the future!” said Ulrich. “The staff who stuck with us throughout the pandemic are extremely resilient and dedicated. We could not have made it through without their support and willingness to keep going.”
In addition to staff, customers get a major shout out.
“The people are so amazing and supportive,” said Tii Cup co-owner Setha Pommalath. “We couldn’t have made it through the dark time without them.”
It’s always about the people.
“I started this because I wanted to help people,” said Terry. “Until I’ve depleted every dime I have, I’m sticking to it.”
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