When I-94 was built through Saint Paul in the late 1950s, more than 300 predominantly Black-owned businesses were impacted. The neighborhood was split apart, with the major Rondo Avenue corridor — which had been a thriving community — dramatically disrupted. One in every eight Black residents in Saint Paul were forced to move, and many businesses never re-opened.
In recent years, the Rondo Community Land Trust (Rondo CLT) and other organizers in the neighborhood have been working to create solutions to mend what was torn apart. One of those solutions is a co-op structure to buy housing and commercial businesses used to generate local wealth. Formed in 1993, it was the first community land trust in Minnesota. The effort expanded to include commercial properties in 2018, in an effort to reduce gentrification that tends to push local businesses out when space is no longer affordable.
On Saturday, September 9, a public ceremony honored Mychael and Stephanie Wright, who are retiring after running Golden Thyme Coffee & Cafe on Selby Avenue for nearly 25 years. They also co-founded the Selby Jazz Festival, held in the street in front of their business. Ramsey County commissioner Rena Moran read a county proclamation declaring the day to be named in their honor.
The Wright’s daughter Andréesa read a poem for the occasion that shared how much the space means to her, citing a few of the coffee drinks named after jazz artists:
You brought light to my dark days. We shared cool Muddy Waters on the hottest days and hot Billie Holidays during snowy nights. … You always made me feel as if I belonged. I thought this was going to be goodbye. I’ve come to realize that is not the case. … I’ve always been in your heart and you will forever be in mine.
The business will become the centerpiece for Golden Thyme Presents, a multi-stakeholder co-op ownership model that expands to two buildings and also will train BIPOC restaurateurs and food vendors.
Sammy McDowell, who operates Sam’s Eatery in North Minneapolis, will be the first occupant on October 1. “Like Golden Thyme has for decades on Selby,” he says, “my mission has always been to create spaces where neighbors gather to meet, eat, and enjoy everything that’s good.”
The housing program of Rondo CLT offers affordability grants to low- to moderate-income purchases of a home. The trust holds rights to the land on behalf of the community, making the house itself more affordable. The homeowner leases the land, but does not buy it outright. When the home is sold, the owner receives the amount paid toward their mortgage, plus 25 percent of the appreciated value of the home.
Rondo CLT executive director Mikeya Griffin grew up in the neighborhood. “When I was a young girl, Rondo was a place of Black innovation, abundance and joy. I am fiercely committed to rebuilding the more than 300 businesses and 700 homes that were taken from our families,” she says.