This is Why we Hate You: MisAdventures in Gentrification

To Leslie Bock and the folks over at Betty Danger’s

My name is Ryan Williams-Virden. I spent the first thirty years of my life in Northeast Minneapolis. The Northeast that I remember, however, is very different from the one that you have crafted from what, I’m sure, you saw as rubble. Let me explain.

I grew up in Northeast before there was ever an “arts district.” I grew up in Northeast when abandoned buildings and tore up homes were not blank canvases but symbols of perseverance, monuments of memory. Before craft beer and microbreweries Northeast was my home.  In my Northeast the only Pub Crawls folks did were when they got too lit to drive home so they literally crawled. Peddle Pubs looked more like kids too young to drive biking in the streets after getting into their parents liquor when they were gone, or even sometimes with their parents. In my Northeast problems were often worked out with left jabs and right crosses, and vacations came at the end of a six pack, or–depending on how long you been surviving day to day– at the bottom of a bottle. If you were lucky, like me, you could bus tables at restaurants which you would probably never be able to afford to eat at.

I don’t say all this to romanticize the struggle of so many working class people. It is not romantic. There is nothing romantic about alcoholism and poverty wages. I know from first hand experience. I remember giving hugs and trying to see if I could smell liq on their breath. At my first job washing dishes the cook would sneak across the street to grab a couple beers between orders. He called his car the pussy chariot, trying desperately to find something honorable in his nightly routine; he talked to me, a 14 year old, about having a drink with him when I was old enough. He fully expected me to be there, working with him, when I was old enough to drink. My park board baseball coach kept a cooler with beer under a jacket between the driver and passenger seat.

Nothing romantic.

But I also don’t write this to shame or distance myself from that history. It is precisely because of those experiences and that geography that I am who I am today, for better or worse. For every memory of struggle, I have two memories of laughter and love. That is my history and I won’t sit around quietly as you– and the hipsters like you who are currently colonizing Northeast– position my monuments for your own shits and giggles while making light of the struggle that forged so many scoundrels.

You may be wondering what I’m talking about. And while I am certainly talking about the general way you have interacted with those of us born and raised in Northeast who have great ideas but didn’t get a loan from our father’s to play around with and dabble in entrepreneurship, this time I am talking about your flagrant violation and mockery of Alcoholics Anonymous in the sign outside the establishment. You see, Northeast has an intimate history with alcohol, and therefore alcoholism. The bars that you and your ilk are so attracted to actually have a history. They served working people who needed an escape — any escape– from the systems that you and yours capitalize on to own those very properties.

I have personally seen warriors struggle daily with sobriety. I’ve seen battles lost and won. I know what it means when my elders say “there by the grace of God go I.”  I know the subtext of the serenity prayer. I have seen the alcoholic at the bar drowning demons decades in the making. I have seen the bruises on my friends when their brother, or dad, or uncle, or boyfriend, lost the battle and came home to teach them a lesson. For these folks AA represents their hope, it represents their salvation. Growing up the sobriety medallions were stored away and treated with reverence. You mock this history and these struggles with your Northeast AA: Arts and Alcohol event.  Sadly I expect no less. You are doing what colonizing White folks have always done. You believe that the world is your playground,  that cultures and histories are simply accouterments that add a little spice and exoticism to your consumption. For examples of this look no further than the greeting on the very same sign: The Village of Mexampton welcomes you to Northeast Minneapolis. You want to turn the masterpieces we painted on the daily with our blood, sweat, and tears into a pentimento, replaced by your obviously forged hipster print. We see you. And this is why we hate you.



14 thoughts on “This is Why we Hate You: MisAdventures in Gentrification

  1. Let’s make a deal, “white folks” won’t clean up your shithole neighborhoods and you won’t park your car on your lawn in the nice suburbs.

  2. Thanks for this article. Although I was raised in the Phillips neighborhood I have now lived on Madison St NE since November 1983. My father was raised and auto raced and fixed cars in NE all his life. Again, being in recovery and watching the goofupacation of NE with amazed revelations of how this newer generation doesn’t get what I get and then reading your article, I’m relieved – as I find in a meeting – that I’m not alone.

  3. Could not disagree with you more. Really believe you need to get over yourself. It’s a joke! I grew up with an alcoholic father who could not even hold down a job. My wife did not even receive Christmas presents. Both of us are from northeast Minneapolis. It’s a dead end! I personally believe Lesley brought something to northeast Minneapolis to revitalize a dying area. Get over yourself.

  4. To hate Leslie Bock seems a bit hypocritical considering she has created countless jobs similar to the one you are writing about.I do agree the A.A. reference is completely tasteless. Unfortunately, tasteless sells.
    As far as gentrification goes, how do you revitalize a community without being accused of exactly that?
    My grandparents immigrated from Poland in the late 1800s and raised a family of 12 on Madison street. I think the one thing they would is that it’s now o.k. to call the area Nordeast. They learned english as a second language and were very careful about speaking correctly. They didn’t want anyone calling them or their kids dumb pollocks.

    1. Have you ever worked for Leslie Bock? She treats her employees horribly; I know this first hand. Almost everyone in management has worked for her for less than a year. She doesn’t create jobs, she creates turnover.

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  6. I lived on Lowry and Uni when it was a 7-11, two car shops and Stasiu’s. When Jim Lupient Water Park was A-Field. The Quarry was far into the future. I knew the phone number to Jimmy’s cause that’s where I could phone my dad. Glen, who owned the 22nd was a family friend..I hear you. I roll my eyes and gag at a lot of what I see, especially as I own a home in uptown now.. but – if people like the area, if they see a reason to be there and contribute to the businesses, I put aside my “get off my lawn” attitude. My dad moved to Missouri and doesn’t understand NE when he comes home. I would go in to Jimmy’s or Zurbay’s (today’s Grumpy’s) in 1990 as a kid (on my very best behavior on an afternoon) and it was a line of 45 yr old men at the bar, either Jimmy or JJ, or Frank at Zurbay’s serving.. It’s all changed. If it hadn’t changed, these neighborhoods would be dying. I’ve see dying neighborhoods in cities across the country. I might not love the hipsters and suburbanites who come in on the weekends but do I prefer it over the neighborhoods dying off? Fuck yeah, I do. So, progress marches on. I wave to it from the sidelines. I remember the old times and forgotten corners. Maybe we can toast over them or on them, some time.

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