Minneapolis transportation Twitter has been in a tizzy over the objections to the Hennepin redesign. References to cats driving cars poke at a specific local business, Cafe Meow, and the owner’s concern that her business will suffer without parking.
If people were hoping the tweets would get to Burge, they haven’t.
“I try not to get into that much,” Burge said. She only looks at what is on her curated social media feed and digs no further.
Cafe Meow is just north of 24th Street on Hennepin Ave. South. The business is split into two rooms: one for the cats and the other for a coffee shop. Visitors can pay a small fee to visit with the cats for an hour. Giant windows allow passers-by to observe the cats in their urban habitat.
Burge explained that Cafe Meow’s approach is to be “sweet and good and down to Earth. We always want that expressed.”
Quite a contrast to the response to Jessica Burge and other Hennepin business owners who want to see street parking built into the Hennepin redesign.
Burge has been attending Hennepin redesign open houses for over the last four years and distinctly remembers when Public Works presented attendees with six designs which were then whittled down to two. She found company with other business owners worried about the loss of parking on their blocks.
“I wanted to make sure as a small business that my voice was being heard,” Burge said.
No matter how many meetings the business owners attended and no matter what they said, Public Works kept saying no to parking.
“They heard us, but our concerns didn’t impact the design,” Burge said. It became clear to her that parking was not going to be considered.
The redesign plan is set for City Council approval this year but Burge wants the City Council to vote against the redesign plan. “That will be a huge turning point for the decisions that have to be made,” Burge said, as she gears up for a business without on-street parking.
The reason for no parking? “They relate it to the 2040 plan and how it’s supposed to be more inclusive for streets,” Burge said. The 2040 plan meets the requirement that Minneapolis updates its comprehensive plan for the Met Council every ten years. The plan addresses issues including wealth disparities, affordable housing and climate change.
The plan’s transportation policies prioritize walking, biking and transit.
I talked with Burge over the phone as I sat in the coffee shop, gazing out to Hennepin, full of parked cars. Snow covered the red, bus only-lanes that operate on the east side of Hennepin Ave. S from 7-9 a.m. weekdays. This block is otherwise filled with parked cars during weekday business hours.
“People come from everywhere. Even locals will drive to our shop to get their coffee for the day,” Burge said.
According to data Burge gets from Square, 64 percent of people visiting the cafe come from outside Minneapolis. “Next biggest area people come from after Minneapolis is the North suburbs,” Burge said in an email following our interview.
“I don’t know now how realistic it is to cut cars down,” Burge said.
Cafe Meow has a unique business element: the cats. “Cats are coming and going, daily,” Burge said. People regularly adopt cats from the cafe and transport them home in a vehicle.
There is a side door available for cat pick up/drop off on 24th Street.
Most people transport their pets in a vehicle. It’s difficult to safely bike with a cat (although not impossible).
Metro Transit ridership is down overall. Ridership fell by 55 percent in 2020. The first half of 2021 saw a 31 percent decrease in ridership. This either means more room for cat carriers on the bus or people opting to drive because it is perceived to be a safer option during the pandemic.
“I feel for the environmental impacts,” Burge said. “Of course we want safety for everyone.”
As a destination shop, she wishes the deprioritization of cars wasn’t implemented at such “an extreme level.” To Burge, “a business trip is different.”
Public Works hasn’t assisted Cafe Meow in identifying parking for the business during and after the reconstruction. On the west side of Hennepin, there is a large private parking lot. Because of that lot, this block of Hennepin was deemed to have plenty of parking. Except that parking isn’t designated for any of the businesses across from it.
Burge isn’t swayed by being able to park across the street anyway. She doesn’t believe the redesign will make the street any safer to cross. Given the designated bus, bicycle and pedestrian paths, “crossing the street will still have the same amount of safety.”
Last week, Burge announced that she is opening up an additional location in New Hope to operate as a “safety net” for the Hennepin location.
“I really don’t want to close the Hennepin shop. That’s why I have spoken up about the plan. I want to be here,” Burge said.
The New Hope location will also help support more cats that need homes.
“I am hopeful, I am always hopeful,” Burge said, about the future of Cafe Meow.