Rent was $625 a month and the federal government operated in the black when Katie, Judy, and Maggie Morris opened Sister Sludge Coffee in Minneapolis' Northrop neighborhood in 1997.
From 9/11 to the gilded years of the real estate boom, from recession to the current cocky bull market, the corner caffeine shop has endured for simple reasons. Pay down debt even when it's only $25 extra. Brew a tasty beverage. Pay the dairy and cup vendor COD. Don't take business too seriously.
Kim Baker was new to Minneapolis with a four-week-old colicky son when she "happened upon" the shop. The Oregon transplant couldn't help but overhear the patrons engaging in spirited yet respectful conversation. Sister Maggie was behind the counter that day. She welcomed Baker and newborn Colin by playing babysitter so mom could catch a break and enjoy a drink.
"She just took the baby, asked me what I wanted, and they all treated me like they'd known me forever," Baker says. "I started going every single day.… It was real impactful for me.
"What I love about it is it kind of grew with my life. And it's not the kind of place where you outgrow it. It's the kind of place that changes with you."
Her son Colin is 13 years old now.
Sister Sludge and the neighborhood were looking forward to the next 20 years together. But when their longtime landlord passed away, the sisters were offered right of first refusal on the property at the corner of 46th Street Bloomington Avenue South. The numbers didn't work. Revenue came in drips of $2.50, while the asking price was almost $250,000.
No problem, they thought. We're content renting. Then life happened.
Molly Miller bought the property and introduced herself at the shop. She had plans for the commercial building consisting of four separate spaces, of which three are vacant.
Her official letter to the tenants was dated February 27.
"Dear sisters," it read, "… termination of your lease [is] effective March 31, 2017."
"Demolition and remodeling" of the adjacent space, the letter continued, begins in two weeks.
"We were completely shocked," Judy says. "After that, when we weren't in such a daze of shock, we decided to call a meeting with our employees to tell them they had to look for new jobs because we had to be gone in a few weeks."
Whoa. Wait a second, the sisters said, stopping themselves. Aren't the terms of our lease year-to-year, not month-to-month as Miller contends?
It looks that way.
In all their years of operation, the sisters have only signed one lease. The 1996 contract with Dr. Bill Hansen, the original landlord, stipulates the lease runs year-to-year in conjunction with the calendar. According to Judy, it says nothing about a 30-day notice to terminate.
Miller did not respond to repeated interview requests.
Longtime patron Baker hopes the shop doesn't leave its location four blocks from her house.
"You can have great political conversations inside there, I tell you. But people are always respectful and cordial," she says. "The shop's energy is always positive. I can't even begin to describe how important a part it's been in my life. The sisters and the coffee shop are such an important part of this community.
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