Editor’s note: See the separate stories on how two of Keg and Case’s tenants fared during the upheaval.
Keg and Case is an experience that only functions when everything is open, said Gates Lindquist, executive director of the newly refurbished market in the former Schmidt brewery complex on St. Paul’s West 7th Street. Which means the current situation of a pandemic causing the market to abruptly close for three months, then partially reopen with sketchy details from the state on how to support compliance of 20-plus small retail and food businesses is a working pain in progress.
"We had to start getting creative,[by] sitting down with each tenant and saying what can we do to help you," Lindquist said about how they scrambled back in mid-March. Having to renegotiate rent so early in their contracts was hard on market owners, since they hadn’t had time to start recouping on their investment. Rents were renegotiated individually because each business had unique circumstances.
While takeout was an option early on, some of the businesses didn’t have an outdoor entrance and "no one was allowed to come into the building," Lindquist said. To compensate, the market coordinated a curbside pickup program and 10 businesses participated. What makes "business as normal" harder, Lindquist points out, is that Keg and Case doesn’t fit into the government’s "buckets." They’re retail, but they’re also restaurants, and with four entries, they’re technically a mall—but not in the traditional sense.
Revival’s smoked-meat concept was able to do curbside out of their other location, and the anchor restaurant, In Bloom, went dark and then just recently announced it will close permanently. The good news for Keg and Case’s management, however, is that they’ve already found a tenant, a new endeavor between the owners of Hope Breakfast Bar, Brian and Sarah Ingram, and Chef Justin Sutherland. Elotes, a Mexican cantina, is scheduled to open in late August.
Surprisingly, Spinning Wylde, an organic, gourmet cotton-candy business, "did really well curbside," Lindquist said. "They would spin the cotton candy on a cone and then fold it into tubs, which sold like hotcakes." They also came up with a "cotton candy ‘gram," where people bought a tub of cotton candy, added a message and then delivered it as end-of-school gifts to teachers or others now out of network.
Sweet Science, the ice cream shop, also had to change its product offering to accommodate takeout. They switched from cones to ice cream sandwiches and grabbables, she said.
To help out their upstairs tenant, Clutch Brewing Co., they worked with the city to establish an outdoor taproom.
Once the state allowed limited occupancy indoors, the Keg and Case quickly shifted its focus. With maximum occupancy at 250, Lindquist said they realized they could do 250 inside and 250 outside.
Their massive parking lot became home to tented seating, as well as some of the concepts moving their businesses outdoors. They routed traffic through the four doors so that it flowed in one door and out one of the others. Turning the market "inside out" has made it an attraction for people who can dine, listen to music, grab a beer from Clutch Brewing Co.’s outdoor taproom and social distance, all outdoors.
Not all the tenants will be returning, Lindquist said, and they are actively recruiting to fill those spaces. And while the future is uncertain, there’s one certainty out there, retail and restaurants will not be returning to the same model as before the pandemic.
Both were already in the midst of changes thanks to delivery. Lindquist sees the future of retail as mostly online, supported by physical stores with limited merchandise in smaller footprints, such as those offered by Keg and Case.
"You could see this as a blessing—Oh, my god, I can’t believe I even said that," Lindquist said, laughing, "but if you look at this as an opportunity, we had three months to change the script, to pivot."