Save Uncle Hugo’s: October Update

Don Blyly, owner of Uncle Hugo’s and Uncle Edgar’s bookstores, which were burned by vandals on May 30 while protests were happening elsewhere in Minneapolis, has sent another update to his subscribers. His son Sam Blyly-Strauss posted the full text to their GoFundMe campaign, which has now raised $175,858. Here are the highlights.

Don Blyly

Blyly has decided not to rebuild at his old location because a new building would push his insurance and property tax bills higher than he can afford.

…The old building was masonry construction, and I had a lower cost of insurance because of that.  The new building would have been wooden frame construction, so my cost of insurance would have gone up.  …And replacing the old building with a new building would have pushed the property tax bill from around $20,000 per year up to at least $45,000 per year, and it was very difficult even before covid-19 to cover the $20,000 per year property tax bill. 

He’s negotiated the sale of the property to the neighboring dentist.

…I decided to put a rebuild at the old location onto the back burner and talk to the dentist next door, who wanted to expand his dental clinic onto my lot.  I figured that the cash from the sale of the lot, plus the insurance money, would allow me to buy a decent older building in a better location, hopefully with off-street parking.   

The city issued a permit and work began. Then a building inspector changed the requirements. Now progress has stalled while Blyly, the dentist, and a hired civil engineer negotiate with the city.

…The demolition contractor had filed plans for what we wanted to do on the lot–finish knocking down the walls, haul away the debris, clean out the basement but leave the foot-thick concrete walls in place, perforate the old basement floor in spots so that rain water could escape, and leave the concrete slabs for Uncle Edgar’s and the back room in place.  The city looked over the plans and issued a permit based on our plans. 

…The demo guys told me that they would finish filling the basement with dirt before taking down the Uncle Hugo’s wall, and they expected the entire job to be done sometime on Friday, September 25. 

I went back over to the site Thursday morning and the heavy equipment was still there but no workers were there.  I went back Friday morning, and again there were no workers.  I went onto the site and found a red “Stop Work” order from the same inspector who had approved our original plan and issued the permit.  I went home to contact the demo people to find out what was going on.  While I had been at the site, the demo company had sent an e-mail explaining that the inspector had decided that he now wanted all the basement walls removed and the concrete slabs removed. 

Removing the basement wall would require the removal of the dirt that had been dumped and compacted into the basement hole.  Taking down the basement wall that holds up the sidewalk would cause in the dirt under the sidewalk to fall into the basement, which would result in the sidewalk sliding into the basement, and probably take out the major internet cable that was just installed under the sidewalk about a year before, with me being responsible for the cost of repairing the cable and replacing the sidewalk.  The city has now agreed to allow the basement wall that holds up the sidewalk to remain in place, but is still insisting on all the other changes to our original, approved plan.  The dentist and I have had several meetings on how to get the city to go along with what we both want and he has hired a civil engineer to argue with the city, but at this point there is still no progress.

One bonus is that Blyly’s safe has been recovered from the debris. But it will be awhile til that’s any real benefit.

Late in the afternoon on Thursday, September 17 the demo guys dug the safe out of the debris in Uncle Hugo’s basement, and water started dripping out of it.    They pointed out that safe salespeople like to brag about how fireproof their safes are, but never talk about the fact that they are not waterproof.  The next morning they broke it open while I was there to observe.  After 3.5 months of being hit by fire hoses multiple times and many rain storms, not much had survived.  None of the legal papers had survived.  None of the checks waiting to be deposited had survived.  The cash had survived, but the currency was dripping wet, slimy, mildewed, and stuck together.  I took it home, started carefully peeling the bills apart and spreading them on sheets of cardboard to dry out, and after 24 hours of drying gathered it up and put out a new batch of bills to dry.  After 3 days it was all dry and I took it to the bank to try to deposit it.  The bank refused to accept it and told me that I would have to deal with the U.S. government on my own to try to convert it to usable money and provided me with a (wrong) internet address for instructions on how to do this.  I managed to find the correct website and discovered that I had to mail the cash with explanation of how it got so messed up and lots of other information to a P.O. Box in Washington, D.C., registered, return receipt required, insured, to make a claim.    In normal times, it takes the government between 6 months and 36 months to process a claim, but these are not normal times with so many government workers working from home.  Perhaps I’ll get something back from the government before old age gets me.

People have encouraged Blyly to shift to another city. Whatever else he decides, he’s determined to stay in the metro area.

The behavior of the city does not make me want to re-open in Minneapolis, especially since so many people have told me how much friendlier St. Paul is to businesses than Minneapolis and that property taxes are lower there.    I’ve started looking harder for a new location on the western side of St. Paul or in Richfield instead of in south Minneapolis.  But I’ve had people suggesting other places to relocate.  One person wants me to relocate to Oklahoma City (where the cost of housing seems to be about 1/3 the cost in Minneapolis) and another person wants me to relocate to Northfield.  I’m not interested in moving myself or the Uncles out of the metro area.

Blyly says Fox News and a Japanese network have interviewed him.

I’ve been doing a lot of media interviews since the fire. A few weeks ago Fox News from New York City contacted me to say they were sending in a team to interview various business owners who had been impacted by the riots and they wanted to interview me.  They were coming to town on the first day of debris removal at the Uncles, so the interview was filmed with a crane piling up a 15 foot tall pile of burned books in the middle of Uncle Edgar’s.  It quickly became clear that they were trying to get me to say pro “law and order” things that could be used to benefit Trump.  Instead I kept saying things like “neither political party has a monopoly on incompetence” and drawing a distinction between arresting people who are breaking the law and using storm trooper tactics on peaceful protesters. They used almost none of my interview.    About a week ago a reporter for a  Japanese network (which he said was the Japanese equivalent to the BBC) called, confirmed that the bookstore had been burned in the riot, and then started asking me about Black Lives Matter.  I failed to see how having a burnt bookstore made me an expert on Black Lives Matter, but I talked to him for awhile.  When he wanted to fly in a television crew to interview me about Black Lives Matter, I declined.

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7 thoughts on “Save Uncle Hugo’s: October Update

  1. My best wishes to you, Don. They aren’t worth much, but you need them anyway.

    I never talk to media. They don’t like demurral. I’ve had surreal fights with reporters because I wouldn’t provide them copy.

  2. While I had been at the site, the demo company had sent an e-mail explaining that the inspector had decided that he now wanted all the basement walls removed and the concrete slabs removed.


    In normal times, it takes the government between 6 months and 36 months to process a claim, but these are not normal times with so many government workers working from home. Perhaps I’ll get something back from the government before old age gets me.

    “We’re from the government and we’re here to help!”

    Good decision to get out of Minneapolis just based on the lack of basic competence demonstrated by the government. Best of luck wherever you land, Don.

    Now playing Black Smoke Rising by Greta Van Fleet.

    I miss Taglinator….

  3. Dann: It’s the US Treasury that has to replace the money. (Which doesn’t affect your conclusion, though.)

  4. @OGH

    Correct. It was not my purpose to strictly criticize the Minneapolis government.

    For the life of me, I can’t figure out which is worse. The local government throwing up random and illogical roadblocks to a business owner trying to rebuild and make their land productive for the city, or the federal government for taking up to 3 years to replace damaged money as a normal part of their process.

    The difference between unthinking big business and unthinking big government is that you can walk away from the business and not end up in jail.

    I’m currently In The Mood. Robert Plant has that effect on me.

    Coolidge is dead – “How could they tell? – Dorothy Parker

  5. There is a wonderful piece by Mark Twain about a man who supplied, as I recall after many years, horses to the government, and how they just never got around to paying him. It is terribly funny, and also completely on target for the way the government continues to get the things it does wrong really wrong.
    Twain once said: “If voting could change anything they wouldn’t let us do it.” I sincerely hope we can prove him wrong this year.
    By the by, you might want to look up crime statistics: how crime has dropped every year since 1993, but the ‘law and order’ people continue to think that hiring more policemen is the ‘answer.’ Fact is, we have a really big Crime Shortage in the US.

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