Backing Betsy’s

Fans of Betsy’s Back Porch hold fundraiser to keep business open

WINDOM — Betsy’s Back Porch, one of Windom’s most beloved coffee shops, is on the brink of closing after five years of serving up hot java and community connections. Neighbors held a fundraiser on Sept. 29 and brought in roughly $10,000 for the café.

According to owner Betsy Killion, business hit an all-time high in May, but when the Diamond Lake Bridge came down on June 2, revenue dropped 40 percent and never recovered.

“That’s $7,000–8,000 a month,” said Killion. “I was starting to use credit cards to keep things going, and at some point this had to stop.”

On Sept. 17, after consulting with her accountant and talking to her employees, Killion locked the shop’s doors, expecting to be closed for good.

Shocked and saddened, neighbors refused to give up on their local hangout. They persuaded Killion to reopen for a while longer — or at least until they could hold a fundraiser.

“The fact that the community stepped in the way they did and is doing everything they can to keep this from happening is just amazing,” she said.

A group effort
On Sept. 29, hundreds of community members flooded the Back Porch, bringing their friends, families and wallets. Local artists’ pictures and paintings covered the walls, each piece up for auction with the proceeds going toward the coffee shop.

A steady stream of bands and solo musicians — such as Jeremiah Bohn, Beth Kinderman and Hot Box — took the stage in the room adjoining the bar. A few feet from the cash register, a masseuse set up her massage chair for back rubs, with the money she made going to Betsy’s.

The Fire Department pulled up alongside the café and gave tours of their rig for the neighborhood kids. Numerous entertainers, from a clown to a belly dancer, performed for the coffee-guzzling crowd. Outside, customers gathered around tables, clutching steaming mugs, grilling hot dogs and hamburgers.

“We’ve been getting slammed all day,” she said the day of the event, glancing at the long line of patrons. “It’s just phenomenal what these people have done.”

On a table near the door, dozens of visitors had signed up to take cleaning, grilling and cashiering shifts. As soon as Killion ran out of an ingredient, someone would volunteer to run to the store and pick up some more.

“I come in here almost everyday,” said Dave Evans, whose band Positronic Croutons performed at the event. “Everybody [is] pretty
concerned.”

Bonnie Everts, a frequent customer of the coffee shop who spearheaded the fundraiser, agrees that keeping the shop open is crucial to the community. “Betsy’s been cut off from her clientele by the bridge, but with Betsy’s closing, we are going to be cut off from each other,” she said. “This is where everyone gathers. This is where everyone connects.”

Help from higher up
Limited funding is available to help small businesses that are suffering due to city and state construction.

Minneapolis offers low-interest loans and business counseling, said Council Member Scott Benson (11th Ward), who often holds his “Coffee with Scott” meetings at Betsy’s, but taxpayers probably wouldn’t like having to pay for business grants.

“There are lots of loans available. But that doesn’t help,” Killion said. “That just gives me another bill to pay. That’s just not an answer for small businesses.”

State Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, whose district includes Windom, plans to investigate trends surrounding road construction and small businesses. “Maybe the work that we need to do here is to expand that funding to provide grants for businesses that are beginning to see that trend so that they can start transitioning,” she suggested. “I want to find out, what can we implement at a policy level … It’s a temporary condition that the state should be able to somehow step in and help alleviate.”

An unfortunate trend
Betsy’s isn’t the only business struggling to stay afloat on the northern edge of Windom. On June 28, after two years of lackluster sales, Relatively Hip, an accessories boutique at 5456 Nicollet Ave., closed its doors for good.

“We weren’t real busy to begin with, and that was kind of the straw that broke the camel’s back when the Diamond Lake Bridge was torn down,” said Cindy Pellersels, who co-owns the business with her cousin Sandy Clemmer. They’re currently operating out of Pellersels’ home in Woodbury.

Cathay Chow Mein, a Chinese restaurant two doors down from Betsy’s that has been open since 1939, has seen revenue drop 50 percent since the bridge demolition. “The customers can’t come,” said Sue Liant, who has worked there for 20 years, but they’re not planning to close.

Killion estimates that she needs roughly $35,000–$40,000 to stay in business until the bridge is back up and old regulars start to return. The fundraiser pulled in $10,000, which is keeping the doors open for now.

“I’m hoping that’ll be enough to get me through to when the bridge gets up at least,” she said. “We’ll take it one day at a time.”

Contact Mary O’Regan at moregan@mnpubs.com or 436-5088.