Leather Works Minnesota to leave Lowertown for vacant commercial building on West Side – Twin Cities
Owner Kent Begnaud, right, prepares to lay out a hide as his wife, Lee Begnaud holds belts she is getting ready to mail to Oslo, Norway at Leather Works Minnesota in the Northern Warehouse building in Lowertown, St. Paul on Thursday July 17, 2014. (Pioneer Press: Jean Pieri)
Kent and Lee Begnaud launched Leather Works Minnesota in their home garage in St. Paul Park in 1999, using nylon thread to assemble leather wallets, billfolds, belts and key clips. By 2012, they had relocated their store to St. Paul’s Lowertown neighborhood, piecing and sewing together leather goods from their small manufacturing hub within the Northern Warehouse ArtSpace building on Prince Street.
The Begnauds are planning another move, this time to the city’s West Side. On Wednesday, the St. Paul City Council voted 7-0 to approve the rezoning of a former street corner grocery at Oakdale Avenue and Sidney Street, about a block east of Robert Street, to accommodate their business, which would otherwise sit in a residential neighborhood.
“We have been looking to own a building to be better able to control our monthly expenses, have more room and give us more exposure for retail sales,” wrote the Begnauds, in an explanatory letter to City Hall.
The squat grocery building, which dates to the 1970s, hasn’t served customers in a decade. The proprietors of Leather Works Minnesota foresee better days ahead.
The boarded-up grocery — formerly Joseph’s Mexican and Lebanese Market — could even provide room for a cafe-like setting where the family might offer coffee and baked goods from a local bakery. A longstanding mural depicting various cultures on the grocery’s outer Sidney Street wall would remain intact, they said.
“There is a history in these old buildings that, if preserved, add value and connection to the past of an area,” the Begnauds wrote. “We would love to revive the building to its old glory and repair the amazing mural, which has been important to the neighborhood.”
The grocery closed in 2014 and the building was sold in 2018 to Khoua Yang, who submitted the application for the rezoning from “H1 residential” to “T2 traditional neighborhood” zoning, which allows a greater mix of commerce and industry. That application was approved.