Julie Ingebretsen, third-generation leader of Ingebretsen's, the century-old Scandinavian food-and-gift shop, is leading the way to support the recovery of other small businesses on E. Lake Street.
After all, she runs the oldest immigrant business on Lake Street.
Ingebretsen is a stalwart on the board of the Lake Street Council, which has vetted and distributed millions in grants to needy businesses for repairs, as well as thousands of hours of advisory and volunteer assistance. Lake Street has returned to a state of modest recovery since the pandemic and unrest, albeit still pock-marked by damaged buildings and vacant lots and troubled by crime.
"Ingebretsen's is the heart of Lake Street," said Allison Sharkey, executive director of the council. "I love seeing the line of people stretched down the block each holiday season."
Julie Ingebretsen "reaches out to welcome and engage new business owners. I love that Julie continually invests in making sure that her business' physical presence uplifts the neighborhood, from big storefront windows to … the wooden spoon carvers who have been working outside the store."
Ingebretsen's long roots stabilized it during tumultuous times since the pandemic and riots on E. Lake Street that followed the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in May 2020.
"'Optimistic,' is the appropriate word," said Ingebretsen, who joined the family business in 1974 after a couple years as a teacher. "Right after the riots, we on the Lake Street Council were worried about the future.
"But our customers are loyal. The businesses in this span of Lake Street had broken windows and vandalism. But not arson. We had about $250,000 worth of damage. We had insurance. And Mortenson, the construction firm, raised money and helped with repairs for many of the suffering businesses."
To be sure, many small, undercapitalized shopkeepers and restaurants remain shuttered.
"This last year was hard on us," said Stacie Genic, manager of San Miguel Bakery at 17th Avenue and E. Lake, a block east of Ingebretsen's. "She told me to get involved in the Lake Street Council. Julie cares about Lake Street and the small business, immigrant businesses.
"We closed for weeks during the pandemic and then after the riots. Julie was encouraging and had ideas. And our business is slowly getting better this year."
Like Ingebretsen, Genic is continuing a family business. San Miguel, with shops in Minneapolis and St. Paul, was founded by her parents in 2001. "It's my parents' other child," Genic said.
Ingebretsen's store is one of the last of the Scandinavian shops that once totaled a couple dozen in the Twin Cities. She has seen her business slowly rebound this year. "The community rallied around us," she said.
Ingebretsen, 72, said she is particularly relieved, thanks to local businesses and financiers, that outsiders have not swooped in to buy up distressed real estate. Instead, local owners retained a number of properties, and some former tenants have been able to become property owners.
She and a staff that grows from 25 to 50 between Thanksgiving and New Year's, have built a modest-growth company of about $3 million in revenue that retails hundreds of Nordic food and gift items, from cod, herring and Swedish sausage to hundreds of clothing, knitting, art and other craft products.
The mail order and online businesses are still a minority share, but also the fastest growing parts of the Ingebretsen's business.
And there's a fourth-generation Ingebretsen in the wings.
Her daughter, Anna Bloomstrand, 42, an artist, is slowly moving to replace her mother in marketing, purchasing and store management. Bloomstrand's cousin Gus Ingebretsen, 31, manages the mail-order business and is also moving into other roles.
Bloomstrand has worked for Ingebretsen's since 2007. In addition to the mail order and online businesses, she runs a wholesale business and creates art and jewelry.
Ingebretsen's is owned by two families, the Ingebretsens and the Dahls, descendants of the two partners who opened a small meat market in 1921. It was expanded to crafts and gifts in 1974 when Julie Ingebretsen entered the business. Current partner Steve Dahl manages the deli and is transitioning operations to his daughter Lenae.
Ingebretsen, granddaughter of founder and butcher Charles Ingebretsen, once suggested, only partly in jest, that she considered moving what is now a four-door business between 1601 and 1607 E. Lake to the suburbs, before the latest wave of new immigrant businesses started arriving 30 years ago to fill vacant storefronts on then-declining E. Lake. Now she is leading by example, offering support and empathy for her commercial neighbors with roots in Latin American and Africa.
"Julie has been a longtime leader in building community," Sharkey said.