About a month ago, Dave Magnuson learned he had to leave the downtown Minneapolis food court where he had run the Walkin’ Dog Hot Dog Store since 1991.
The renovation of North Star, a three-building complex that began two years ago, has finally reached the food court on the first floor. Reese he manager said he would be happy to come back when it’s done in 12-18 months.
But at 63, Magnuson decided it was time to retire. He no longer has to wake up at 4:30 a.m. to pick up his supplies and be back downtown by 6 to start preparing food. He closed his Walkin’ Dog on Friday.
“It’s been a year, more than a year to wait,” he said in an interview days before the closure.
Decisions to close businesses are made hundreds of times every day across the United States, and the rate is accelerating as baby boomers retire. Half of US businesses are owned by people over the age of 55.
But for those who decide to close, it’s one of life’s greatest moments: a marriage, a divorce, the birth of a child, or the death of a loved one.
We pay far less attention than those moments. The greeting card industry focuses only on generic “congratulations” cards. No photographer can match documenting the last days of a business.
But the emotional journey of those closing a business, or retiring or changing jobs is often a deep and long one. At its core, it’s similar to what you’ll experience when you graduate from high school or college. For the first time in our lives, we are letting go of a large group of friends and acquaintances.
Such transitions have been on my mind as they are happening in my office. Star Tribune CEO and publisher Mike Klingensmith has just retired after 13 years at the head of the company. His successor, Steve Grove, started work last Monday.
Here in the business section, Neil St. Anthony published his last column on Friday. For his 40 years, he has been telling the story of a Minnesota entrepreneur.
The lunchtime line has gotten longer every day since Magnuson announced on Facebook that it was closing Walkin’ Dog on April 9th. Last week he waited over 45 minutes for the last of his walking dogs.
“It was just crazy,” he said. “The attention is so heartwarming. Just meeting so many people I know makes me humbled and grateful.”
A week ago Friday, the same thing happened to Elsen brothers Bob and Joe at an auto repair shop just off Interstate 494 on Portland Avenue in Litchfield.
A constant stream of customers stopping by to wish them luck. In the waiting room, he had three boxes of donuts left by applicants. In an adjacent office, another five of hers were still bagged.
“One man made us trophies, cars and blacksmiths,” said Joe Elsen, holding out new prizes with miniature anvils and race cars.
Their great-grandfather, John Elsen, opened a blacksmith shop on the very spot in 1891. At that time it was a dirt road crossing surrounded by farms. Their grandfather, Eugene, turned it into a mechanic’s shop when automobiles came along, but he continued to shoe the horses into his 1950s.
Their father Rich and Uncle Don took over the business in the 1960s and early 1990s.
“We are Litchfield’s oldest continuing business,” said Bob Elsen. “We’ve been honest with people and done quality work. That’s why we’ve survived.”
Three years ago, state officials notified the brothers that their property was likely subject to eminent domain as part of a plan to expand Interstate 494. Last year it became certain and they looked elsewhere to relocate. The closest he was in Burnsville, ten miles away.
The brothers thought it was too far for their customers. Bob, who is 73 and already partially retired, and Joe, who has just turned 66, decide to close rather than try to attract new customers. Four of his employees, including Joe’s son, are already employed by other auto shops.
“Most of our customers have been coming here for years and years,” Bob said. become our friends.
For all the material wealth that comes from running a business and all the spiritual income that draws a career arc, the casual associations and friendships that are formed in the process yield immeasurable rewards.
They expand our world and add color and flavor to our deepest friendships and family relationships in a different way.
Magnuson has savored the loss of those business relationships in the 2020 pandemic. After the initial state-mandated closure, he reopened Walkin’ Dog. But business was so slow that he began building a list of customers he was missing, including people he knew only from work and his favorite hot dog.
Like other downtown restaurateurs, Magnuson has developed relationships with the city’s homeless over the years. Almost every day someone asked him for a free dog. He has learned to tell who is really hungry.
In late 2021, the lease manager asked Magnuson to move Walkin’ Dog to another location in the food court. Renovation work has begun on the adjacent hotel. All the other restaurants in the food court were closed during the pandemic, so Magnuson could easily move to one of the vacant spots.
But he thought it might be time to close Walkin’ Dog and told his manager that he would make a decision in a day or two. After a while, a woman in her 20s or 30s came in from the street.
“You can tell by her looks that she had a very tough life,” Magnuson recalled last week. “She was battered, her hands were calloused, and she was very kind.
“She started telling me her story and how she became who she is today. It wasn’t an addiction. Her eyes were clear and she was sober. And She started crying, and I started crying, listening to her describe a God-thankful lifestyle unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.”
He soon decided to leave it open and move it elsewhere. The woman never returned.
But a year and a half later, even when the escalator from the Skyway to the food court was closed, other customers did.
In the last days of Walkin’ Dog, Magnuson was worried about stocking the right amount — he ran out of cherry flavors for shakes at first — and properly said goodbye.
A line of people meant a lot of work, and a handshake meant a lot of emotion.
“It’s very overwhelming,” he said.