Erick’s Bar to close up shop


Erick’s Bar sits near the intersection of East Seventh and Forest streets, on a small triangular plot of land. (photos by Patrick Larkin/Review)

Erick’s Bar sits nearly empty on Tuesday, Sept. 17 around 10:30 a.m.

Gary Erickson, 68, stands behind the bar that’s been his life for the past 36 years.

Port Authority will buy the long-time East Side bar and demolish building

Erick’s Bar sits in what is now a concrete island on East Seventh Street, surrounded by empty St. Paul Port Authority land.

But it wasn’t always that way. The place has a long history, from the times when blue-collar workers poured out from nearby factories. Workers at 3M, Whirlpool, Northern Malleable Iron, a shingle factory, and Hospital Linens all came out to the bar after work to drink and socialize.

For the past three and a half decades, Gary Erickson has owned the place, which is located at 949 E. Seventh St. He’s been at his bar, rain, shine or sleet, seven days a week.

He never intended to run a bar for so long -- in fact, he thought he’d only be in the place for a year. His father talked him into buying the place and helped him out with a loan, all so his dad would have a place to hang out, Erickson joked.

“I told him I didn’t go to college to run a bar,” he chuckled.

But nearly 36 years later, he’s still there.

“The money was too good to leave,” he added with a laugh.

But he won’t be in it much longer -- he’s agreed to sell the place.

The St. Paul Port Authority approached him about buying the neighborhood bar, in order to shore up the area for redevelopment. The bar sits at “the front door” of the adjacent Port Authority development plots, said Louis Jambois, president of the St. Paul Port Authority.

Erickson said they made him an offer on the building that was good enough to go with. The bar will be closed by Sept. 30, and he’ll have another 15 days to get his stuff out, he said.

It’s going to be very strange for him to give the place up at the end of the month, he said. But at 68, he’s no young buck, and he says he’s ready to retire.

Booming times, bust

When Erickson first picked up the bar from the Montpetit family in 1977, business was slow, he said. But it soon started booming. How could it not -- with all the blue-collar workers just down the street at manufacturing plants like 3M and Whirlpool, the market was there, he said.

“Within the year it took off very well for me,” he said. “There were 10,000 union employees working around here.”

Erickson recalled a time when the street was booming with activity.

“When I got here in ‘77 there were 11 bars in a quarter-mile strip on this street,” he said, adding that there were also barbershops and restaurants.

Now, the street looks different.

“When the factories went, all the businesses went,” he stated, looking out the window. “What you’re seeing here is nothing of what used to be here.”

Social hub

The place has been somewhat of a social network and a community for Erickson.

“Most of my friends are people that I’ve met here,” he said.

The place was once abuzz with events and patrons. People would do everything from watch sports to play pool and pull tabs and poker.

They used to get buses together to go to Vikings and North Stars games; every sporting event you can imagine, he said.

Marcia Lucente, 61, had rave reviews about the bar. For one, she met second her husband there while he was bartending.

She called the place “the working man’s bar,” a place where everybody knew everyone.

She said she always felt safe there -- men would escort the ladies to their cars to make sure they got there safely.

Or, if patrons had one too many drinks, “they would call you a cab, or they would take you home.”

“They always took care of you,” she said.

Former employee Pat Riley, 56, of White Bear Lake said he remembered going to the bar as a young man, after a long night working in the foundry at Northern Malleable Iron.

“It was a fun place to go,” he said. “Working at the foundry, it was 120 degrees, so beer tasted good.”

Riley said he’s still gone to the bar occasionally in recent years, but times have changed.

All the regulars “moved out to the suburbs many years ago,” he said.

Morning drinks

Erickson also used to cash paychecks for the workers coming off their shifts, something he said was integral to his business. The 3M employees got paid on Thursdays, so come Friday morning, the overnight workers would be ready to cash their checks and take a load off.

“We did more business on a Friday morning than most bars probably did on a Friday night,” Erickson said.

His son Lance Erickson has been working for his father off and on since he graduated from college.

He recalled that when he started, the bar “was going gangbusters.”

“We were always busy,” he said, from 8 a.m. til the bar closed, the place would be busy.

Now when the bar opens at 10, they’re lucky to see more than a customer or two.

On a Tuesday morning visit from the East Side Review, there was but one lone customer, a guy named Larry who is perhaps the last morning regular. He had wild gray hair and sat at the bar drinking a Bloody Mary with a decent-sized pickle sticking out of it, fiddling with a pack of cigarettes. He talked about the Vikings and joked with Erickson.

He couldn’t say where he’d go for a morning drink once the place closed down.

Bittersweet

Erickson said he will host a pig roast the last weekend the bar’s in business, with the idea being to “get all the old customers back.”

It will be a 350 or 400 pound pig, and he expects the place to be packed, he said. So much so that he was refraining from advertising or even putting signs up in his own bar.

“I’ll have so many people in here already that I don’t need to advertise,” he chuckled.

Though Erickson said he doesn’t have any regrets or hesitations about selling the bar, he’s still going to miss it.

“It’s going to be strange when I don’t have to come to work. I mean, I go to work seven days a week. You get up in the morning and you have no place to go after 36 years... it’s going to be very hard”

I’m going to miss the customers,” he said, “and I’m going to miss my help.”

His son Lance said he’d be sad to see the bar go, but at the same time, he’s ready for a change.

He figures change will be good for his dad as well.

“He’s put his time in,” he said. “He’s been there every day, and I mean like, he would go out of town on a trip, and he would still call the bar every day to make sure everything was OK.”

He thinks it’s time for his father to retire and enjoy life, free of the pressures of running a business.

Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com.

Louis Jambois, St. Paul Port Authority president, said the agency would buy Erick’s Bar “following the notion of as much contiguous development land as possible, to make it more attractive to the marketplace.”

He said some of the parcels at the former 3M site are seeing some interest.

“We’ve got several tire kickers if you will,” he said.

In addition, he said the Port Authority might end up selling one parcel to an armored car company and construction could start this fall.

Dark days, too

Erick’s Bar has also seen some dark days. It’s been robbed four times, owner Gary Erickson said, and St. Paul Police officer Gerald Vick was killed outside of the place.

Vick, working undercover with a partner was investigating prostitution tips, was shot three times early on the morning of May 6, 2005, in an alley near the bar. He died about 20 minutes later.

The shooting shocked the city and resulted in widespread mourning for Vick, 41, a highly respected police veteran and two-time winner of the department’s highest award, the Medal of Valor.

The day after he was buried, however, police announced that Vick’s blood-alcohol level when he died was 0.20, twice the legal limit.

The shooting happened shortly after Vick and his partner confronted Harry Evans and Antonio Kelly, who were loitering outside Erick’s Bar at closing time around 2 a.m.

Evans was found guilty of first-degree murder in Vick’s death.

 

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