After nearly 90 years, an iconic Faribault bar has finally given up its liquor license after the COVID-19 pandemic destroyed its business model.
At its Tuesday evening meeting, Faribault’s City Council officially suspended the liquor license of Grampa Al’s, officially named Al’s Place, after receiving notification last month that the business’s liquor liability insurance had lapsed.
Al’s Place, known in recent times for the stream of live music it brought to town, has been in continuous operation since 1929, when Al Jasinski moved to Faribault from Owatonna and started a pool hall on the site. When prohibition was repealed in 1933, the business transitioned into a full service bar.
While the newer part of the building only dates back to the 1960s, the older part of the building that housed the bar packs more of a historic punch than Grampa Al’s itself. In 1879 it was built by Jeremiah Healey Jr. and his brother Edward. The twin sons of Erin Township’s first settlers, Jeremiah Healey Sr. and Hannah McCarthy, the Healeys ran a general store out of the building for many years. In a city well-known for its historic architecture, the building they built was noted for its double arch second floor window detail and keystones.
The bar was successful enough that Al Jasinski was able to pass it on to his sons, Don, Jerry and Gene. Jerry later bought out his brothers and became the business’s sole owner, then passed it onto his sons, Jim and Jake. In honor of their grandfather and the family legacy he started, Jim and Jake unofficially changed the name to Grampa Al’s. They even took cautious steps to potentially expand the business, buying the neighboring building at 24 Third St. in 2013.
At the time, it wasn’t exactly clear what the additional building would be used for. It’s known for its handsome polished marble exterior, the only such building in Faribault, and the Jasinskis speculated they might use the back for restrooms and have retail in the front.
Grampa Al’s never utilized that building, with a small gap between it and the other two buildings owned by the Jasinskis posing something of a barrier. At the end of last year, it was sold to the Faribault Masons after they decided to leave their old building.
Now, the entire business has been put up for sale by the Jasinskis due to the pandemic. Jim Jasinski said that the bar’s business model has become somewhat more fragile in recent years, increasingly reliant on attracting a full house to hear local bands.
“A lot of those bands didn’t even want to play inside with COVID,” he said. “Many of them include older members.”
In addition to the fears of musicians and potential customer, Jasinski said that trying to make a go of it would have been extremely difficult due to the likelihood that significant occupancy restrictions will be in place for the near future.
Jasinski said he’s been contacted by buyers interested in taking on the 90-year-old Faribault icon. However, the uncertainty inflicted by the pandemic and changing government guidelines has also hamstrung his ability to sell so far.
“With COVID, we don’t know if we’ll be able to stay open or get shut down again,” he said. “It’s a big scare.”
Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism President Nort Johnson expressed disappointment at the loss of one of Faribault’s most storied businesses. He’s hopeful that the pandemic will lift soon and potentially enable the business to reopen under new ownership.
“l’s is a legendary Faribault establishment that will definitely be missed,” he said. “I know that a lot of our businesses in the restaurant, hospitality and bar industries have had a really hard time.”
Faribault Daily News readers were also deeply disappointed by the loss of the community icon. Many recalled unforgettable moments spent in the bar and were in disbelief that they might never be able to go back.
“So many memories, all good,” said Debra Swenson. Lots of people, good music, everybody having fun.”
“Over 40 years of good times and great music,” chimed in Cisco Duda Perry. “Met a lot of good people there. Loved when they had the early Blues bands. Too many times went for the early band and ended up closing out the late band also. Music was too good to leave!”
“Thinking outside the box” is the approach Bethlehem Academy Principal Mindy Reeder and Divine Mercy Catholic School Principal Gina Ashley are taking as they prepare for a unique academic year.
“We look forward to welcoming students back to campus,” Reeder said. “At some point, we know how to gather this year could change, and we look forward to that.”
Ashley offered the perspective that the pandemic has given teachers opportunities to teach resilience to youth, and she considers that a gift.
“This community is a strong community, and I feel blessed to work with the people I have,” Ashley said. “… It gives me confidence we’ll work through it together and we’ll find a way through.”
Rice County Public Health approved in-person learning at Bethlehem Academy and Divine Mercy Catholic School. Reeder said a big reason for in-person learning is that Catholic schools in general have smaller student populations. For 2019-20, 220 students have enrolled at BA, another 190 have enrolled in kindergarten through fifth-grade and 67 in preschool at DMCS.
Parents took a look at the two schools’ plans and participated in town hall meetings to help them decide if they wanted their children to return to school in person or go the distance learning route. Less than 10 BA students and five total DMS students will engage in distance learning this year.
Schools will have staggered openings to help regulate the flow of traffic. Grades one through five return to school at DMCS Monday, BA students begin school Tuesday, and preschool and kindergarten students start Wednesday. Students will also have staggered release times on a regular basis.
Following health and safety guidelines, classes will be held in person with required mask-wearing, social distancing and regular sanitations. Students will have assigned seats to make for easy contact tracing if someone becomes ill.
At the elementary level, students will remain in the same classroom for the most part all day. Ashley said homeroom teachers cover all subject areas besides electives like art, music, and Phys Ed Since students have one to one devices, they won’t need to use the media lab for computer class. Students will go outdoors for Phys Ed as long as the weather cooperates, and use the big gymnasium during the winter months. The music teacher will travel from classroom to classroom, and for fifth-grade band, students will continue lessons outdoors or in the auditorium and meet in pods of no more than four students.
At BA, Reeder said middle school students will be grouped into pods and have teachers come to them about 50% of the time. High school students will switch classrooms and make use of larger, alternative learning spaces like the library and cafeteria. Certain classes, like art, will have Plexiglass dividers at the tables. As long as the weather allows, students will also have classes on a green space outside. Band students will need to spread out in larger spaces, like the cafeteria.
Lunch presents another challenge for the two schools. Elementary students will stay in their pods for lunch and abide by seating charts so they can stay with the same group throughout the day. There will be no self-serve options at either school, and students can bring a lunch or eat a hot meal provided.
At BA, Reeder said the lunch schedule will have more lunch periods than usual to allow for better social distancing. Tables will seat no more than four students at a time, and Plexiglass partitions will provide an extra level of separation. High school and middle school students will have assigned seating in the lunchroom, but their spots could change throughout the year. The salad bar will not be an option.
Weekly Mass will look different this school year, and DMCS and BA students won’t combine for Mass until further notice. Middle school and high school students will attend Mass separately, every other week, which will open up seats for parishioners and the community. Grades won’t intermix. Instead they’ll abide by assigned seating. What’s a bit sad to Reeder is that singing in the congregation is prohibited to prevent the spread of germs, but individual cantors may occasionally sing at the altar.
“I have to give kudos to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis because they really put a lot of effort and time into researching protocols,” Ashley said.
Since church services resumed in May, Ashley noted it’s given her comfort as a school leader to see how well protocols have worked out in the past few months.
In terms of special events and field trips, BA and DMCS staff need to alter their approaches in providing fun and safe opportunities for students. Homecoming is still on the calendar for fall, but activities will need to be modified to meet protocols. Trunk-or-Treat, a big Halloween event for DMCS, will also continue but with a different format than usual.
“We’ll have to continue to work through things, but creatively, there’s ways,” Ashley said.
Any student or staff member who experiences symptoms of COVID-19 would report to a quarantine area within their school. The school nurse would examine the individual, who would then be picked up by a parent or guardian. Every situation is different, said Ashley, so the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) will have the final say in the next steps. In the event of a lab-confirmed case, seating charts will make contact-tracing more accurate. BA and DMCS will also follow a decision tree MDH released and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis simplified.
Ashley said she feels supported by Public Health officials, who engaged in weekly calls and answered questions both in real time and after doing more research.
“I think as a whole, there’s a lot of comfort,” Reeder said. “Between the state and being a private school through the diocese, we’ve had a lot of support … There are people who are trained and have the scientific knowledge to say, ‘This is what we want you to do.’”
Faribault’s City Council signed off on changes to Police Department policy Tuesday, as it looks to ensure a strong response to cases of missing and exploited persons.
Faribault Police Chief Andy Bohlen says the department began the process of updating the policy after he attended a national conference held last year by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
At the conference, Bohlen said he heard deeply emotional testimonies from parents who have lost their children. In some of those cases, tragedy could have been averted with quicker and more decisive action. If such a case occurs in Faribault, Bohlen said that he wants Faribault Police to spring into action with an aggressive response. The new policy, which replaces a decade-old memo issued by former Police Chief Daniel Carlson, is designed to ensure that happens.
“I’ve been passionate about this since I heard about parents who have lost their children,” he said. “It made me feel that we need to do things differently.”
Bohlen said that to write the new policy, he built off the recommendations of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. He hopes that the department will eventually achieve certification from the center and its Missing Kids Readiness Project.
Bohlen said that the only local jurisdiction that has implemented a similarly rigorous rewrite of existing policy is the Dodge County Sheriff’s Office. Dodge County was certified by the project in 2017, one of just 38 law enforcement agencies in the nation to be certified. Currently, Dodge County is one of four agencies certified by the Missing Kids Readiness Project in Minnesota. The others are the Freeborn and Stearns County Sheriff’s departments and the Shakopee Police Department.
Bohlen said that it’s common for the Police Department to have one to two missing persons cases open at any one time. Often, these range from adults who may have an issue such as alcohol dependency or gambling addiction, to children who have run away from home.
More rare but still are cases of kidnapping of a vulnerable adult, either by a parent or someone else they know. Cases of kidnapping by a stranger are the most uncommon but also the most dangerous.
“I hope we never have to deal with one of those,” he said.
Fortunately, most of these incidents are resolved, but the department’s new policy emphasizes that no missing persons case is “routine.” Missing persons will be considered to be in need of immediate assistance unless and until the facts prove otherwise.
Bohlen said that too often, investigations are hampered by late reporting. While a late report is sometimes evidence of neglect or abuse, oftentimes people report late because they incorrectly assume a fixed amount of time needs to pass before they can report a case.
“Television shows may depict that a 24 period of time needs to pass (before a report can be filed), but that is a fallacy,” he said. If an adult or a child is gone under disturbing and distressing circumstances, we want people to call immediately.”
As the new policy notes, most children have an “established or reasonably predictable routine.” Unexplained deviations from this routine can be an early sign that something is wrong, especially if other risk factors are present.
The policy also emphasizes the importance of avoiding jurisdictional conflicts. For example, if a child resides in Faribault but was last seen in another jurisdiction, Faribault Police will take on the investigation if the other jurisdiction’s law enforcement agency will not.
HOPE Center Executive Director Erica Staab-Absher said that one of her organization’s priorities is to keep children safer by educating the community. She said that the new policy will also help to improve child safety in Faribault.
“It’s always helpful to have robust policy,” she said. “I appreciate that they’re looking to national policies that are working really well as a model.”
Minnesota was home to one of the nation’s most prominent missing child cases. On Oct. 22 1989, 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling was kidnapped near his hometown of St. Joseph and murdered by child sex offender Danny Heinrich. Wetterling’s case remained a mystery for nearly three decades, until 2016, when Heinrich decided to cooperate as part of a plea bargain with investigators. He led them to a site near Paynesville where Jacob’s body was found.
In the years following Jacob’s abduction, his parents Patty and Jerry became leading activists in the fight to help missing and exploited children. In 1994, Congress passed the Jacob Wetterling Act, which required states to create sex offered registries for the first time.
In Minnesota, the Wetterlings founded the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center to prevent child exploitation and educate families and communities. In 2019, the organization merged with the Zero Abuse Project to expand its reach and focus.
Jacob Wetterling Resource Project Director Alison Feigh said she was greatly heartened to see Faribault Police adopt policies in line with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s guidelines. She said that too often, such cases still fall between the cracks.
“We know that nationally many families don’t get an immediate coordinated response when reporting a missing loved one,” Feigh wrote in an email to the Daily News. “Faribault shows through investing in the NCMEC training and doing this policy work that they are committed to being proactive in cases involving the missing.”