I pulled up to a gas station in Minneapolis on a cold but bright Saturday morning. As I parked, I noticed a small line of cars waiting for access to the pumps. I walked into the station and chatted with the owner, Lonnie McQuirter. He told me they were having a slow day. I laughed.
I met Lonnie about a month ago at a public radio event. He was at the event with his sister, and my dear friend, Jocelyn. Lonnie invited me to visit a store he owned and to possibly snap a few photos. I told him I had retired from photography and explained that I have been fighting, and mainly losing, a battle against exhaustion--more about this in a future post. Lonnie continued to tell me about his store and I started to hear a passion in his voice, a passion that compelled me to commit to a shoot.
Lonnie opened 36LYN in 2005 and during the past ten years, he and his staff have built something special. The gas at 36LYN is reasonably priced, which, of course, is important. Lonnie would later tell me that, unlike most stations, he doesn’t adjust his prices based on his competitors. However, more importantly, 36LYN feels like a place for community.
During my visit, the staff chatted often with customers. They asked customers how school was going. They asked about children and vacations. 36LYN employees weren't just putting up a front because I was there. I could tell, by the ease and depth of the conversations, that they genuinely enjoyed talking to customers. The familiarity makes sense considering how, according to Truman, 80-90% of the people he sees are regular, repeat customers.
Truman has worked at 36LYN for about six months. As we talked, he told me how 36LYN feels like it’s part of the neighborhood. He should know, he lives only a few blocks away. In fact, while he was out running errands, one of the regulars, Jodi, told me and the other staff that she constantly sees Truman in the neighborhood.
Halfway through my visit at 36LYN, Jodi entered the store. She’s been a 36LYN patron for a little over a year and started stopping in after taking some time off from work. She’d come in for coffee and granola, but then realized that she started staying to chat with the staff. These days, she finds herself busy with work, but she still comes in for the Peace Coffee, the food on the shelves, and the social time with the employees.
Recently appointed as 36LYN’s Manager of Inventory, Devin has worked at the store for two-and-a-half years. After telling me about her new title, she explained to me that she’s also in charge of choosing the music that plays in the store. She goes on to tell me that her nickname for Truman comes from the song "Human" by The Killers. I later ask Truman how he feels about being called "Are We Truman or Are We Dancer?" It's safe to say he's not the biggest fan of the name or the song that inspired it.
36LYN is a special kind of store. I mean, you can go to their website and read their “Core Values” and see what I'm talking about. When I first met Lonnie, I could tell he cared about people and his store. After visiting 36LYN, it's even more evident how deeply he cares about his staff and customers. Truman told me that Lonnie empowers staff to take the lead and make decisions. Apparently, he also empowers his customers to do the same. As a part of the upcoming remodeling process, Lonnie is asking for his customers' thoughts on what the remodeling and rebranding should look like.
After two hours at 36LYN, I tell myself that I should leave the staff alone and let them get on with their day. I say my goodbyes and head out the door. I walk past the cars waiting in line and am reminded that--apart from the great coffee, organic food, and inviting staff--36LYN also sells gas.