Ax-Man Surplus reopens in Midway

Ax-Man has reopened for business at 1639 W. University. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

It’s been a tough few months for Ax-Man Surplus, but the longtime University Ave. business is back up and running.

“We’re excited to be reopen,” said Ax-Man Surplus Store owner Jim Segal. “We’re seeing familiar faces coming back. The boards are coming off.”

He added, “Hopefully people come back to the Midway. Folks may have some negative feelings about the area - until they come and see everything is good. We’ve got great neighborbors. It’s a really diverse mix of businesses. Our business and a number of businesses that are unique draw folks to the area.”

‘A painful stretch’

Ax-Man Surplus was birthed in downtown St. Paul in 1965 when Jess Lieberman bought some second-quality items and sold them in his father’s tailor shop. It took off, and he kept selling salvage deals for cheap. David Gray started working for his relative at Ax-Man when he was in college in the early 1970s. He was a real creative type, recalled Segal, and earned equity ownership in the business. When Lieberman died in 1994, Gray bought out the rest from the estate.

Segal bought Ax-Man 20 years ago. Today, there are three locations, with the others in St. Louis Park and Fridley. Segal has roots in Highland Park, where his mom grew up and where he previously owned the GNC health food store. He lives in the western suburbs where he was raised.

Segal was working in the office at 1639 University Ave. W. on Thursday, May 28 when looters came in and began damaging the store. The 53-year-old stayed locked in a bathroom until police responded and got him out of there.

“The police said there was nothing they could do to protet the facility, so I left,” recalled Segal. “I came back later in the evening and it was pandemonium.”

The store wasn’t boarded up until Friday.

“It’s taken about a month to get things back together,” said Segal. The damage amounted to $150,000. He’s hopeful it will be covered by insurance. However, some of the inventory was unique and will be challenging to replace.

The past few months have been “a bit of a painful stretch,” said Segal.

Ax-Man Surplus closed on Friday, March 27 due to COVID-19. While he applied for PPP funds as soon as he was able, Segal choose to sit on the money until he was able to reopen on May 18. He lost nearly 100% of his business while closed, as very little business is done online. “You’d think getting quote-on-quote free money from the government would be a blessing, but there were elements of a curse,” stated Segal.

While preparing to reopen, employees deep-cleaned the store. “No question the store is as clean as it has ever been,” said Segal. While closed, they went through every bin. Plus, they’re cleaning in between customers as a precaution against COVID-19.

He is hopeful businesses in the Midway will come back stronger and physically better than before.

“Hopefully, we’ll see some real change as it relates to racism,” stated Segal. “At the end of the day, I think we need to see positive changes in policing and community involvement. I hope that’s what comes of this.”


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