Best of 2021 Editor’s Picks

by | Jul 2021

Nathan Block

Nathan Block. Photo by: Chris Emeott

Take a closer look at what makes Woodbury Woodbury.
Movie Madness

Woodbury 10 Theatre weathers a wave of shutdowns with community support.

The delicious smell of hot, buttered popcorn; slurping of ices and the fizz of an ice-cold pop; laughter and chatter from friends and family. The typical movie-goer atmosphere is a unique one, and a cherished memory for most. For Nathan Block, owner of the Woodbury 10 Theatre, it has always been a treasure.

“I’ve always had a love of movie theaters and the exhibition industry,” Block says, noting his early beginnings in the theater scene at the University of Minnesota. The story of Woodbury 10, however, is different than most.

Built in 1993 by United Artists Theater Corporation (UA), and opened under the name UA Movies at Woodbury, the theater provided Woodbury with a family-friendly environment, but that quickly changed just a few years later.

“The theater industry went from the multiplex to the megaplex, so theaters had 16, 18 and 20 screens,” Block says. UA closed the theater in 2003 and Metro Transit bought the property; Block and his business partner leased the property and opened the Woodbury 10 Theatre the following October.

But in March 2020, 17 years after the theater’s reopening, the doors were shuttered due to the pandemic.

“The first lockdown wasn’t a surprise …
I didn’t know what we were going to do, but I saw other businesses doing curbside pickup, so I got on the phone with city officials for people to buy concessions only,” Block says. “That really saved our bacon.”

Although the theater reopened in July 2020, it endured a second lockdown. “I thought it was the end,” Block says. “The weather was colder, and I thought no one would stand in the cold for popcorn … The sales did even better than in June. It saved us. I really couldn’t believe it.”

The theater is now reopened, and Block says they’ve been able to weather the storm.

“I’m grateful for every customer who walks through the door, whether that’s buying popcorn to take home or seeing a movie,” he says. “I will continue to fight to keep this movie theater open. I believe in movie theaters [and] the community aspect of being together.”

Photo by: UpLift Guided Fitness

Female Fitness

UpLift Guided Fitness celebrates over 15 years of providing fitness guidance to women.

When job share partners Jill Strand and Chris Radke left corporate America in 2005, the duo decided to focus on a shared passion: fitness.

“We wanted to support women in what we know and loved in health,” Radke says. They opened UpLift Guided Fitness the same year, creating one of the first female-only fitness centers in Minnesota. The center focuses on each part of a women’s health and offers cardio and strength training, personal training, nutrition plans and group fitness classes.

Fifteen years after opening, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, UpLift had to shutter its doors twice, leaving Strand and Radke to rework their business. Ultimately, they decided to bring their programs to the homes of members.

“We were in touch with our members a lot and we gave them online workouts. We had Zoom workouts, which gave the ladies something to do at home,” Strand says.

Radke adds, “We also included nutrition and exercise plans. They knew that we were here to support them in anyway.”

Now that the doors are back open, members are flooding in to continue their fitness journeys.

“Women love the ‘female-only’ part of Uplift … [And] beyond the exercise, the support that you’re surrounded by goes above and beyond the world of fitness,” Radke says. “We have a strong community of women here at Uplift.”

Photo by: Heather Fairbanks

Mask Maker

How spare fabrics and elastic lead to the making of over 2,000 face masks.

Princess dresses, tiaras and plush unicorns. Just over a year ago, Heather Fairbanks was flying from city to city with her business The Whimsy Factory, creating eccentric experiences for kids around the country. However, once COVID-19 began, the Cottage Grove resident went from handing out tiaras to handing out face masks.

“Like everything in the beginning of COVID, you would try something to see what it’s like,” Fairbanks says. After digging out her sewing machine from the basement, and several different fabric scraps, she decided to give mask-making a go using the pattern preference released by Blue Cross Blue Shield.

“The first ones were bad. They were so messy since I hadn’t done anything like that in a while,” she says.

It wasn’t long until Fairbanks ran out of the fabric and elastic scraps. Since craft stores were rapidly running out of materials (Fairbanks had placed over 200 orders, but each order was cancelled), she looked toward the community for help. “I had people step up who had materials on hand [and] they would drop off the materials at my house so I could make more masks,” she says.

Fairbanks would sew up to 200 masks per day during the highpoint of COVID, posting the masks on local Facebook groups with hopes to protect community members.

“I’m right on the border of Woodbury and Cottage Grove, so I wanted the whole area to have them,” she says. The masks were taped in envelopes throughout the front of Fairbanks’ house for contactless pickup. She also donated several masks to the Cottage Grove and Woodbury Police Explorers, Culver’s and other businesses that requested masks. In the end, she hand sewed and donated over 2,000 face masks.

“It was really fun … I had a pile of beautiful things,” Fairbanks says. Although she has now retired from making face masks, she says it’s fun to see her creations out in public. “I get a kick out of it when I go out and see people wearing the masks I made … As a person who was mostly at home, this is what I could do to have an impact. To protect my community and those around me.”

Photo by: Chris Emeott

Donations From Duc’s

“Be thankful. Be grateful. Do what you can to make the world a better place.”

For Duke Kim, community healing comes naturally. Kim, the owner of Duc’s Vietnamese, says he has been “paying it forward” through his restaurant for as long it has been open, but when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he decided to take things a step further.

“It just started as something really simple, by giving gift certificates to frontline workers,” Kim says. “If we could help with that little thing, one meal, that would mean a lot to me … I started to donate gift cards to different organizations working on the frontlines [and] when people would hear that, they would come in and give us extra money to pay it forward.”

During the brunt of the pandemic, Kim raised and donated over $5,000 to Second Harvest Heartland, as well as several $500 gift certificates to organizations such as Meals on Wheels. Now, Kim is still raising money for organizations, but also for frontline workers.

In March, Kim donated $500 to the local Trader Joes as a thank you to their essential workers; in April, Kim began to hand out snacks to Woodwind Hospital, the Woodbury Police and Fire Departments, and the public workers for the City of Woodbury.

“With all of the crisis happening, we have to get back to … being kind,” Kim says. In March, after the traumatic deaths of eight people in Atlanta, six of which were women of Asian descent, Kim says Duc’s had their busiest day in months, thanks to a young local.

“I thought, ‘What’s going on?’ he says. “Well, a dad in Woodbury came in and told me, ‘Duke, my 9-year-old son wanted to eat at Duc’s because he wants to support you.’”

“We all could really learn from him … To have him help the community and be so thoughtful … We are just so blessed,” Kim says.

Photo by: Nikki Schmidt

Savvy Styling

Salon Elite celebrates 20 years of styling.

Twenty years ago, Nikki Schmidt had a dream of opening her own salon. This year, Schmidt and her team are celebrating the 20th anniversary of Woodbury’s own Salon Elite.

“It was my dream to have a salon and I never knew what that would look like,” Schmidt says. “But over the past 20 years, I’ve realized it’s rewarding to help service providers grow in our industry [and] Woodbury is an awesome community for that.”

While Schmidt’s team was unable to celebrate due to COVID-19, she says there’s room for an “extra-special celebration” a year from now. And though Schmidt says it was nerve wracking to be closed during the pandemic, the community support has been unwavering.

“The community really stepped up … We really felt the love,” she says. “It’s been challenging [but] everyone embraced it … We get constant feedback that we’re doing a great job and customers feel safe when they come in.”

Salon Elite, a full-service family hair salon, recently expanded to a larger location and now offers spa services, skin and lash treatments, and waxing.

“We started expanding a month before COVID,” Schmidt says. “I’m very proud of the salon and the expansion. It’s been really, really fun.”


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