When Chris Donnelly was living in Philadelphia in the late 2000s, life never seemed to slow down. The handyman was running from job to job, logging more than 80 hours a week between home repair and roofing gigs. But a fateful trip to the Twin Cities changed everything.
At the time, Chris’ sister Mary Francis was already living here. She asked her friend Susan to give her brother a makeover in the hopes of helping the overworked divorcee find a new girlfriend. “I was supposed to get him a haircut and out of the New Balance sneakers and silky shorts,” recalls Susan, as we sit down for an interview at SouthSide Vintage & Quality Goods, her beloved home goods store in South Minneapolis and the source of at least a third of our personal home furnishings. (We’re big fans.)
Here’s the thing about Susan: She finds the beauty in everything, whether she’s tackling set design for a corporate client or staging aspirational scenes in her impeccably curated shop. The same rule applied to Chris. Rather than setting him up for success with someone else, Susan found herself drawn to his boisterous love of life and boundless curiosity. Whether it was ice fishing or weaving a macramé plant hanger, she liked that he was always down to learn something new.
Before long, Susan and Chris were inseparable. Each had finally found a partner who, as Susan puts it, “appreciated the stuff other people had liked us in spite of.”
Chris and Susan’s complementary personalities and interests are well showcased at SouthSide. Chris is a token extrovert, always striking up conversations with soon-to-be-longtime customers. He enjoys cleaning, repairing, and hauling the midcentury-modern furniture that Susan sleuths out at regional estate sales. SouthSide’s hours are intentionally limited (usually every other weekend) so that Susan has time not only to scout the best stuff, but to display it in a way that makes her shoppers say, “Wow, I could totally see that in my living room.”
She’s also very intentional about pricing. “Selling things is not who I am,” says Susan. “Matchmaking, problem solving, and puzzles are, so when someone comes in and they’re looking for something very specific, my mind automatically goes to what we have or what we could find that might work.
“If someone is 20 and has great taste,” she continues, “but can’t afford a $1,200 couch, we find something similar but less expensive, clean it, tune it up, and sell it for $300. We want people to get what they like without getting a second mortgage. We need to make a living, but that’s not what drives us.”
Another big motivator is Minnesota itself, as we discovered during a three-hour chat about local food, shopping, and everything in between…
You have to leave Minnesota tomorrow and can never come back. Where and how do you spend your last 24 hours in the state?
Chris: I’m fishing at McGregor, three hours north of [Minneapolis]. There’s only a dozen houses around the lake, so it’s super peaceful. We don’t have to talk. We just fish, go back into the cabin, drink some beers, and make a pheasant pie.
Susan: I’m totally different. I’d dig in my garden and listen to the birds. I love to travel, but there’s a point where it stops being exciting and I want my own kitchen, bathroom, and bed. I like that feeling of belonging.
What Minnesota stereotype annoys you the most?
Susan: That we’re all snowsuit-clad hicks who eat hot dish and say ‘Uff da.’
What’s the most accurate thing people say about Minnesota?
Susan: That [laughs].
Do you have a favorite day trip?
Susan: My latest is Austin, Minnesota. We delivered a wall unit there, then went to the Spam Museum and ate Spam pizza at Steve’s. We also drove by a Frank Lloyd Wright house [The Elam House] and found out you can rent it.
What’d you think of the Spam Museum?
Susan: I loved it. Did you know they make teriyaki Spam?
Chris: They have over a dozen flavors of Spam, and you can buy them all in the gift shop. Sometimes they have food events. They were making Spam musubi the weekend we visited.
How about in winter? Do you cross-country ski?
Susan: I used to ski. And the last time I went ice skating, I got a concussion. People should go up to the Gunflint Trail; it’s beautiful. Some of our customers have a place up there called Poplar Haus. When they’re in town, they come into the shop and buy stuff for their That ’70s Cabin. They’re so nice and Grand Marais is lovely. But really, I’m blown away by how many beautiful places there are in Minnesota. Every time we drive somewhere, it’s pastures, farms, woodlands – in any direction, you can get away. Same thing in this neighborhood. We get off the freeway, and the minute I turn onto Minnehaha Parkway, it’s like [deep sigh]. It’s super urban, but you can get away from it all without living in the suburbs.
Do you have a different answer, Chris?
Chris: I like ice fishing. I have a pop-up [tent], an auger, a sled, and a heater, so everything is nice and toasty. In McGregor, I stay at a little red cabin. There’s no electric, plumbing, or anything like that. You get the wood-burning stove cranked and it’s 96 degrees in there. It might be 0 degrees outside, but you have the door open because it’s so damn hot. I remember taking a pee and it was so bright, you didn’t even need a flashlight; all of the stars were LEDs. There’s times where you go and the wolves are screaming at the top of their lungs. You know the lake is in front of you, but the other side is the Savanna State Forest. It’s eerie, because the wildlife is so close. Like you’ll hear a beaver and then suddenly, boom! A tree falls to the ground.
What’s the most underrated neighborhood in the Twin Cities?
Susan: This little pocket east of Cedar [Avenue]. The Cedar Inn is really nice. And you’ve got Hilda’s Hair Hut and all these small businesses that are not as clustered and boutique-y as other areas. Like Groovy’s [vintage store] is as funky as can be. And you’ve got [In the Kut] barbershop, Hamburguesas El Gordo on the corner, and Dulceria Bakery. You’ve got to eat there when [chef/owner Dulce Monterrubio] has her vegan molletes. They’re insane. Also: Dulce’s mom makes these vegan tamales that are melt-in-your-mouth delicious. [Editor’s note: We agree that Dulceria is amazing. Unfortunately, it is closing for good on February 22, 2020.]
Imagine we just handed you $200 to spend anywhere in the Twin Cities. Where are you shopping and what are you buying?
Susan: I would go to the Doc Martens store at the Mall of America and buy myself a new pair of sweet-ass Docs or I’d go to Show and Tell; [owner] Kristofer Bowman is one of the kindest humans I’ve ever met. I’d buy a good three-quarter sleeve linen sack top with pockets or a Martha McQuade scarf. And probably one of their candles. It smelled so good the last time I was in there.
Chris: It’s not like I need anything for fishing, but I like Nokomis Shoe Shop.
Susan: He buys all his work boots there. And he got a jacket on clearance. It was a great shade of tan-y, Carhartt gold.
You’re so practical. Is there no indulgence you’d want?
Chris: I’d go to a show at First Avenue.
Susan: When we go out, we usually see live music.
What’s a memorable show you saw here?
Susan: We saw the Replacements when they played their last show outdoors….
Chris: Spoon at the State Theatre was great.
Susan: Dave Simonett of Trampled By Turtles is a good customer of ours, so he sent backstage passes. They actually did a little photo shoot with a tiny piano in our basement for their album release. It was really fun. He brings his kids to SouthSide; they call it ‘the cool store.’
Minnesota State Fair: Love it or hate it?
Chris: Yep — love it. I love people watching, the music, the food.
Susan: My mom always had to have a Pronto Pup, so I usually eat one in her honor. I like the mini doughnuts and the cheese curds, although Tiny Diner has the best cheese curds. So does The Nook in St. Paul. They’re one of those Jucy Lucy contenders and they soak their French fries in vinegar water — so good. We also look at the seed art and the Clydesdales, and I go on the Giant Slide because my dad used to take us on it when we were kids. I will never go on that slingshot thing, though. I’d maybe go on the gondola, but I’d need a seatbelt.
Who is a local artist, maker, or other creative type who’s inspiring you right now and why?
Susan: That’s a hard one, but Ashley Mary. How can you be that prolific and brilliant? What I like about her and Chelsea Brink — a graphic designer and another person I met through the store — is that they both help me see things I am not normally drawn to. Kristofer at Show and Tell applies to this, too, because of the way he displays other people’s handmade things.
Did you have a different answer, Chris?
Chris: Yeah, just seeing Dave [Simonett] and his two kids coming into the store. I enjoy him as a person — and not because he’s Dave Simonett of Trampled By Turtles.
Susan: We didn’t even know who he was when he came in. One of our other customers recognized him. He was just a nice dude who needed a dining set.
You’re eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner out. Where are you going for each meal and what are you ordering?
Susan: I would go to Sun Street Breads for breakfast and get their biscuits and gravy.
Chris: I’d go to The New Uptown Diner to get their Everything Omelet.
Susan: For lunch in summer, we’d go to Sea Salt. They have an awesome crab-stuffed avocado.
Chris: I get the crawfish po’ boy every time; it’s so good.
Susan: In winter, we go to the Cedar Inn on Thursdays for their meatloaf dinner with mashed potatoes.
Chris: Young Joni is great for pizza, and Italian Eatery is phenomenal.
Susan: You’ve gotta go! My father was a big lamb dude, and their lamb chop appetizer is perfectly medium-rare, with a nice little crust and juicy as can be. Their bread is great, too. It has whipped ricotta with an olive oil drizzle; I could eat it all day, every day. And oh god, their roasted smashed potatoes!
Wine, beer, or cocktails? Pick your poison and the local bar, brewery, or distillery that does it best.
Chris: Beer for me — Venn Brewing. It’s nice because they don’t have a bunch of TVs; it’s more social. I lent my tools to a customer and he brought me a pomegranate-and-guava sour. It was really tasty.
Susan: I’m more of a jukebox, shoot-pool kind of person, so I’d go to the CC Club uptown. My mother, sister, and I planned my sister’s wedding on cocktail napkins there. I’m into dive-y places with darts and vinyl booths and formica tabletops and bad linoleum.
Chris: What was the place in St. Paul that made us feel like we were in The Godfather?
Susan: Oh, Mancini’s! I’d get a rare-to-medium-rare steak there. We also like frozen pizzas. I would happily eat a Heggies with a Coke.
Imagine you’re in charge of a 5-year-old and a 12-year-old for the day. How are you entertaining them?
Susan: Great Wolf Lodge has an indoor waterpark, so you could take them there followed by the Mall of America. When our kids were smaller, we’d bike. The deal was, if we went all the way around the lake, we could stop for treats from Pumphouse Creamery.
You have $100,000 to film a documentary about anything in Minnesota. What’s it about?
Chris: Mine is easy — the lakes, as many as I could get to.
Susan: Mine would be about hidden small-town gems. Whether it’s a restaurant or an old movie theater or a place that’s about to close down, I’d find a place with history — something that deserves a broader audience. I’m always rooting for the underdog.
You’re tasked with rewriting Minnesota’s state motto, L’Étoile du Nord. How would you change it?
Susan: Mine would be something like ‘Where Nature and Culture Coexist.’ Because it’s got everything: big city stuff, small town livability, and nature.
Chris: Mine is ‘The Land of Adventure and Promise.’
You have five minutes with the mayor to make your case about a particular subject. What do you bend his ear about?
Susan: I’m passionate about historic preservation. Why are you tearing down this sweet thing to put up another bleeping high rise? Why can’t we rehab or fill the spaces that are already built before taking away nice things or filling empty land?
Chris: I’m in the same boat; maintaining a sense of history is really important. Like in St. Louis Park and Edina, they often take down a house and build a huge monstrosity. Yes, the house needed work. But why don’t you try selling it first? I framed houses here for 2.5 years and it just felt like [we were building] the same house over and over again.
What makes you proud to live in Minnesota?
Susan: We’re a progressive, inclusive, Democratic state… for the most part. Plus it’s relatively clean and people are conscientious about the planet. They’re trying to bike more; they’re trying to take public transit; they’re trying to recycle; they’re trying not to litter. I’m proud that people are politically aligned with me, and that we accept refugees. There’s great cultural diversity. Some of it is within certain neighborhoods, but at least it’s within the city. I am proud that art, both public and private, is important, and that there’s a thriving music scene. There are great places to eat and both manmade and natural beauty. And even though ‘Minnesota nice’ is passive-aggressive bullshit, most people aren’t selfish assholes. There’s a mutual respect.
Chris: It’s relaxing — a different way of life from the East Coast, which was go-go-go, all the time.
Susan: You like the community of it — people recognizing you at the bar, that kind of thing.
Chris: I like the neighborhood, I do. I’ll say ‘hi’ to anybody. And I’ll do whatever to help people. It’s just who I am.
THE LIGHTING ROUND
Favorite song to belt out while driving…
Susan: Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.”
Chris: Styx’s “Renegade.” But I’ll roll down the windows for Led Zeppelin and Rainbow Kitten Surprise, too.
Last great book you read…
Susan: Jojo Moyes’ One Plus One. Her writing style really keeps me engaged.
Chris: The Darkest Part of the Forest, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, and The Cruel Prince, all by Holly Black. My daughter reads a lot, so she’ll recommend books to me. We’re usually into the same stuff — like epic fantasies.
TV show you’re bingeing on…
Susan: Lucifer. It’s about a dashingly charming devil who lives in L.A. The lead actor [Tom Ellis] is so good and it’s very funny.
Chris: He owns a nightclub and he’s sleeping with, like, three girls at a time.
Susan: And he somehow ends up as a consultant for the NYPD. It’s a stretch, but you can take any great premise and ruin it with shitty writing. And you can take the most outrageous premise and somehow make it work if the writing and casting is good. Lucifer is a guilty pleasure.
A regional event or festival you look forward to every year…
Susan: Basilica Block Party in July. It’s a two-day thing with three stages of live music — both touring and local acts.
Chris: They had Mayer Hawthorne. And Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings.
Susan: I used to love the Renaissance Fair as well, but once we had kids, it’s like, ka-ching! ka-ching! It’s $100 to get through the gate, then everyone’s hungry the minute we get inside.
Favorite local museum or gallery…
Susan: I like the Walker, the Weisman, and Mia. I could sit in the Mia lobby for hours and look at its Chihuly sun, watching how the light changes over the course of a day.
Susan: @mwmmpls, which is designer Martha McQuade, and @chelseabrink. She’s super strong, but also a little fragile, and just so creative. She helps me notice things I might otherwise miss.
SouthSide Vintage & Quality Goods
1832 E. 42nd St., Minneapolis, MN; 612-250-0977.