MidModMen+friends – Make Like the Phoenix and Rise Anew

Photo by Ashley Rick
Photo by Ashley Rick

People who shop at MidModMen+friends in Saint Anthony Park know what they’re doing. They furnish and decorate their living spaces with intention, a curatorial flair. This sofa’s a stunner, that walnut table lamp an objet d’art. The bedroom becomes a refuge, the living room a showroom. It isn’t just about feeling stylish and cool in your personal surroundings; it’s about harmonizing your space (and, ipso facto, your own mind). Because your home should offer at least a semblance of the eye-popping serenity found in art museums. And so MMM really doesn’t sell furniture: they provide a discerning collection of functional artwork for the home. To wit, you don’t just sit in an Italian A. Sibau Sculpted Solid Cherry Chair, you use this exquisite sculpture for its intended purpose.

2021 will live in universal infamy, but that year was especially difficult for some of us—including Neal Keilar, who co-owns MMM with husband Jon Mehus, and who endured a Shakespearean amount of misfortune. We had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Neal about these challenges, and quite literally rising from the ashes to reopen their wonderful shop in early February of 2022. 

2021 was, of course, a hell of a year for you—but inspiring that you’ve persevered. Can you tell us a little about that?

Very few people—or businesses—can claim to have been unscathed by the challenges of 2021. But we took it on the chin a lot more than average. I was diagnosed with cancer in January and underwent major surgery in March, followed by a long period of recovery. It took me out of the loop; I couldn’t lift [anything] so I couldn’t work much for the better part of two months. That was extra tough because business had never been better or brisker. Then I had a mid-year hiatus to take care of some difficult family matters. 

When I got back we were still on track for a record year. Then in late September someone set fire to our storefront. That shut us down hard. Miraculously, we suffered only minor damage to our inventory—all of it easy to remedy. But physical and smoke damage to our space was extensive. By the time we reopen it will have been four and a half months since we shuttered the business at our University Avenue location.

The community has been kind to us. ModiLumi Lighting, a longtime partner, gave us a temporary home in their own store. Other businesses offered support. Friends pitched in and business partners stayed true. Our customers continued to cheer us on and our online community kept growing. How can we not be buoyed by that network of encouragement?

Jon and I are pretty determined people, and we’re also pragmatic optimists. It never occurred to us not to reopen, even if that meant running our business in a different way. We considered a handful of alternatives but kept circling back to our legacy business model. It’s so much a part of us that we couldn’t be made to walk away from it, despite a year of calamity.

Photo by Ashley Rick

MMM is a Twin Cities mainstay. What sets you apart from other stylistically like-minded boutiques? 

Ten years ago we created the store we wanted to shop in but couldn’t find in the Twin Cities. In that respect, MidModMen+friends is uniquely us. Honestly, I’ll bet other stores would say the exact same thing about themselves. All of us, whether intentionally or not, operate businesses that are expressions of our personal styles, habits and histories.

From the start, we’ve wanted to strike the balance between following our own design muse and fulfilling the needs of real people outfitting real homes, offices and lives with things that are well-made, well-designed and beautiful yet practical. We take great care in choosing, restoring and presenting everything. The store is constantly evolving and we keep a sharp eye on how everything works together. We put things in context—real vignettes—that help people imagine how they might look in their own homes.

Our competition is ourselves: How can we be a better version of ourselves, surpass our own expectations, lead and follow in balance. That shows through when people visit us. They can tell that we’re personally invested in the business, the offerings and the experience customers have in person.

Photo by Ashley Rick

I find collectors/curators of Mid-century goods and furniture to be fascinating—and very driven—people. It is not easy work. What has been your journey up to opening MMM? Do you, like many others, love the thrill of the hunt, as it were?

Jon is much more motivated by finding fresh things; I’m driven by sending them on their way to new homes. Neither is a breeze. There’s a lot of work that goes into it, including a full-on furniture restoration process that’s dirty and heavy and sometimes frustrating. Grabbing attention for our offerings is another type of manual labor and we punch the clock on that just about every day.

Where do we get all these things? Someone once told us about an old-time antiques dealer with a long-gone store who answered the question this way: “I get them from the gettin’ place.”

When we started out, we had to hunt high and low for future inventory. Luckily, over the years as our visibility has grown things mostly come to us via referrals and reputation. Another important resource: the +friends who are part of our collective. They find things all kinds of ways that we don’t, like auctions and estate sales and flea markets hundreds of miles away. They gather their own pieces, revive them and then bring them into the mix.

Musically, there’s a “Minneapolis sound.” Is there a Minneapolis style? You work with a lot of incredibly talented local artisans. How would you describe the overarching Twin Cities aesthetic?

This is big city and an endlessly diverse one. So there are tastes and tastemakers that span the spectrum. We don’t see a monolithic style even though modern decor has a strong presence. The Twin Cities aesthetic is defined more by the large and thriving and celebrated community of artists and artisans here. There seems to be a widespread embrace of the authentic, whether it’s modern or boho or avant garde or rustic. It’s a pretty heady time to be a maker or creator here and around Minnesota.

MMM has always made local artists and artisans part of the mix. We showcase them under our Future Heirlooms banner, which conveys the timelessness of what they create. They are literally making items—art, textiles, furniture—that will be passed down to subsequent generations. Or collected by savvy style makers in the future. A lot of the pieces we’ve featured have found homes all over the country and even abroad. That must make us net exporters of a Twin Cities style!

Photo by Ashley Rick

Has there ever been an item that you just couldn’t part with?

People either assume that we keep all the good stuff for ourselves or that we’re constantly changing things up at home. The reality is that we sell all the good stuff because we’re business people at our core and the good stuff is what sells best. The process of furnishing our own home is part of our origin story. Buying a new house many years ago triggered a search for things we wanted and needed. But we kept finding pieces that were amazing but not destined for our personal lives. So we started selling the extras. Over the years we’ve definitely refined our own decor, trading out bits and pieces for things that are a better fit. Occasionally one lamp gets traded for another, but for the most part our home is settled and that makes it easy to catch and release without regret.

What’s next for MMM?

Our plan is to be around for a long time even if it might look and feel different than today. We could ratchet it up or reel it in or take it in a totally different direction. But not yet, not just as we throw open our doors again. We feel renewed and committed and determined. We’ve missed our customers and we’re grateful to have overcome the challenges of the past year. We both love what we do. Someday when we do turn off the lights for the last time, it will be on our terms. Meanwhile, were so happy to be back!

Visit MidModMen+friends at 2401 University Ave. W. in Saint Paul, or online at www.MidModMen.com and across social media.

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