By Andrea Kiepe, Organizer
Ericka Trinh knows firsthand about the opportunities and the challenges that come with running a small business on a new transit line. This fall she shared her perspective as co-owner of Silhouette Bakery & Bistro and Anh’s Hairstylists—both located along the Green Line near Saint Paul’s Western Station.
Ericka’s mother founded Anh’s Hairstylists in 1989 and later Ericka and her sister Tanya took over the family business. Eventually, when her brother Eric graduated from culinary school, he partnered with her to help expand from her successful part-time event-based dessert catering into Silhouette Bakery & Bistro, which opened in June of this year. “My sister watches the salon, my brother works with me at the bakery. I just run back and forth,” she says.
The business and its design are a reflection of her personality, serving adorably decorated desserts that are intended to be “edible art,” as well as coffee, refreshing drinks, and reasonably priced lunches like rice bowls and Asian-fusion tacos.
“I designed this business specifically for this spot with the light rail riders in mind,” Ericka explains. “We wanted to make it appealing for people. Jump off the train, grab what you want, and jump back on. We’ve seen a good amount of traffic come through.”
The interior reflects her aesthetics and individual quirks with clean lines, neutral colors, and a lot of metallic surfaces—not to mention nerdy touches like stuffed animals depicting anime characters, Japanese movie posters, and Star Wars art.
“We’ve seen a lot of change,” says Ericka, as she describes a lifetime in the neighborhood and in her mother’s salon. “I grew up here,” she gestures to the ground, meaning this block of storefronts. “We lived in the apartment above the salon and were always there playing or helping out. I went to Como and Saint Agnes, and then Central High.” Her family is ethnically Chinese from Vietnam, where her parents left as single young adults. They met each other after arriving in Saint Paul and started a family. Ericka and her siblings are first-generation Americans: “We were all ‘Made in the USA,’” she notes.
She’s frank about the difficulties presented by years of construction on University Avenue to reconstruct the street and build the Green Line: “In the beginning I was like, ‘Where are they going to put this train? Where’s the room?’ So we were upset at first, but they did offer alternatives.”
“We lost a lot of parking in front of the salon and a lot of people who thought there was no parking, but then again we lost people when we moved across the street way before the construction started. We had a sign out and everything, but we’d have former customers wander in years later saying, ‘Oh, I thought you had closed!’ They had just lost track of us.”
I asked her, three years on, what would you tell people in the very early stages of a new transit project, like they are in the West 7th neighborhood and Riverview Corridor?
“Be patient,” Ericka says. “Mentally prepare yourself and your clients. Make it really clear what you can do to avoid the construction and get around. You have to set up a system. The parking on the side streets and behind our shop helps.” She also recommends working with others like the City of Saint Paul and the Asian Economic Development Association (AEDA) who provided support. “They walked around and talked to people about what would happen and worked with us for possible solutions. The City really helped with renovations and creating parking.”
Erika said some people in the neighborhood are cynical and write it off as luck, but she says, “It isn’t just good luck! You have to be willing to accept help and work with people. If you aren’t listening to the help when it is offered, then that’s tough.”
“Once it was done I thought, wow, this looks great. It makes the whole neighborhood look a lot nicer. I think it is good overall and I like that more people are getting exposure to the area, and you see more people moving here because of it.”
On the downside she says that it does make her a bit concerned about what she says feels like an increase in petty crimes: “It seems like it is easier for them to run and hide. Anyway, that’s something you need to do to prepare for the changes is take precautions to prevent crime. I set up cameras and put up signs so people know they are being filmed. But then again there are more people here, so maybe it just feels like an increase. There are also more eyes on the street, which helps. It is a balance thing.”
Overall, Ericka tells us, “I like change! I think change is good. Some people are upset and don’t like that it is different and nicer, like we are changing too much. And I’m like, I’m from here and I’m doing this—you can too! People from here can do better. It isn’t outsiders. We can bring more people into the area and do something cool on our own.”