With a little help from its friends

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February 15, 2010
By: Dylan Thomas
Dylan Thomas

// Local bands to play Electric Fetus tornado benefit //


WHITTIER — It was Ringo Starr who sang “With a Little Help from My Friends” on The Beatles’ classic 1967 album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band.”

Electric Fetus employees may have been humming that tune the day after Starr appeared at The Grammy Awards sporting one of the record store’s T-shirts, reportedly a gift from a nephew who lives in town. The publicity arguably could not have come at a better time.

Repairs are ongoing at the Electric Fetus six months after a small tornado swept through South Minneapolis and into Downtown, clipping the store as it skipped across Interstate 35W. The store went into debt and lost a large section of retail space for several months while crews worked to reinforce the store’s damaged roof structure.

That work will continue this spring with a little help from the Fetus’ many friends in the local music scene.

Cloud Cult and Roma di Luna were two of the local bands scheduled to play a Feb. 26 tornado benefit concert at First Avenue. Among the contributions to that night’s silent auction was a signed guitar from Mason Jennings, the local folkie with a growing national following.

“We just know that we have so many great people out there who support our store, and we wouldn’t be here without any of them,” said Stephanie Covart, daughter of Keith Covart, who opened the Electric Fetus on the West Bank in 1968. “That’s what keeps us going.”


Work continues

The tang of fresh paint wafted through the aisles of the Electric Fetus one early February afternoon, a subtle signal that things weren’t quite back to normal, yet.

In the immediate aftermath of the Aug. 16 tornado, the most obvious sign of damage to the store were two large windows that imploded when the twister hit. Gift department manager Paul Christianson said he felt a sudden pressure change just before his department was sprayed with tiny shards of glass.

But it was something Christianson noticed only after the tornado passed that hinted at the full extent of the damage. Between an interior wall and the store’s ceiling was a small gap.

“[During the tornado] we heard some loud thuds and cracks, which we later found out to be our roof lifting up and setting down again, and some heavy heating and air conditioning systems literally being torn off their moorings on the roof and smacked down again,” he explained.

Concerns over safety led to the store’s closure for about six days in August. When it reopened, temporary walls were constructed for crews to begin repairing the damaged roof structure.

Christianson said roof repairs over the south end of the store were mostly complete in February, but will continue over the north end of the store — directly above the record department — this spring.

Covart said reconstruction of the Electric Fetus’ century-old storefront must meet modern building codes. Those upgrades go beyond what insurance will cover, she said.

Construction crews may uncover yet more damage as they explore the roof structure this spring — one factor Covart cited when she declined to give a final accounting of reconstruction costs.

“We don’t know what the final number is going to be,” she said. “It’s up there.”


Helping out

Jesse Schuster was on tour with Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles in August when he heard from friends back home about the tornado. As a local musician whose CDs are sold in the store, who has played in-store performances at the Fetus and who can sometimes walk in and hear the staff playing one of his tunes, Schuster said he had to do something.

“They really cater to helping musicians out, and they really love music,” said Schuster, whose band Caroline Smith and the Goodnight Sleeps will play the benefit. “The least anybody could do is help them out.”

Many of the Electric Fetus’ loyal customers also were moved to do something after the tornado, some leaving cards and notes of support taped to the door when the store was closed in August. Their support in the months since reassured employees, even when the future of the store seemed uncertain.

Said Christianson: “A couple days into the reconstruction, I felt we were going to go another 40 years, at least."