Grand Jeté: Over 30 Years on Grand Avenue
Grand Jeté is a small store with a big presence. Since the beginning, (Labor Day weekend 1983 to be exact), Grand Jeté has provided personal service and exceptional products to dancer in the Twin Citiies area and beyond. Grand Jeté is one of the few brick and mortar dance shops in the state and is staffed by people who know and have a passion for dance. They provide expertise and personal attention to customers of all ages and experience.
Below is an interview with Ruthena Fink, talking about her experience as owner of Grand Jeté on Grand Avenue.
What is your background?
"I have lived in St. Paul all my life and have studied ballet since I was around 7 years old. I know and support the dance community in the Twin City area, which has helped to increase our customer base."
Why did you choose Grand Avenue as Grand Jeté's retail location?
"I live in the area and the dance school, Dance Spectrum in the lower level of our building opened up at the same time. I have a long history was very familiar with Grand Avenue."
What do you like about being on Grand Avenue?
"Many of our customers come from a distance and it is fun to be able to point out what fun shopping there is and to be able to direct them to almost any kind of restaurant they might like where they can get something to eat before their trip home."
What do you like best about owning a business?
"I love the interaction with our customers. We have many repeat customers so we have gotten to know many of them very well and it feels good to feel a part of the success of the dancers we serve."
What are some of the challenges you face?
"We are very much a personal service business in providing the dance shoes and apparel that we sell. The Internet and discount catalogues that sell only product and not the education and service that we provide, have presented challenges for us. I also see potential challenges with imposed legislation related to minimum wage, staff scheduling, and sick and safe leave issues."
What are you most passionate about?
"I am most passionate about supporting the arts, particularly dance, in the Twin Cities. I see the value of the arts to our society and know, first hand, how much artists and dance company’s struggle to make ends meet in the pursuit of their art."
What are you most proud of and why?
"Perhaps I am most proud of being able to keep our doors open for 33 years, as of 9/16, with just one location and one small store ( around 1000 square feet) and without being open on Sundays and open only one evening a week until 8:00 pm."
How has your business changed over the years?
"Perhaps the biggest change I have seen is the use of computers and the Internet. When I opened in 1983 we did everything with paper and pen/pencil...and use of the phone to call in orders. I would send in hard copies of the credit card slips each week and a couple of weeks later I would receive a check in the mail reflecting our credit card sales. We received many more checks as payment than we do today. At that time there were little or no retail sales made on the computer. All my competition was from brick and mortar stores. This is NOT the case today!"
How long have you been a member of the Grand Avenue Business Association (GABA)?
"I can't remember the exact date, but probably I joined soon after I opened Grand Jeté."
What do you like about being a GABA Member?
"I like the events that GABA plans to bring people from the entire metro area to the Avenue and the way the Organization seeks to bring the Avenue businesses together to get to know each other and support the Grand Avenue businesses. I know that I use many of the Avenue businesses for business and personal use. I think it is also good that GABA informs the businesses on issues that we might be interested in being informed about from a city wide basis (metered parking on Grand, sick and safe leave issue)."
Is there anything else you would like to add?
"I would like to thank the Grand Avenue Business Association for seeking out Grand Avenue stories from businesses that have been around a long time.
One final human-interest piece of information about the Grand Jeté. — When we opened the Store our space wasn't fully constructed and there was no bathroom in our store, so we had to use the bathroom across the street where there was a gas station. Currently, Cherokee Bank occupies this space. Our store bathroom didn't get put in until mid November!"
About the Owner: Ruthena Fink
Ruthena has been the sole owner of Grand Jeté since she opened the store in 1983. She began ballet when she was seven, studying at the Andahazy School of Classical Ballet in St. Paul through high school and at the Minnesota Dance Theater and School in Minneapolis following her graduation from college. She performed in MDT’s Nutcracker for a number of years and also performed with Jo Savino and the Classical Ballet Academy in ballets such as Giselle, Coppelia, and Firebird.
Ruthena has continued to take regular ballet classes twice a week at Saint Paul Ballet and has been a guest performer with Ballet Minnesota. She is an avid supporter of the dancers who come to Grand Jeté, getting to know many of them as they shop at the store and attending many performances for dance schools and companies in the Twin Cities area each year.
Additionally, Ruthena has been an active board member for the MN Retailers Association for ten years. In July of 2014, Ruthena received the honor of being chosen as one of five finalists in America’s Retail Champions program at the National Retail Federation Advocacy Summit in Washington D.C.
History of Grand Jeté
Prior to opening the Grand Jeté in 1983, Ruthena was Director of Student Financial Aid at Macalester College. When she began considering other career options, it was her husband who, seeing her passion for dance, suggested she open a retail dance store. With the seed for the dream planted, Ruthena began pursuing a location for the store on Grand Avenue, liking the character of the small shops and having lived in the area her whole life. Friends of hers were opening a dance studio in a building yet to be constructed.
In May 1983, Ruthena decided to join her friends by also leasing space for Grand Jeté in the same building. It was a very busy summer that year as Ruthena created her first vendor account with Capezio so she would be able to order merchandise for the Store. While many businesses in the building have come and gone over thirty years, Dance Spectrum and Grand Jeté remain the only two original tenants.
In deciding to name the store Grand Jeté, Ruthena considered the location as well as the focus of her store being dance apparel. A grand jeté is a dance step where the dancer performs a large split leap. Ruthena thought this would be a perfect name since her store was located on Grand Avenue. She met her goal of being open by Labor Day of 1983, to be ready for the back to school rush, even with the building construction delays resulting in unpacked boxes and unfinished plumbing and flooring. It was a time when sales, payroll, taxes, etc. were all written up and calculated by hand.
Over the thirty years that Grand Jeté has been in existence, there have been many changes in fashions, fabrics, vendors and technology. Throughout, Grand Jeté has upheld its mission to provide top quality services and products to dancers in the Twin Cities area and beyond.
975 Grand Avenue
St. Paul, MN. 55105
Hours: Mon - Sat. 10 - 5:30, Tues 10-8:00
OPENED GRAND JETE: