NEW ULM — A hardware store in New Ulm with an unpronounceable name has just over a week to begin cleaning up or face possible charges for threatening public health.
Zen Rfanklib, formerly a Ben Franklin franchise that recycled its sign by rearranging letters on its storefront, has been inspected about six times throughout the past year, New Ulm Building Inspector Dave Christian said. Stores like these aren’t licensed by the city, but customers have kept on complaining, he said.
Those inspections came to a head last month when the New Ulm Board of Health, composed of three local doctors, held its first special meeting in a decade. They determined the store was unsanitary, New Ulm Public Utilities Director Gary Gleisner said.
A police officer who filed a March report about the store wrote that he was “overwhelmed” by the smell and saw two mice inside.
And because New Ulm’s electricity comes from a public cooperative, the city’s utilities department needs to send meter readers into the store. But Gleisner decided last week that conditions in the store would be a threat to his employees’ well being, so he shut down electricity and water service to Zen Rfanklib.
That’s the first time during his decade with New Ulm that a store’s utilities have been shut off.
The letters on the store’s placard were rearranged — with the “Z” apparently created with a sideways “N” — after it lost franchise status last year for “a lot of different issues,” said David Larson, director of Franchise Operations for Ben Franklin. He said he didn’t have a problem with the store’s owners switching the letters and resuming business under the new name.
The owners, identified as Mary Ann Bezdichek and others on the store’s Brown County property records, weren’t listed in the phone book and the store’s number has been disconnected.
Karen Swenson, director of environmental health for Brown-Nicollet Community Health Services, said the store has until June 14 to at least show some progress in cleaning up. If there’s no progress, she’ll work with the city or county attorney for possible charges.
She said the store is closed now and will remain closed through June 14.
Swenson said it’s not uncommon to enforce public health complaints, but usually the problems are cleaned up before orders need to be written.