Lisa Bauch first walked into a boxing gym in 1993, looking for a way to feel safer while working in the bar and restaurant business. From then on, she was hooked on the sport. But when that first gym she attended closed, she struggled to find a new one that would accept women. Three years later, she decided to open her own gym, financed with personal credit cards and located in the Lyn-Lake neighborhood in South Minneapolis.
In the beginning, most of her clients were women; everyone figured that because the gym had a female owner, the clientele had to be female. That wasn’t the point, though. She didn’t want to create a space where men would feel the way she had when searching for a boxing gym. By the time she moved Uppercut Boxing Gym to downtown Minneapolis in 1999, she had achieved a roughly 50-50 gender split.
In the early 2000s, she moved Uppercut to its current location, a 13,000-square foot space in the Logan Park neighborhood in Northeast Minneapolis. While looking for space, she stepped into the building and immediately fell in love.
The building once housed a sheet metal fabrication facility, and like many buildings along this cobblestoned corridor of Quincy Street, it’s retained its strong industrial feel despite an evolution of use. High ceilings with exposed pipes and wiring loom over the boxing ring while fighters clad in tape and blue and red spar across the concrete floors. On summer days, Lisa will open the large industrial-style garage doors to provide much-needed ventilation for the boxers who work extra-hard in the sweltering heat.
The expansive courtyard, which features extensively graffitied tin and brick walls and a soft sandy pit for fights, allows her to stay competitive during the warmer months when many Minnesotans prefer to exercise outdoors. Local up-and-coming artists have designed the graffiti on three of the walls of the courtyard over the years. Gesturing to the fourth, Lisa mentions that some European artists painted the now-faded and worn graffiti on this brick façade during a break-dancing competition held here, and that “no one touches it.”
Besides break-dancing, Uppercut has played host to several non-boxing events over the years. The building has seen weddings, corporate events, movie screenings, and fashion shoots. After our meeting, she was off to prepare for a motorcycle photo shoot in their suitably gritty and rugged storage space. People come from all over the country to use this space; one photographer mentioned that places like this simply don’t exist in California. The extra events mean extra work, but it helps her keep the doors open.
This small stretch is home to a tremendous amount of commercial diversity. “Everyone loves seeing the Sign Minds guys,” she says, referring to the sign manufacturing company next door who often fabricate their colorful signs outside on their loading dock facing Quincy Street. “They love hearing the bell from the gym and seeing people fighting in the ring. There’s stuff everywhere here.”
People know the area for its artists and breweries, but it’s the other eclectic businesses—the gym, an architectural antiques store, a used machinery warehouse—which round out the neighborhood’s vibe. Lisa’s building feels like it needs to be a boxing gym, and the neighborhood feels like it needs one—a place for a community to come together and participate in an activity you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere. “You’d be surprised by how many teachers, lawyers, and the works show up here,” she says. “We’re welcoming to all skill levels, fitness levels, ages.” She clearly relishes contributing to a neighborhood defined by its eclecticism and self-described grittiness by providing a place that hosts such a tight community of folks from all walks of life—and even motorcycle photo shoots.
Lisa’s seen the area change dramatically in the past 15 or so years. When she first moved here, she would routinely receive calls from customers asking if it was safe to bring their kids. Vandals would often tag her building, and she rarely saw any pedestrians walking along the cobblestone streets.
As Northeast has boomed in recent years, she’s seen that growth as a mixed bag. Crime is down, and there’s more foot traffic than ever, due in part to the breweries which bookend the block. But she laments seeing certain the small businesses like Nye’s which attracted the development in the first place being pushed out.
Candidly, she fears she might be next. She worries about preserving the diversity and inclusivity here. The lack of parking is her greatest threat. She already partners with several of the other small businesses to provide parking to her clientele, but that won’t be enough as the area continues to rapidly develop. If people can’t access the gym, they won’t come; she won’t be able to pay the ever-increasing property taxes as Northeast becomes more attractive.
For Uppercut and Northeast’s identity to stay afloat, she believes something must be done about the parking situation, a challenge, given Minneapolis’ reluctance to invest in more surface-lot parking. More broadly, she believes there must be a philosophical change in how the city approaches and encourages development. Growth and change are important and seemingly inevitable in a place like this, but it must happen responsibly. She hopes the city will pump the brakes on the pace of developments, particularly ones that hinder the ability of the present community to function.
If not, Minneapolis might stand to lose the very places which define it.