Highland Popcorn is set to open late January or early February in the Highland Village Center, with a retail storefront and a wholesale component to package products for stores including the nearby Lunds & Byerlys. The business, which has been years in the making, got a $45,000 boost in December from the St. Paul City Council and outgoing Council Member Chris Tolbert.
The funding came from a longtime city sales tax program, which allows council members to earmark funds for projects in their wards.
The business will offer butter popcorn, cheese corn, caramel corn and seasonal flavors like peppermint crunch. It will also sell other treats.
The store’s workforce will be predominantly people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, said founder Shamus O’Meara. O’Meara and his son Conor, host of the radio show Conor’s Corner, have planned the business for several years. The work tasks and setup are planned for people with disabilities.
An original location on the University of St. Thomas’ St. Paul campus fell through at the last minute a few years ago, after many months of planning and negotiation.
Highland Popcorn is meant to be a space to hang out, O’Meara told the Pioneer Press. So there’s plenty of seating — and different textures, too, from traditional chairs to benches to soft pillows on modular boxes.
The space is bright and colorful, and they’ll have a portable stage to host live events or podcast recordings, O’Meara said. Light fixtures are designed to look like popcorn. There’s also a sensory room for those who need it.
By day, O’Meara, who lives in Highland Park, is an attorney and a former chair of the Minnesota Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities. However, as he admitted with a laugh, “35 years as a lawyer doesn’t prepare you for anything in the retail popcorn business.”
To support various aspects of the business, O’Meara has assembled a who’s who of partners, including some of the top names in marketing, disability services, and, yes, the popcorn industry.
(Source: Pioneer Press, Access Press staff)