It’s hard to smile when the subject is death, but it’s hard not to smile when in the presence of April Estes, owner, and Tracy Wesley, funeral director, of Estes Funeral Chapel and Cremation Services.
The smiles are more abundant with their recent completion of the new state-of-the-art building at 2201 Plymouth Ave. N., Minneapolis. The new building sits directly across the street from the chapel’s former location, which was home for 31 years. The move was precipitated by both need and desire … need for more space at NorthPoint Health & Wellness and desire on the part of Estes to enhance the overall experience for those saying final goodbyes to loved ones.
NorthPoint, directly behind the former Estes location, has grown in clientele to the point of near overcrowding. Landlocked by three of the four streets it boarders, the only way to expand the Hennepin County health facility was through Estes.
“NorthPoint has been talking about expanding for years and years and years,” said April Estes. “They kept getting more and more patients and Stella did more and more fighting and when they got the OK to expand Estes (Funeral Chapel) was in the way.”
The Stella of whom April Estes refers is Stella Whitney-West, CEO of NorthPoint. With her persistence, Hennepin County, which NorthPoint is a service of, began working with April Estes and Wesley to relocate the state’s only Black-owned funeral service business. And while the project was county precipitated, April Estes and Wesley were clearly in the driver’s seat.
“Ms. Estes was very adamant when we were meeting with Hennepin County that she wanted Black people on the project,” said Wesley, who is the nephew of April Estes and Estes Funeral Chapel founder, Richard Estes, who passed in 2013.
“They (officials with Hennepin County) planned a white contractor (to do the work) and I called a meeting to change it,” said April Estes, who took over the business following her late husband’s death.
Selected instead was Noor Development Group, led by Somali-American woman, Nawal Noor.
“Once she was selected she asked if I minded her using people who were ex-offenders and I told her everybody deserves a second chance,” said April Estes. “And they did a wonderful job.”
For the choice of who would design the new facility April Estes and Wesley chose Jamil Ford of Mobilize Design Architecture. Mobilize Design is responsible for the building design of The Commons at Penn Avenue, a mixed-use affordable living apartment and commercial tenant building brought to fruition by developer and former NBA star Devon George. It was that building design and a chance meeting … at a funeral … that brought Mobilize Design on board for the Estes project.
“I was attending the funeral of Dr. John Williams and being the gentleman Jamil is, he opened my car door and we talked, and I congratulated him on the building at Penn and Golden Valley (Road) and told him someday we’ll have a third chapel (the first was occupied starting in 1962 at 1401 Plymouth Ave. N.) and I would love for him to design it,” said April Estes.
What Mobilize Design came up with is a sleek, modern, two-tiered building with a large 230-seat chapel that can be divided into two chapels, with a large open lobby separating the chapel from several offices, a family room and conference room. Connected to the chapel is an outdoor reflections garden.
“This facility is state-of-the-art in every way,” said Wesley. “We have the ability to livestream services for loved ones who cannot attend in person. Every room except the bathrooms are equipped for video feed of the chapel service and the bathrooms can receive the audio. We’re the only funeral service in the Twin Cities with these capabilities.”
Wesley said the new facility is a fulfillment of his uncle, Richard Estes’ dream.
“This speaks to the integrity of my uncle’s vision,” said Wesley. “He wanted to always serve our community. We’ve been on Plymouth Avenue since 1962 and we’re the only business from that era still here. Now we’re, along with our outstanding staff, taking our commitment to the next level in helping people honor their loved ones.”
Estes will host its grand opening celebration Sunday, Oct. 14 from 2 p.m. – 5 p.m.