Is downtown Minneapolis retail going downhill?

  • Article by: JACKIE CROSBY and SUSAN FEYDER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 14, 2008 - 10:50 AM

Business and city leaders are shopping for ways to make the business district a don’t-miss destination, but the losses of Borders, Crate & Barrel and Williams-Sonoma, among other stores, are the latest setback.

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Badiner Jewelers, a family-owned business on the skyway level of IDS Center, is closing after more than seven decades in downtown Minneapolis.

Photo: Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

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In the coming weeks, downtown Minneapolis will wave goodbye to half a dozen retailers.

Badiner Jewelers is liquidating at the IDS Center after more than seven decades downtown. Borders bookstore, unable to sublease its store, is abandoning the Block E development it was supposed to help anchor.

National retailers that opened their first area stores downtown decades ago are packing up to focus on the suburbs. Williams-Sonoma closed this weekend . Crate & Barrel will shutter by month’s end.

What gives?

“It doesn’t feel good right now,” said Frank Guzzetta, CEO of Macy’s North and one of downtown’s top cheerleaders. “We’re kind of cleaning up the old stuff, and now we just gotta get the inspiration to get it moving again.”

The business community and city leaders are grappling with ways to breathe life into a downtown retail core that has lost 22 percent of its retail business since 2000.

In the fall, the Minneapolis Downtown Council, with a consultant’s plan in hand on how to activate street life, hired a retail recruiter.

The city of Minneapolis, meanwhile, just completed a draft of its 10-year comprehensive plan. It includes ways to entice more businesses and improve transit and parking to make shopping more convenient.

“We’re an inch away from having a great downtown and an inch away from continuing to go downhill,” said longtime downtown Minneapolis resident Ray Harris, who developed Calhoun Square in the early 1980s. “The pieces of the puzzle are there. But we need some bold private-sector leadership to pull them together.”

Like many downtowns across America, Minneapolis for the past decade has been steadily losing business to suburban malls, where parking is free, shoppers don’t have to leave bread crumbs to navigate through skyways and there are no extra Minneapolis taxes.

“It concerns us terribly that a lot of the stores seem to be vacating,” said Boyd Purdom, 72. He and his wife, Dixie, 71, retired to a downtown condo after living in St. Cloud for three decades, and they do nearly all their shopping nearby.

“We moved here for the life of the city,” he said. “I hope the city’s got a plan to somehow try to keep them here.”

Retailers go where shoppers — especially those with money — live, work and play.

As of 2006 some 32,000 people lived downtown, an increase of almost 18 percent since 2000, according to Maxfield Research Inc. Yet only a fourth of them live within walking distance of the goods and services in the business district, according to a study commissioned by the Downtown Council. Some 160,000 people work downtown.

When men’s clothier Len Druskin opened in Gaviidae Common last year, Courtney Smallbeck, co-owner of women’s boutique Drama, wanted to be there, too. Rent for her street-level store, which opened in October, is twice as much as at her Uptown one. She changes her mannequins every 36 hours, trying to catch the eye of the throngs covering the same daily route. “There’s a sense of urgency with this crowd,” she said. “They don’t have a lot of time to shop.”

5 department stores, 1 MOA

Downtown has been in trouble before. At its peak downtown had five department stores — J.C. Penney, Donaldsons, Dayton’s, Young Quinlan and Powers.

Young Quinlan, Powers and Penneys closed in quick succession in 1985 and 1986. Now some of the bigger stores downtown — including Target, Marshalls and Saks, which converted its department store to an outlet one — focus on value-conscious shoppers.

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