While nostalgia is strong for an era of beautiful department stores with massive square footage brought to life by Dayton’s and carried on by Marshall Fields and Macy’s, that era is dying (“Macy’s future on Nicollet Mall in limbo,” Oct. 22). Rather than cling, white-knuckled, to Bruce Dayton’s big vision, which served as a mainstay on Nicollet Mall for generations, we should embrace the future of brick and mortar retail.
And that future, notwithstanding online shopping habits and our quickly transforming downtown, is bright.
Multi-storied corporate department stores are giving way to smaller-square-footage, locally owned outfits that provide not only the product customers want to buy, but the experience they want to have while buying it.
Smaller spaces also allow for cheaper rent, giving upstart entrepreneurs an opportunity to open while preventing corporate franchises from setting up their boilerplate. This new model is working, as evidenced by record numbers of small, locally owned shops opening throughout the North Loop and along East Hennepin in the Third Ward. Bruce Dayton’s grandson, Eric Dayton, has opened Askov-Finlayson, a relatively small-square-footage, locally owned store focused on shopping experience and high-quality products while championing Minnesota pride through “North” branding. Businesses near East Hennepin such as I Like You, The Golden Pearl, and Parc Boutique capture the growing demands of our millennials and creative class in an edgy environment.
This new, smaller mentality is not limited to retail. Restaurants, pizza joints and bars are seeing a similar trend. Larger restaurants like Rosa Mexicana with miles between tables are closing; more compact models like PinKU Japanese Street Food and Parlour are thriving. The fact that their success is not unique proves the point. The retail/restaurant world is changing and we must embrace it.
Picture your favorite city in the world to visit. Blocks overflow with a diversity of uses, people, activities, tastes, smells and sounds that could never be present if the whole block was occupied by one vanilla tenant. Walking by seven independent shops on a block is far more interesting than one uniform corporate storefront. Yes, space is tighter and sidewalks more crowded, and you may even hear the first-date conversation from the table next to yours. But, hey, that’s a city, and we shouldn’t be afraid to become one that is world-class.
As department stores and large franchises exit downtown, we shouldn’t sulk because the guard is changing. We should recall our great history fondly, while leaning in to a new landscape of action-packed streets; small, interesting retail, and diversity of use and style. That is precisely what we need to attract and retain millennial talent, and precisely the forward-thinking vision needed to be a world-class city.
Jacob Frey is a member of the Minneapolis City Council.