Throughout the west metro, suburbs like St. Louis Park, Golden Valley and Bloomington have spent years trying to create what Hopkins already has: a real downtown. Generations of Hopkins city leaders have made downtown development a priority, seeing it as a competitive advantage and a potential draw for new residents and businesses.

The latest downtown project is a $5 million rebuild of Mainstreet. Orange cones have sprouted already as traffic is narrowed to one lane in each direction for about half the street's length. The project includes new pavement and the replacement of some water mains, as well as new sidewalks, pavers, lights and benches as needed.

City Manager Mike Mornson said Hopkins has made it a priority to preserve its small-town feel.

"There are a lot of people who come here because of that," Mornson said. "They like the fact that there's a main street, with restaurants and a movie theater and other businesses." About 10 new businesses have moved into downtown in the past year, he said, and many existing businesses have invested in renovating their buildings and facades.

Hopkins also has added about 300 residential units in or near downtown, anticipating a surge in demand when the Southwest light-rail line is built over the next few years.

Amy Saldanha moved her toy store, Kiddywampus, to Mainstreet last year from St. Louis Park. Saldanha said she had her eye on downtown Hopkins ever since opening her store nine years ago.

"It's a hidden gem. There are so many young families and an active stroller community," she said. "So many people are invested in the success of this downtown; I've never seen anything like it."

Saldanha said she's not worried about the effect of street construction on her business.

"It's a hassle for a little while, but it will really take things to the next level," she said.