The dearth of free parking, a shrinking department store business, and slow weekend and evening foot traffic have long challenged fashion retailers in downtown Minneapolis. The January closing of luxury merchant Neiman Marcus only seemed to confirm the conundrum.
But upscale men's clothier Hubert White appears to have defied conventional wisdom, outlasting Sims, Mark Shale, Juster's and others. The retailer recently completed an upgrade of its store in the IDS Center that cost in excess of $200,000 to meet an expected surge of well-heeled shoppers, given all the new residential construction downtown.
At the end of April alone, more than 3,500 apartments were either planned or under construction in downtown Minneapolis, many of them characterized as luxury units aimed at millennials and empty nesters.
"I think all of the construction will redefine retail in downtown," said Mark Stenglein, president and CEO of the Minneapolis Downtown Council. "Hubert White's remodel is a great example of that."
The investment bodes well for the council's goal of doubling downtown's population to 70,000 by 2025, he said.
Hubert White's remodel, designed by Minneapolis-based Smart Associates, features new boutiques by Ermenegildo Zegna and Robert Graham, an updated Eton shop, an expanded shoe department and more space devoted to custom-made clothing. Windows were opened up on the Crystal Court, Nicollet Mall and 8th Street sides, and environmentally friendly lighting added to brighten the space.
"It feels bigger, only it's not," said owner Bob White, whose grandfather, Hubert, founded the business in 1916.
Downtown already has attracted its share of fashion chain stores, such as Men's Wearhouse, Brooks Brothers, Talbots and Ann Taylor, as well as department stores Macy's and the Saks Fifth Avenue Off-Fifth outlet, but independent stores are few and far between. One notable exception beyond Hubert White is Edina-based Len Druskin, with four stores in City Center and Gaviidae Common.
"For apparel and career-oriented stores, there's a huge void in downtown Minneapolis," said Jim McComb, a Minneapolis retail consultant.
Downtown still presents some vexing challenges to retailers, said Stacey Finnegan, who recently opened an boutique for men and women called Minq in St. Louis Park's West End complex.
"The primary audience [downtown] is working 8 to 5, so the window to catch their attention is at lunch when they're running errands and trying to eat," Finnegan said. "For those who don't work downtown, there's the issue of parking for customers and also for employees. It's just not a great choice for independent retailers."
Deborah Carlson, director of retail brokerage services for Cushman & Wakefield/NorthMarq, said she doesn't see huge changes for downtown's current retail mix, although she says there is room for more high-end stores.
While some independent boutiques have opened in the North Loop, including Martin Patrick3 and Askov Finlayson, McComb says they tend to be "mini-destinations in offbeat locations that build off one another."
Finnegan, who plans to open five Minq stores in the next three years, agrees. "If I look downtown, it will probably be in the North Loop."
White's, which has been at IDS for 12 years, recently signed a new lease that runs through 2021.
White said changing demographics downtown have fueled a need to appeal to a younger customer, in addition to the store's stalwart business clientele.
White said he's already noticed some shift in his business. Saturdays, for example, "are definitely busier as we get more people downtown and as couples shop and then go out to eat or go to a show. A big chunk of that is related to the downtown boom."