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Sleepy Penn strip hopes to woo new businesses

  • Article by: MARY JANE SMETANKA
  • Star Tribune
  • May 12, 2012 - 10:22 PM

Steve Jobs started Apple in his parents' garage. So why couldn't something exciting and innovative spring from the vacant offices and worn storefronts along Penn Avenue in Richfield?

That's the tack a group of Richfield activists is taking in a grass-roots effort to promote their neighborhood on Saturday, showcasing available business space along Penn from Crosstown Hwy. 62 to 68th Street.

The hope is that people who want to start or expand a small business will relocate once they see the area's potential.

Rod Johnson, branch president of the First National Bank of the Lakes at 66th and Penn, acknowledges that parts of the strip look tired. But there's an upside for new businesses, he said.

"That makes it affordable for small businesses to come in," he said. "It looks dated, but we have a pretty good demographic of people here. Maybe it takes a village to bring things up to date."

Longtime successful businesses such as Hub Hobby, Fireside Pizza, Lariat Lanes and the Homestead Pickin' Parlor line the street along with newcomers like Ralph's Shoes, which relocated from Southdale, and the new CVS Pharmacy. A dog day-care business is opening soon.

Eight properties will be showcased on Saturday, some with multiple small spaces available, said Gordon Hanson, an event organizer.

Hanson is a member of Penn Central of Richfield, a group of residents and businesspeople that's met for years to promote and improve the area.

He said the target audiences for the property tour are small businesses looking for a second or third location, home-based businesses that want to upgrade to office space, and people just starting out.

"These spaces don't fit the national chains and national businesses; they fit the budding entrepreneur," Hanson said. "We have a lot of small independents here right now, and it's a hospitable place for that. That's one reason Ralph's Shoes came to the area -- he could fit right in."

One of the spaces that will be open for inspection Saturday is on the second floor of Kor-Am Tae Kwon Do School at 66th and Penn, owned by Scott Lindeberg.

"The traffic on Penn Avenue is phenomenal," he said. "It drew me here 21 years ago and ... I've been busy ever since."

Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380 Twitter: @smetan

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