A renaissance is underway at 50th and France, the shopping district nestled in the affluent neighborhoods of Edina and southwest Minneapolis.
At a time when other urban hubs are struggling, new shops, restaurants and boutique fitness studios are opening in "the district."
Altar'd State, featuring clothing aimed at teens and young women, is taking the prime Sur La Table corner space. Nearby, the flagship Evereve shop just reopened in an expanded space. Foodies can find Indian food, sushi, clean juice and steak frites. A New Orleans supper club and plant-based burgers are on the way.
Meanwhile, a proposal for high-end condos is before the city of Minneapolis while a two-bedroom unit is renting for $4,995 at the new Nolan Mains residences. Residents can walk outside to find concerts or story time on the city of Edina-owned plaza built as part of the development.
Forward-thinking public-private partnership combined with location, location, location propelled the latest wave of openings. Steele Smiley, Crisp & Green's founder, calls 50th and France "the most significant intersection in all of Minnesota."
"You have this mix of neighbors and you have people who like to frequent the neighborhood who are a stone's throw away," said Smiley, who is opening Stalk & Spade next year, with a plant-based burger menu, across 50th Street from his Crisp & Green storefront.
The pandemic — as well as the challenging retail environment for many brick-and-mortar chains — did have an impact. Closings at 50th and France included Sur La Table as well as the beloved Edina Cinema. But landlords and business owners took those losses as an opportunity to reinvent.
"A lot of the retail didn't speak to the demographic that was coming to and living around 50th and France," said Howard Paster, whose firm acquired the 50th Street Plaza building in 2017. "There was a lot of apparel geared to an older demographic, a little more conservative."
His vacancies are being filled by Altr, a group fitness studio that's open in the former Banana Republic space that closed in 2019. Stalk & Spade opens early next year in the space formerly occupied by Cooks of Crocus Hill. Paster's firm also signed a trendy furniture retailer that he's not ready to name.
Walkable surrounding neighborhoods, along with high daytime traffic and plentiful parking, make 50th and France an ideal retail center, real estate and retail experts say.
"It just spells stability," said Kim Sovell, an adjunct marketing professor at the University of St. Thomas. "If you're talking about the expense of opening a bricks and mortar store you need a stable environment for that to be successful."
The southwest part of the metro area, including Edina, has the highest daytime population after pre-pandemic downtown Minneapolis, said Stefanie Meyer, senior vice president and principal at Mid-America Real Estate Group. Those are the people who work within 5 miles and may stop by for a bite or to shop during a lunch break.
While demographics were key to Self-Esteem Brands' decision to open the first corporate location of the Bar Method in Minnesota this year, next door to its Basecamp Fitness, one of the biggest reasons was the hundreds of new parking spaces next door in the North parking ramp, said Traci Elder, a vice president of the Woodbury-based parent company.
"For our members, just knowing that they can pop right in, park, and within 30 seconds they're in the door to work out—that makes a huge difference," Elder said.
Developer Pete Deanovic of Buhl Investors is the force behind the Nolan Mains development, which includes 100 residences and 32,000 square feet of commercial space that's home to a mix of eclectic boutiques and restaurants as well as national brands. The firm partnered with Saturday Properties on Nolan Mains.
"Much of what is going on in the district is a result of the Nolan Mains development and the energy, effort and creativity and the retailers and restaurateurs that Pete has brought in," Paster said.
Deanovic left CarVal Investors to launch Buhl Investors in 2014 to pursue developments with a sense of community. "If we can create places where people can come together," said Deanovic, "that's a proxy for our success."
When Edina city officials issued a request for proposals to expand public parking on Market Street while simultaneously creating a lively customer destination, the plan prepared by Buhl Investors and Saturday Properties won out. Public parking on the site is now underground.
The city of Edina sold the site to the developers and pledged $10.1 million in tax-increment financing to reimburse Buhl Investors for a portion of the $78.5 million cost to redevelop the site.
Simultaneously, the city of Edina invested $12 million into expansion of the North parking ramp across the street from Nolan Mains. The parking expansion included two new retail spaces and two large-scale public art elements.
As consumers started going out more this year, the investment in the neighborhood began paying off as restaurants and retailers began seeing rising sales.
"Our business at Salut, we're beating 2019 numbers and we're not fully open," said Phil Roberts, a partner in Parasole Restaurants that includes Good Earth, Pittsburgh Blue and Manny's steakhouse. "We have tables we don't seat because we can't find qualified servers. There is so much pent-up demand to get out."
Gretchen Weisman, owner of upscale resale shop Fashion Avenue, saw sales grow almost every year since taking over the store 28 years ago until being closed for two months because of the pandemic. Customers trickled in afterward, but the pace has rapidly picked up this year. "Because of the new luxury apartments and new workout places," said Weisman, "you're getting different people coming in besides the regulars."