Neiman Marcus is closing its Nicollet Mall store, and you don't care. If you did, it wouldn't be closing. The store was "underperforming," and in retail terms that means "they sold some socks last week. That was pretty much it." If someone returned a pair of slacks they'd bought the previous day, that may have put them in the hole.
Your heart goes out to the clerks who will lose their jobs, but there's a bright side: They might apply for a job where they see more people, like, say, the ice-cream concession at an Antarctica research station.
Whenever I walked through the store, the clerks were folding things. It's possible that employees switched floors every hour, unfolded some items, messed up the ties, then went back to their regular station to refold the things disturbed by other employees in their absence. Periodically they were bused to St. Paul to buy something at the Macy's store, which has a deal with the city; every noon they send someone over to buy a shirt. Unfortunately it's one guy, and he's getting up there; he retires, and they're gone.
This is the part where I get all nostalgic about the era of downtown department stores and sound like someone who says, "Once I used a rotary phone to call someone when man landed on the moon, and it's been downhill from there." Indulge me. The big stores were wondrous institutions that defined the city -- Dayton's and Donaldsons locked in a long Coke vs. Pepsi struggle, Powers taking the high end, Penneys for tube socks and waffle irons -- with smaller stores like Grant and Woolworths selling emery boards and hamburgers and clothespins. All gone. Who killed them?
The Mall of America? Of course not. The Dales? The freeways? The decline of the streetcar system? The Internet? Rising sea levels? None of the above. We did. We were presented with better alternatives or easier ones, and we took them because we are rational beings endowed with free will! But mostly because we hate to pay for parking. I'm sad to see the store go. Did I lift a finger to help them along? Nope.
The question now: What to do with the space? I know! A casino! Kidding. An enormous nightclub where people can stand around shouting over music loud enough to liquefy internal organs? No. Here's an idea, the same as I had for Block E: Turn the bottom floor into unique stores, clever little eateries and kiosks, with low rent and low taxes. No chains. No one cries out in despair because there's not a Gap. We are Gap-rich. Add some housing in the upper floors, and bingo: It's better than ever.
Because here's the thing about Neiman Marcus: It was nice when they were here -- and thanks for giving it a shot! But the loss isn't fatal, unless your self-image requires you to feel good about living here because we have a Neiman Marcus. No one ever comes away from a trip to another city and says, "It was an utter hellhole of filth and despair, but there was a Neiman Marcus, so I'm already booking a return trip." People remember things like ...
Oh, I don't know. The astonishing orchestra, perhaps. The glory of a Twins game with the sun blaring down and the bright towers standing tall beyond and the team losing hideously -- did I mention the sun and the towers? The Guthrie. The ruins of the mill, the Stone Arch Bridge, the over-the-river shops and bars on North Hennepin. The gloriously ornate show houses of Hennepin that remind you how much mall theaters still feel like Soviet-inspired People's Entertainment Boxes. These are the features that keep visitors and suburbanites coming back. Better than expecting them to drive into town because a high-buck store has 10 percent off Dior-branded nail polish.
Or, try this: Open a department store in the Neiman spot. Hear me out. Yes, the days of hopping a streetcar, going downtown for movie and a bonnet -- no one from Eden Prairie is clamoring for the return of that urban model. But call the new department store "Dayton's," and watch the people flood back downtown. Just because we miss it. Just because.
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