The changing face of Excelsior Boulevard in St. Louis Park is claiming a row of longtime local businesses that are making way for a new apartment complex.
Roughly a dozen businesses in the boulevard’s 4400 block are affected, a cluster that’s been largely focused on home decor, furnishings and craft items.
Some of the businesses have closed already. Others are making plans to move out by spring, when work will begin on the Bridgewater project, a six-story apartment building with about 170 units and retail space on the ground floor.
The opening of Excelsior & Grand in 2003 transformed the character of the boulevard. Once home to a collection of tired old strip malls, it became a hot location for upscale apartments such as the Ellipse, at the corner of France Avenue. Another complex is planned for the former Bally’s Fitness site in the 4900 block.
Excelsior & Grand also has expanded beyond its original footprint. But some of the displaced businesses feel the city’s embrace of high-end apartment living may have gone too far.
“We’re among those who think the world doesn’t need more luxury apartments,” said Kevin Pfeifer, owner of Techline Twin Cities, a home and office furniture store that’s been on the block since 1991. The site has warehouse space and a loading dock on a lower level, he said, making it perfect for his needs: “There aren’t many places where we can find that.”
The new developments are dramatically changing the shopping character on Excelsior, Pfeifer added, with higher rents drawing national and boutique businesses that are willing to pay more for less space.
“The retail mix that can afford these new spaces is not for the faint of heart,” he said.
Apartment development on the boulevard is squarely in line with the city’s long-term plans, which call for greater residential density near commercial centers and transit service. Several major bus routes follow Excelsior Boulevard, and the area is not far from where the planned Southwest light rail line will run.
But the city hasn’t overlooked the need for healthy local businesses, said City Council Member Anne Mavity, who represents the area.
“The city’s commitment to small businesses is strong — and it is a priority for me as well,” she said.
Last year, the city adopted development guidelines for the south side of Excelsior Boulevard between France and Quentin avenues. The guidelines, created by a community task force, focus on buildings of one to three stories.
“These businesses are adjacent to residential properties and their smaller scale is a nice fit and complement to the area development,” Mavity said.
Kevin Locke, the city’s community development director, noted that more residents along the boulevard will actually increase the customer base for area businesses. He stressed that the area’s development has been guided by a long-term community visioning process.
“We’ve really focused on keeping Excelsior Boulevard as a commercial retail street,” Locke said. “We have a commitment to the idea of creating a walkable, vital, pedestrian and transit-oriented place.”
The businesses in the 4400 block developed cooperative relationships that will be tough to duplicate elsewhere, retailers said.
“We complement each other so well. Everyone has a niche,” said Debbi Pavelka, manager of Mama’s Happy, a seller of upcycled furniture. “If they can’t find it here, we’ll send them next door.”
Mama’s Happy has found a new location in St. Louis Park, which Pavelka wasn’t ready to reveal. But the Guild Collective, which has operated on the block for almost seven years, hasn’t been as fortunate.
“We’re calling ourselves ‘on tour,’ ” said Sheila Leiter, one of the owners. “We might surface as a pop-up.”
Leiter also expressed concern about the loss of locally owned businesses. “The new retailers will be national brands, more generic,” she said. “You do lose that uniqueness of the small business.”
“The city really appreciates, really values the small businesses in town,” Locke said. “It is a challenge, though. We think this is a good project, good for the community. But we hate to see businesses have to leave in order to make these new developments happen.”