No dues are necessary to be a member of Minneapolis’ newest society — just a good jacket, gloves and a hat.

Hoping to lure people out of the skyways and revive downtown’s often-barren sidewalks, entrepreneur Eric Dayton hit the streets Wednesday morning asking pedestrians to join the “Skyway Avoidance Society.”

“Take the pledge?” Dayton asked passersby on Nicollet Mall, equipped with membership cards and stickers with elaborate logos reading “Explora Foris” (“Explore Outside” in Latin) and “Minneapolis — Capital of the North.” He was joined by several staffers of Askov Finlayson, the North Loop clothing store Dayton co-owns with his brother.

Many people see the skyways as a necessary refuge from Minnesota’s cold climate, but even downtown business leaders have acknowledged — in a plan for 2025 — that skyways “pull the life and energy off the street level, leaving sidewalks barren and storefronts empty.” Five years after the plan’s release, little has been done to address that issue.

Dayton, whose retailing family includes some of the earliest supporters of the skyways, has emerged as one of the system’s most vocal critics.

“If we as a city can start voting with our feet and get out on the street and then retailers see that — they see that that’s where the people are — then that’s going to entice them,” said Dayton, who said he thinks the city should consider dismantling the system altogether.

Doug Sams, who owns five skyway restaurants including several D. Brian’s outposts, said people will continue using the skyways because they generally act out of self-interest.

“The idea that all of the businesses and the landlords are going to spend the capital to move all of the skyway business to the sidewalk, it’s ridiculous,” Sams said. “It’s not going to happen. Nobody can afford to do it. And to what end? To have the people for sixth months of the year say, ‘I’m cold’?”

But he said he is sympathetic to the idea that barren streets are undesirable, and he believes the city needs better connections between the skyways and the sidewalk.

Dayton’s skyway campaign fits with his other effort to rebrand Minnesota as “North,” rather than Midwest. That effort can be seen in the “North” winter hats sold at Askov Finlayson.

Now skyway skeptics can buy a Skyway Avoidance Society T-shirt at the store to spread the word; patches are on the way. People can take the pledge online and get their materials in the mail, or pick them up in person at the store. And those who sign up will receive a 10 percent discount on outerwear at the store.

“We’re not doing this to sell merchandise,” Dayton said. “The merchandise is a way to advance the idea. It’s free to join.”

Not everyone was ready to hop on board during Wednesday’s downtown effort.

“Not year-round,” said one woman.

“I don’t know if I can do it,” said another.

Some people just breezed by as Dayton approached.

“There’s going to be more resistance to this [than the North campaign] just because there are people who like the skyways. And I recognize that,” Dayton said. “But to me it’s really just trying to make people conscious of the impact that the skyways have on our city.”

Jared Bagley signed up and said he wishes there was more activity on downtown sidewalks.

“One thing is that there’s not enough … businesses in the first place at street level to bring that traffic,” Bagley said.

Robyn Schein, another new member of the Skyway Avoidance Society, said she thought it was a great idea.

“We have a great city, so I think any effort to have people enjoy all aspects of it is really important,” Schein said.

Don’t expect to see Dayton signing up new recruits in the skyways themselves, however.

“I’ve already signed the pledge,” he said.


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