Retail store closings have spared no shopping mall or neighborhood this year, with nearly 10,000 retailers from Sears to Creative Kidstuff shutting down.
Even the Twin Cities’ retail stars are being affected. The 50th and France neighborhood in Edina — long known for its tony menagerie of boutiques, restaurants and services — experienced a number of closings not seen in its recent history.
Some were retailers that simply aged out, but construction on the $79 million Nolan Mains project — a combination of 100 luxury apartments, street-level retail, underground parking and a public plaza — also played a part as patrons avoided the parking woes.
As the holiday shopping season formally begins, 50th and France tenants eagerly await not only the completion of the construction but also Small Business Saturday.
“We find 50th & France extremely healthy,” said Mike Tamte, co-owner of Edina-based Evereve women’s apparel, which has 10 stores in the Twin Cities and 90 across the country. “It’s our No. 1 store in the country.”
Tamte estimates the parking hassles during construction cost his store about $200,000 in revenue, but he’s expecting business to pick up the slack with construction wrapping up. “It’s bringing in new shops, restaurants and energy,” he said.
Many of the retailers in neighborhoods across the country celebrate with storewide discounts, along with events such as cookie decorating, a visit from Santa and live performances. Edina’s tree lighting ceremony starts at 5 p.m. Saturday
Other shopping neighborhoods such as Grand Avenue in St. Paul — also experiencing turnover at several spots — and towns such as Excelsior, Northfield and Stillwater also have promotions for the day and throughout the holiday season.
American Express founded Small Business Saturday 10 years ago as a way to help give small businesses additional exposure after Black Friday. It is also meant to remind consumers to “use or lose” the local flavor of small businesses near them. Minnesota’s 500,000 small businesses employ more than 1 million residents.
Although some see interest in the event waning slightly, last year U.S. consumers spent a record $18 billion during the Saturday promotion, according to American Express.
“There is a sense of community here, along with really unique products and unparalleled service you just can’t find online,” said Rachel Thelemann, executive director of the 50th & France Business and Professional Association.
A resurgence is beginning in the Edina neighborhood as it reinvents itself. Nearly a dozen new stores have made their debut or soon will.
Raag Progressive Indian Cuisine opened with celebrity chef Ajay Chopra’s melding of traditional Indian flavors with modern techniques. “We wanted to showcase modern Indian cuisine with Indian spices and local ingredients,” said owner Gopi Kakarla. “We crafted it for a lighter palate. Plus it’s the only Indian restaurant within a five-mile radius.”
Ispiri, Coccinella and Burlap & Brass are also recent additions. The Ispiri showroom offers an all-in-one source for home remodeling projects. Coccinella Mediterranean sells pottery, textiles such as peshtemel towels, blankets and throws and olive oils from Turkey. Burlap & Brass adds vintage-inspired apparel and gifts from local artisans.
Two new fitness studios will be opening, one at Nolan Mains and one in the former Cooks of Crocus Hill space. A co-working space will open in the BMO Harris Bank building and two new restaurants will open next year, Pajarito in the former Tejas location and another restaurant in Nolan Mains. At full capacity, Nolan Mains has room for 12 to 16 tenants.
Pacifier owner Alissa Montbriand expanded the size of her Edina store based on her faith in the future of small retail at 50th & France.
“We added strollers and car seats and a kids’ play area,” she said. “The increase in traffic has been very strong. People are coming back now that the project is complete.”
Store owners in the neighborhood are adding the engagement that shoppers expect. When consumers want a transaction, they can shop online. For a mall or a neighborhood to succeed in a digital world, it has to offer more than a quick sale. “People are craving real connections,” said Thelemann.
Still, a good deal never hurts.
Merrill Swanson of Minneapolis, who had lunch at 50th & France on Wednesday, said she definitely planned to return for Small Business Saturday. “I hit all the places that rarely have sales, like Bumbershute and Bluebird,” she said.
She admitted that she shopped less in the area during the construction but plans to make a beeline for one of the 90 new spaces in the underground parking lot on Market Street.
“With three little kids, the underground parking will be really wonderful,” she said.
Bryan Moeller, manager of the France Avenue R.F. Moeller store, said all three of the retailer’s locations will offer $250 off any purchase of $500 or more.
“We’d be a ghost town without Black Friday weekend specials,” he said, laughing. Business has remained strong at Moeller despite construction, with double-digit sales increases over a busy year last year.
“This neighborhood is the place for a jewelry store in the Twin Cities,” he said. “With the strong economy and the affluence of the area, we’re carrying Rolexes in the $30,000 to $35,000 range, instead of $8,000 to $12,000, and larger and higher-quality diamonds.”