Dinkytown newcomers fit in well

More than five new establishments have taken an interest in the area.

by Anne Millerbernd

TargetExpress and Gina + Will took the spots below the new Venue at Dinkytown and the Marshall apartments this summer, bringing a wave of new costumers to the area with their arrival.

A few months later, Target and Goodwill’s strategic decisions to open the stores in the University of Minnesota neighborhood alongside the rest of Dinkytown’s long-standing businesses has proven to be successful, which business leaders say is due to the area’s market.

Dinkytown Business Alliance President Mike Mulrooney said the new shops, along with the incoming Starbucks and Great Clips, make for a more diverse collective in the area. He thinks the businesses will attract desired attention.

“All business is good for Dinkytown, as long as they can complement each other,” said Mulrooney, who owns Blarney Pub and Grill.

The Book House, which has sold books to the University community for nearly 40 years, is one of few businesses in the area that doesn’t serve as a bar or eatery. Owner Kristen Eide-Tollefson said the store has seen almost no impact from the new stores but supports them.

They’re an experiment, which is a common theme in Dinkytown, she said.

“We still think it’s important that businesses can start up in Dinkytown. We think that’s really important — that this remains a center for entrepreneurial innovation,” Eide-Tollefson said, “which I personally consider the Goodwill and Target enterprises to be.”

Goodwill chose Dinkytown because it had an opportunity to be successful there, said Danielle Stager, Gina + Will’s general manager.

The company’s low price point, diversity in items and ability to change its selection based on feedback make it popular with area students, Stager said.

“I think the feedback that we’ve been getting from our neighbors, as well as customers coming in, is ‘I love this store,’” she said, “which has made us so proud because we’ve worked so hard to have a store that we think would be a good fit.”

Stager said she feels the Dinkytown community has welcomed the store.

The new stores chose the campus area to experiment with their business models, and with good reason, said Carlson School of Management assistant professor Daniel Forbes, who teaches entrepreneurship and strategic marketing.

Big-box stores like Wal-Mart and Kmart are fading fast in the retail world, he said. Pressure from online shopping and the Apple Store are pushing bigger stores to learn more about a specific market and gear their stores more directly toward one community.

A college campus, Forbes said, is the perfect place to try such an experiment because it has a high concentration of people with a similar demographic profile.

College students also tend to provide feedback to stores via social media, Forbes said, which provides insight for companies into what does and does not work.

Target spokeswoman Kristen Emmons said the company chose the University’s campus because there was a demand company officials thought the store could meet, adding that it was important for it to be close to corporate headquarters in downtown Minneapolis so officials could measure its progress.

Emmons said she could not comment specifically on the reason Target chose Dinkytown rather than other areas near the University.

Mulrooney said Target employees will attend the alliance’s meetings in the coming months. He said he believes that big businesses can coexist with independent stores if the shop owners and corporate newcomers are open to it.