Downtown Minneapolis has certainly seen better days. Despite the dramatic population growth that accompanied the recent condominium surge, the core of Minneapolis has continued to hemorrhage retailers and jobs. Just last week, Macy’s announced that 950 jobs will be moved or eliminated from their location downtown. The restructuring says more about the current situation of Macy’s than that of downtown Minneapolis, but it’s impossible not to notice the recent exodus of retail and jobs out of the city’s center. The landscape of downtown Minneapolis may be shifting away from its previous role as a center of retail commerce.
The news of job losses at Macy’s comes closely on the heels of the closing of Border’s, Crate and Barrel, and Williams-Sonoma. That was just in the past month. While residential rates have been soaring downtown, the retail situation has begun to look bleak. Since 2000, downtown has increased its residents by 18 percent but lost 22 percent of its retail business.
To say that Minneapolis is in decline would be overstating the issue. Some fluctuations in business are to be expected, but these trends seem to indicate that the age of downtown as a retail destination is coming to a close. Downtown stores will never be able to offer the cheap parking and one-stop convenience of suburban malls (especially the soon to be expanded Mall of America).
But there are still signs of life. The bars and clubs still draw crowds, and new restaurants have also done well. Fogo de Chao on Hennepin Ave. is on pace to break the state record for restaurant earnings in a year. In addition to its nightlife and entertainment industries, perhaps downtown will begin to transform to better serve its burgeoning population. There are signs that this is already taking place with the addition of two new grocery stores in the near future.
In the meantime, city leaders should continue to encourage businesses to come downtown. Maybe not the department stores of old, but a breed of businesses that are more focused on those who live in the city. Empty store fronts should not be allowed to spread like a disease. Minneapolis must continue to present itself as a dynamic center of activity; a unique atmosphere that can’t be replicated in the suburbs.