Oldest Dinkytown business to close after 115 years

by Robyn Repya

Architecture senior Andy Engan has always liked shopping for project materials at Simms Hardware in Dinkytown, where his dad – also a University architecture student – shopped 35 years ago.

“This is the hardware store all the architecture students run back and forth from the studio to pick up odds and ends,” Engan said. “It’s so close to campus.”

But students will soon have to go further for their hardware needs. Simms – the oldest business in Dinkytown – will close its doors March 30 after more than a century of business.

When it first opened in 1887, the only other stores in the neighborhood were a feed store, a railway depot and a livery stable. The streets were filled with horses and buggies.

Lynn James, who has owned Simms for the past 10 years, said reasons for the closure are complicated.

“The reasons behind it would be too complex for people who aren’t in the business to understand,” she said.

James said she started working behind the counter at the neighborhood hardware shop 15 years ago.

“I am sad to see it go,” she said. “That’s what makes it so hard to talk about it.”

Meaghan Gustafson, a senior in the child psychology department, has been a Simms employee for the past three years and is currently the store’s only employee.

She said because the store is so old, many regulars come
in frequently.

Some said they like the store because it’s a small place with a personal atmosphere, unlike a chain store such as Home Depot.

“Hardware stores are an integral part of the neighborhood,” said Minneapolis City Council member Paul Zerby, who represents the Dinkytown area. “The big places have got everything, but you lose the guy you can talk to about your problems.”

Gustafson said that since posting the closing signs, many customers have come in to say how much they’ll miss the store.

James said she will miss the student clientele, who frequented the store and often requested unique materials.

“It wasn’t your ordinary hardware store,” she said. “From architecture to art projects and beer bongs, the students find creative uses for everyday hardware.”

Dave Watts, owner of Dave’s Dinkytown Hairstylists across the street, said he is upset about the closing.

“I can’t imagine not having a hardware store here,” he said.

Watts, whose business used to be located next to Simms, said he has fond memories of the store.

He said he is also bothered that Dinkytown no longer has a drugstore or a full-scale grocery store.

“I really want to do all my shopping in Dinkytown,” he said.

Engan said the loss of the business will be debilitating for the Dinkytown community.

“It’s like losing the self-sustaining ability of Dinkytown,” he said.

Skott Johnson, owner of Autographics Copy and Printing Center and Dinkytown Business Association president, said the store is handy for Dinkytown businesses because if something breaks or a light bulb burns out employees don’t have to go far to get the materials to fix it.

“I hate to think that I’ll have to hop in the car and drive to get what we need,” he said.

Although the loss of the store will be felt by neighboring businesses, Johnson said, it does not mean Dinkytown is failing.

“I’m sad to see the hardware store in particular going, but I don’t think it means Dinkytown is dying,” he said.

“(Business) turnover is just a part of the growth of Dinkytown,” he said. “It goes in cycles, businesses coming and going.”

James said it took her three years to decide to close the store, and it wasn’t easy.

“I feel it is a loss to the area,” she said.