What does Dinkytown need in its retail vacancy?

In this quasi-market study, I explore what would be best suited to occupy the retail space in the new Dinkytown buildings.

Chris Iverson

The famed Hibbing, Minn., singer-songwriter Bob Dylan famously sang, “The times they are a-changin’.” Appropriately, Dylan’s old stomping grounds in Dinkytown are seemingly changing as fast as the melting snow.

In one light, Dinkytown is still the quaint, nostalgic, history-driven commercial node. Its founders built the activity district around a former streetcar line, which is home to well-known, decades-old establishments like Al’s Breakfast and the Varsity Theater, as well as events such as the 1970 Red Barn protest and the 2003 hockey riots. It’s a unique place where many current and former students hold memories dear.

On another hand, Dinkytown is smack-dab in the middle of a citywide growth spurt. A cultural shift to live in more urban areas is fueling the desire to drive less and live around campus, which has burst near Dinkytown’s business node. Since 2010, Dinkytown and the surrounding neighborhoods have seen hundreds of new apartment units rapidly pop up, many with a notorious “luxury” quality.

The boom in apartments leads to a rise in population. Thousands of additional students in the area also mean new customers for the surrounding businesses in the commercial node. Although the old park-and-shop model might not apply as much as it had before, Dinkytown is about to embark into a different, more local economic structure.

To meet the future population demand, as well as achieve new urbanist goals, the two major projects currently under construction in Dinkytown’s commercial node — the Venue at Dinkytown and The Marshall — include several thousand square feet of retail space on the street-facing ground floor. In their current design, the two apartment complexes will contain 50,500 square feet. For reference, this is about the size of a Rainbow Foods grocery store. Hopefully, the businesses that venture into the new Dinkytown frontier will thrive and quickly establish themselves in the rooted nostalgia the area contains.

In order to succeed, however, businesses and entrepreneurs need to look at what is already there and what current retail market trends illustrate. Dinkytown has evolved from a neighborhood-catered node with hardware and drug stores to a more college-oriented district with a plethora of restaurants and bars. New businesses in the two apartment complexes will likely continue to reflect that trend to feed students’ demands (pun
intended).

TargetExpress is the only shop that will open this summer so far, which means eight spots are open. If I had a bottomless supply of financing and control over the retail slots’ future, here is what I would open for business.

Bowling alley bar

In addition to the Dinkytown nighttime hotspots in the Library Bar and Grill, Blarney Pub and Grill, the Kitty Cat Klub and Burrito Loco, another bar with bowling lanes could be a nice addition next to TargetExpress in The Marshall. Although the traditional bowling model may be declining in popularity, alleys with a bar-like aura have grown in recent years. Town Hall Lanes, a 10-lane bar in south Minneapolis, opened last year to much acclaim. Its founders designed Town Hall Brewery on the West Bank with 20 beer taps, which has been financially successful and has done wonders in creating a unique community hotspot. Even though Goldy’s Gameroom in Coffman Union has the bowling monopoly, something like Town Hall Lanes in Dinkytown would likely do very well and would help bridge a student community.

Bring back clothiers

In the distant past, Dinkytown contained several clothing retailers. Nowadays, clothing-based stores have fared poorly in the area. Recent clothiers Pacific and Maine and Peppermint Park closed within about a year of opening, and former staple Mindstate Distribution closed in January 2013. That leaves Goldy’s Locker Room and Underground Printing as the only clothing stores left in the once retail-dominated district.

With the incoming population, clothing demand should once again increase. Forever 21, a clothing retailer popular with younger women, would thrive in the college-dominated area. Other cheap, pseudo-counterculture clothing retailers like Ragstock would likely appeal to thrifty students. Regardless of the brand, any clothing retailer would add a service that residents need in Dinkytown, and it would hopefully find long-term success.

Music and pizza strike back

When construction began on the Venue at Dinkytown, longtime businesses House of Hanson, The Podium and Duffy’s Dinkytown Pizza closed. In order to mitigate the void where these businesses once were, I would add a music-related shop and another pizza station. The owner of Duffy’s has said that they would like to return in the new building, and a music-filled shop, like a smaller version of the Electric Fetus, would cater to artsy students as well. Both businesses would be in small retail slots and could capitalize on the hundreds of new residents in the area.

In addition to these options, another coffee shop or fast casual restaurant would succeed in the neighborhood. All new businesses, including TargetExpress, will add unique and interesting services to an area about to witness a bit of rebirth in business.