Parking issues dominate

John Adams

For more than 23 years, the Maya Market has sold its woolen goods in a small, apartment-like store above 14th Avenue Southeast in Dinkytown, urging pedestrians into the store with a simple index finger painted on the entryway.
One block away, Hollywood Video, a resident of three weeks, has a lighted, freeway-style billboard in its parking lot to lure in cars driving by.
The two signs illustrate the business dichotomy in Dinkytown: those who go after pedestrians and those that go after cars. A subtle shift in the driving habits of Americans is beginning to change the face of the neighborhood. Today, businesses with parking lots are more common — and parking availability is a major issue for new business owners.
“The rules have definitely changed,” said Kurt Schreck, president of the Minnesota Bruegger’s Bagels, which has a franchise in Dinkytown.
Maya Market co-owner Donna Slokum said the pedestrian-driver dichotomy illustrates a shift in the shopping habits of modern students. “They were born in malls,” she said.
There was a time when the pedestrian had the right of way in Dinkytown, Slokum said, but that time has passed.
“You used to be able to feel the surge of students on the streets between classes. Now some days you can shoot a cannon down the street and not hit anyone,” she said. Students are still in the streets, they are just in cars now.
Today, many Dinkytown shoppers drive to shop and need a parking spot. In front of Hollywood Video sits a newly resurfaced parking lot with room for about 30 cars. Another parking lot in Dinkytown recently doubled its capacity, from 57 to 128 spaces.
Irv Hersckovitz, long-time Dinkytown businessman and developer of the site now occupied by Hollywood Video, said the store is an asset to Dinkytown.
“It brings more people to the area and it keeps Dinkytown bright at night,” Hersckovitz said. “Some students want it like it was back in the ’60s, but you’ve got to update with the times.”
Barry Bosold, chair of the eight-member parking committee for the Dinkytown Business Association, said parking is one of the most important issues the association is facing.
He said the group has investigated the construction of a parking ramp, but deemed it implausible due to the high cost and scarce real estate. Bosold noted, however, that those obstacles might be overcome as demand for more parking rises.
“The more businesses we bring in here, the more need there will be for a ramp,” he said.
Without a ramp, new business owners find themselves wondering if parking should figure into their overall business plans. Eric Strauss, co-owner of the new Crazy Carrot Juice Bar, found that question to be more important than he initially thought. The answer delayed his grand opening for six weeks.
Strauss planned to open by Sept. 1. He showed his business plan to the business association and the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association next to Dinkytown; both were approved. The opening date looked reachable until the subject of parking was brought up.
A policy in Dinkytown enforced by Minneapolis officials required Strauss to provide roughly one parking space for every three seats in his juice bar. When Strauss learned about the policy, he went back to his building and looked for parking.
He didn’t find any.
“I figured I spent 160 hours working on the parking issue,” Strauss said. He petitioned the Minneapolis Board of Adjustments to let him open his business anyhow. With documentation stating he had looked for parking and support from the business and neighborhood associations, he was allowed to open his business without parking on Oct. 12 — six weeks late.
Strauss’ dilemma has sparked enough controversy to convince Dinkytown officials to loosen the parking requirements.
“Eric (Strauss) became a lightning rod for this issue,” Bosold said.
Although providing parking for customers delayed the opening of the juice bar, most of the customers are pedestrians. Strauss said 80 percent of his customers walk there and that he has not validated a single parking stub for the shared lot behind the juice bar.
Despite the fervor, Strauss is still in favor of more parking in Dinkytown, possibly in the form of a ramp.
“Look at the old Gray’s Drug space,” he said, in reference to the recently closed local business. “You need a large business to fill that space up, and they’re going to want parking.”