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Ten years of closures: local businesses and alumni reflect on Dinkytown’s new landscape

With the loss of multiple iconic local businesses, alumni and business owners reflect on the University life independent businesses helped create.
Image by Gabrielle Erenstein
Annie’s Parlour in the Dinkytown neighborhood on Monday, April 8, 2024. As chain businesses have continued to crop up in Dinkytown, the changing nature of the neighborhood has left alumni and local businesses with only fond memories to look back on.

When Chris Hawthorne was a University of Minnesota student in 2014, he said he and his football teammates would often get their post-practice meal at the family-owned-and-operated Vescio’s Italian Restaurant. Vescio’s had an eight-dollar all-you-can-eat pasta deal on Monday nights.

Vescio’s, a Dinkytown establishment for 60 years, closed its doors in 2018.

Vescio’s was not alone in its closure. Kafe 421, Camdi, the Purple Onion Cafe and Lands End Pasty Company are among the collection of independently-owned restaurants to close in Dinkytown in the last ten years.

Reasons for restaurant closures are varied, ranging from pandemic difficulties to the arrival of chain establishments to inflation, according to local business owners.

Tom Rimarcik is the co-owner of Annie’s Parlour which opened in Dinkytown in 1974 and re-opened in March after a four-year closure. Rimarcik said the increase of chain restaurants and apartment complexes left only remnants of what Dinkytown looked like a decade ago.

“Dinkytown has changed drastically,” Rimarcik said. “It’s always large residential buildings now, It does not look the same aside from a couple blocks that are still kind of the heart of Dinkytown, which is Annie’s and Tony’s Diner and those places.”

University alumna Amanda Rodriguez said Dinkytown is nearly unrecognizable since she graduated in 2014.

“It feels like all that is left from my time on campus, that’s even somewhat recognizable outside of [my time on campus], is really just Mesa Pizza,” Rodriguez said. 

Irv Hershkovitz, former owner of Dinkytown Wine and Spirits which closed in January 2020 after 31 years in business, said generating profit while being “priced for students” is far easier for chains than locally owned businesses. 

“It just got tougher and tougher for the independent owners to be able to afford rents, taxes [and] employees,” Hershkovitz said. “If you’re downtown, you can get away with charging $10 for a beer. In Dinkytown, you can’t get away with that.”

Maddie Hansen, a 2015 University graduate, said she remembers Dinkytown fondly as a “homey” place to live and enjoy, unlike today.

“It felt like a really good gathering place,” Hansen said. “With the luxury housing, [prices] have skyrocketed. I wouldn’t be able to live in Dinkytown if I was a student now because of how much it costs to live there now.” 

The median cost for rent is $1,637 per month in Dinkytown, up 28 percent since this time last year, according to data from 

To alumni, the closures of Dinkytown’s family-owned businesses are not only a loss of good food but also a loss of the neighborhood’s welcoming atmosphere.

Hawthorne said independent businesses in Dinkytown created the “familial” and unique college town experience he remembers fondly.

“[Independent businesses] are really important seminal parts of the collegiate experience that I think people get emotional about when they leave campus,” Hawthorne said.

Rodriguez said the increased independent businesses from when she was a student made frequenting those establishments a “routine” part of daily life and University culture.

“It was more of a subconscious effort of, ‘Where should we go get food?’ Of course Annie’s, of course places like Tony’s or Al’s for breakfast. It was part of the University life a little bit,” Rodriguez said. “Of course, you’d go to Qdoba and Potbelly’s or McDonald’s, but that wasn’t always the first thought.”

Rimarcik said he is confident the familiar food and experience Annie’s provides will help maintain a semblance of Dinkytown’s original connection to University culture.

“Annie’s serves food that is just comfortable food. It’s something that isn’t complicated and I think that doesn’t change. Sometimes that’s what people want,” Rimarcik said. “It’s just a hamburger and some french fries and it’s not from McDonald’s. It’s from an independently owned restaurant.” 

Hope is preserved for the presence of independent businesses in Dinkytown, Hershkovitz added. For Dinkytown to return to its former glory, increasing public safety and supporting new businesses would be the first steps, according to Hershkovitz.

“They have to clean it up and make it safe and find the right combination of businesses for students,” Hershkovitz said. “When I first started [in Dinkytown], you could buy a suit, you could buy a watch, you can’t buy anything like that anymore.” 

Rodriguez said “mom-and-pop” shops form bonds that span decades of the University community and create a “generational experience.” Rodriguez added without these businesses, the connection she felt between the neighborhood and University life is lost. 

“Nobody’s connecting over our mutual enjoyment of Qdoba,” Rodriguez said.

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