The path to better Downtown shopping

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November 22, 2004 // UPDATED 4:45 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Terrell Brown
Terrell Brown

"Veni, Vidi, VISA: I came, I saw, I did a little shopping." -- Anonymous

Saks Fifth Avenue recently told us we would have one less place to do that shopping. It seems to be a trend. Gone are Power's, Donaldson's, Montgomery Ward and now Saks. That's to say nothing of the specialty stores that have disappeared.

Some of our retail has disappeared due to change in fashions. Back in days when men actually wore suits to work, I was a regular customer of Juster's. Juster's faded into the past when many of us reduced our suit purchase to only one every few years.

Why is Downtown shopping working its way to become as available as a dinosaur or dodo bird?

I don't think it's the elements. With the invention of the skyway, venturing outside is optional. Yet, prime retail space on our skyway level seems to be primarily occupied by purveyors of cell phones, financial products and food. Throw in a florist, some convenience stores, hair stylists and copy shops, and you still don't have real shopping.

"Win or lose, we go shopping after the election." -- Imelda Marcos

Critical mass is certainly part of the problem. We're developing it with specialty art galleries. Many can be found in the Warehouse District, cross the river and you can find some more. The success of the art galleries tells us the problem isn't that people aren't spending money.

The small specialty clothing stores are almost nonexistent here; there's Exile overlooking Loring Park, but not much else.

We apparently can also support banks. In addition to the multiple branches of the Big Three, we have many others with new offices popping up from time to time. The retailing problem must not be an absence of money.

"Shopping is a therapy" -- Proverb

Maybe the problem is my shopping isn't covered by Blue Cross even though what I pay Blue Cross it should be. Shopping has that 100 percent co-pay. But then so does lunch.

"Whoever said money can't buy happiness simply didn't know where to go shopping." -- Bo Derek

I've finally figured out what the real shopping venues have in common. You can find it in Milan, in Paris, London, New York, San Francisco, Chicago or Rome. They all have good public transportation. In each of those cases, some of that transportation is by rail, a mode that will actually move large volumes of people.

We may be in luck. To give Imelda an excuse to go shopping (probably for shoes), we just had an election and some of those most opposed to public transportation such as Downtown's Northstar commuter rail line are now looking for jobs. Maybe, just maybe, there are voters who have finally figured out that solid public transportation is a good way to move people from place to place and is much less costly than widening roads and building a few new ones.

Cities all over the country are adding to and improving their public transportation systems. Here, we've seen the same mentality that opposes taxes for necessary infrastructure yet has created deficits and trade policies that have caused the U.S. dollar to fall against most of the world's currencies -- which, in turn, increases the cost of our shopping.

Thanks to our blue-state results, maybe we'll finally get the transportation system we deserve and the shopping climate we crave.

"The car, the furniture, the wife, the children -- everything has to be disposable. Because you see the main thing today is, shopping." -- Arthur Miller

Terrell Brown lives in Loring Park.