50th and France

50th and France is a small shopping district on the border of Minneapolis and Edina. It is characterized by two-story buildings with ground-floor retail. The retail is a mix of local-serving shops, restaurants, and movie theaters and more regional destinations like Sur-La-Table. It was a Streetcar stop back in the day, and has long been an important intersection, as both 50th and France are on the ~1 mile spaced arterial grid, and each has interchanges with downstream freeways.

Compare this, organic, successful district with the yet-to-be-successful Shops at West End. To be clear, a driving factor behind the success of retail is the wealth of nearby customers. There is more money in Edina (average Per Capita Income $55,068) than St. Louis Park ($36,334).

However, looking spatially, we see other key factors. 50th and France is centered on the intersection rather than in the middle of a superblock. It evolved over time from locally serving shops to some more regional destinations. The streets (since they are through streets) are wider than the Main Street in West End.

Institutionally, as far as I know, the buildings at 50th and France are separately owned, rather than centrally by a single developer. This creates inherent variation (even if there is some coordination both between building owners and through the Cities of Minneapolis and Edina). It allows a mixture of different sizes and shapes and stages of development that is just not possible with the instant Main Street of the West End. This is not to say centralized retail developments are inherently unsuccessful, just look at the Mall of America for a counter-example. And one can certainly find failed shopping areas that are decentralized. It is to say that decentralization feels different, and a light touch of coordination can be successful as well as a heavy hand. One of the great benefits of the light hand is that there is something going at various stages of the development life-cycle, from new buildings being born, some thriving, and some nearing or having reached end of life. It creates transitions. Edge buildings can be used for lower-rent activities. These photos from the Edina Historical Society show various stages through the history of the shopping district, which had shops (though very different kinds, including a blacksmith) as early as the 1920s.

West End has, or will have, far more office workers in the immediate vicinity, and this should help. It also has much more direct freeway access, which is a bonus (easy to get to) and a curse (almost no one lives within walking distance, so there is not a walkable base outside of office hours.

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