2013 Best Neighborhood Business Node in Saint Paul: Selby and Western

If the Streets.MN Best of awards had included a category for Loveliest Neighborhood Business Node in Saint Paul, Selby and Western would’ve won that hands down. But Selby and Western didn’t need the lovely qualifier to win this category with 32.1% of the vote (26 votes out of 81). The runners up were:

2. Snelling and Selby (20 votes)

3. Como and Carter (17 votes)

4. Highland Park (16 votes)

5. Other (2 votes, for Snelling & Minnehaha, Hamline & Thomas)

On Selby Avenue with Victorian buildings on the left

Selby and Western entices you to hang out with F. Scott’s ghost at Nina’s (if you can snag a table from all the aspiring writers) or W. A. Frost, work out at the YWCA, buy pretty greeting cards at Paper Patisserie, visit your Congresswoman’s office, pick up some sundries from the narrow aisles at AA Market until you can get to the Mississippi Market a few blocks away on Dale (does that count as part of this node?), or pluck a book from the Little Free Library, if you can find one in there that you actually want to read. Last year Subtext Books replaced Garrison Keillor’s Common Good Books in the cozy subterranean space below Nina’s, and it’s one of the most pleasant bookshops to browse on any day. Even the neighborhood graffiti is pretty.

The smells from the corner with W. A. Frost and Moscow on the Hill have been some of the most tantalizing outdoor scents I’ve ever encountered while waiting for a bus, and if those don’t sound good to your appetite, you can stroll to Costello’s (before it closes and becomes a Red Cow) or Fern’s.

Selby and Western has come a long way since the 1970s, when the Victorian Blair House building was vacant and the area was decidedly less upscale. But subtract the Victorian architecture, and I’m less in love with Selby and Western as Saint Paul’s best neighborhood business node. Como and Carter in St. Anthony Park is also charming and houses one of the city’s best bookstores, Micawber’s Books, plus a public library branch in an old Carnegie building, the Finnish Bistro, Colossal Cafe, a cleaners, a wine shop, and a dentist. (Ok, so I judge my neighborhood nodes in part based on reading material.) Bonus points for the wayfinding art bikes in St. Anthony Park.

Highland Park may not be as pretty as either of these nodes, with its strip malls heavier on chains. But as someone who spent my first year here living in downtown Saint Paul, I’m looking forward to moving to that neighborhood soon and being able to walk somewhere other than a sometimes-sketchy SuperAmerica to get a box of Kleenex at 8 p.m. when I have a cold. With a Lunds open until midnight every night, a Walgreens with a pharmacy that’s actually open on weekends (unlike downtown), a movie theater, a restaurant that serves Sri Lankan food on Monday nights in addition to its regular menu, plus more restaurants and two bookstores (even if they’re chains), I’ll forego a little bit of loveliness for more walkable convenience during the winter.

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6 Responses to 2013 Best Neighborhood Business Node in Saint Paul: Selby and Western

  1. Jeff Klein December 3, 2013 at 9:41 am #

    Book stores? And to think I made my decision just by counting the number of bars….

  2. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke December 3, 2013 at 10:24 am #

    all good points. highland is too suburb-y and not as walkable IMO. I like como/carter too, but i feels a bit “small.” another reason selby ave wins is that the city’s #1 sign is perfectly framed by the street frontage, and the cathedral rises up to the left from the corner of your eye. plus there’s a well-used YWCA, a couple of decent bars, some fancy places, and the USA’s largest curling club. the best designed sidewalks in the city, bar none.

  3. Nathaniel M Hood
    Nathaniel December 3, 2013 at 12:08 pm #

    Here’s my take on Highland – Bill is right. It’s too suburb-y and not as walkable as it should be; yet it’s very accessible via bike. Highland is about as ‘suburban’ as we should have developed our places. It still has the “framework” so to speak, that, with time, could become a more walkable and more urban place.

    It needs more dense housing stock, more corner neighborhood stores, more commercial space and a more connected street grid through the Ford Plant.

    Highland in some ways is a victim of its own success, as far as housing stock is concerned. You CAN have a 3,000 sq. ft rambler and still catch a bus or bike downtown or along the River. South of Ford Parkway in Highland has a lot of the same housing stock of Bloomington and Burnsville without the hassles or burdens of actually living in Bloomington or Burnsville. I think that appeals to the people who live there (for better and for worse), so making more urbanism-styled changes in the neighborhood will likely be difficult.

    That also goes without mentioning that it is a neighborhood with a HUGE amount of social capital. If well-connected neighbors want to oppose something – for selfish reasons or otherwise – they are more likely to get their way than in other places. This hinders things like apartment construction, more commercial space, brewpubs, corner stores or other needed infrastructure projects, such as bike facilities, in the neighborhood.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke December 3, 2013 at 4:35 pm #

      i’ve been going through highland park a bit lately and noticed that there is a HUGE amount of apartment housing and density, especially along the corridors like W 7th and St Paul Avenue. But what’s completely missing is mixed-use. Frankly, I find this puzzling. Who’d want to live in relatively dense urbanism without somewhere to walk or hang out?

  4. Walker December 4, 2013 at 11:22 am #

    As I sit here at Nina’s having a wonderful cappuccino and contemplating lunch @ La Grolla, I have to agree that this is a great neighborhood node.

    What’s surprised me about this neighborhood though is how few people here actually walk or ride bicycles. A few do, but the vast majority do not. They may walk or ride once or twice a month on a perfect summer evening, but otherwise everyone is quick to drive even a single mile to Mississippi Market or Cheeky Monkey. The density and mixed use says that this is an excellent place to walk or ride for local transportation, but the road, sidewalk, and intersection designs say ‘don’t dare’.

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