A Corner Store Classic

48th and Chicago

The correct design for a corner store–48th and Chicago

There are certain urban designs that cannot be improved upon. One of them is the neighborhood store with its doorway opening onto the corner. I recently discovered that one of the best examples was repeated a dozen times throughout the Minneapolis neighborhoods that developed in the 1920s. All feature the same decorative brickwork, including a white arch over the entry, which faces the corner at a 45 degree angle.

Having stumbled onto this obscurity, I had to find them all, so here they are. In fact there are subtle differences and I even found one with two stories. As the photos show, they can be adapted to any use and have attracted some notable tenants, such as Patisserie 46 at 46th and Grand, Turtle Bread at 48th and Chicago, and Victory 44 Café at 44th and Penn Ave. N. They can also be abused. Why anyone would paint over the brickwork is beyond me, but there you go. It’s fun to see such a utilitarian structure gussied up with some decorative masonry.

My search was confined to Minneapolis and revealed these locations.

36th & Bryant Ave. S.
46th and Grand
48th St. and 4th Ave. S.
48th and Chicago
35th St. and 23rd Ave. S.
38th St. and 23rd Ave. S.
45th St. and 34th Ave. S.
46th St. and 34th Ave. S.
50th St. and 28th Ave. S
34th Street and 42nd Ave. S.
44th and Penn Ave. N.
Penn Ave. N. and Cedar Lake Road (2-story)

If readers know of examples elsewhere, please chime in.

35th Street and 23rd Avenue S.

35th Street and 23rd Avenue S.

One block is bookended by two of these storefronts. This is 34th Avenue S. at 45th Street.

One block is bookended by two of these storefronts. This is 34th Avenue S. at 45th Street.

The other end of the block, at 46th Street. Why did they paint over the bricks?.

The other end of the block, at 46th Street. Why did they paint over the bricks?

Inside Turtle Bread at 48th and Chicago. Talk about holding the corner!

Inside Turtle Bread at 48th and Chicago. This is how you hold the corner.

Dreamhaven Books at 38th Street and 23rd Avenue S.

Dreamhaven Books at 38th Street and 23rd Avenue S.

46th and Grand, viewed through a rain-streaked bus window.

46th and Grand, viewed through a rain-streaked bus window.

36th and Bryant Ave. S. Clearly I picked the wrong day to do this by bus.

36th and Bryant Ave. S. Clearly I picked the wrong day to do this by bus. The corner space is actually a neighborhood grocery store, with the rest of the building a coffee shop and hardware store.

The ice cream store on 28th Avenue S. at 50th Street, just east of Lake Nokomis.

The ice cream store on 28th Avenue S. at 50th Street, just east of Lake Nokomis, has a variation of the brick pattern.

Aaron Isaacs

About Aaron Isaacs

Aaron retired in 2006 after 33 years as a planner and manager for Metro Transit, where he worked in route and schedule planning, operations, maintenance, transit facilities, light rail and traffic advantages for buses. He's an historian of transit, as a 40+ year volunteer with the Minnesota Streetcar Museum. He's co-author of Twin Cities by Trolley, The Streetcar Era in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and author of Twin Ports by Trolley on Duluth-Superior.

23 thoughts on “A Corner Store Classic

  1. Sam NewbergSam Newberg

    A Baker’s Wife at 42nd Street and 28th Avenue, the Northbound Brewpub and Cupcake Social, both at 38th Street and 28th Avenue.

    Wonderful post! These are basic elements of good urbanism that were built in spades in the 1920s and 30s when people were much more likely to walk to the corner store – form follows function?

  2. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

    Excellent post! I love that this format is so adaptable (though, one could certainly make the case that suburban strip malls are just as adaptable). 36th & Bryant Ave S is right near me, and the spaces include a c-store, GiGi’s, a hardware store, and a barber. Pretty awesome. Right across 36th is a similar-looking building (different design elements) housing a small light manufacturing firm. Pretty cool.

    However, another takeaway is how nearly ubiquitous many of our streetcar-era corners are. That there are this many buildings with nearly identical design in Minneapolis (to say nothing of the many others with differing designs), is a good argument that some could probably be intensified without losing remnants of our history. There should be an effort to chronicle all the structures out there like this so we know “what we’re losing” if new development is proposed (thinking the Dinkytown hotel decision as an example).

  3. Matt Brillhart

    Nice work, Aaron.

    You’re probably the guy to ask: How many of these buildings were (at some point) located at a streetcar line terminus? I’m guessing most of the ones at 46th or 48th Street were termini, as some lines never extended any further south (Grand and 4th, for example). Other streetcar lines did continue as far south as 54th or 58th (Chicago, Nicollet, Bryant), but perhaps at one point 48th was the terminus.

    I’m guessing many of these buildings were built in a short span of years, so you could compare that with the extent of the streetcar system of the time. My favorite streetcar map that I most commonly reference is dated 1946, so it’s not much help in that regard.

  4. Peter

    There’s certainly something to be said about the impact of “sameness” in the environment. Which is to say that the same exact design sprinkled throughout the city has no negative impact.

    1. Sam NewbergSam Newberg

      Great point! When same is attractive, it is a good thing. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel to get great urbanism, just, among other things, have a corner-facing door.

  5. Sam NewbergSam Newberg

    The new Patina at 50th and Bryant. It’s worth noting that building burned down a couple years ago but was replaced with many of the same elements, including corner facing door. That’s the only “new” example I can think of, and was perhaps only replaced because of a combination of sentimental value and insurance. (Incidentally, the old building on the northeast corner of 50th and Bryant also has a corner-facing door.)

    This begs the larger question, “why doesn’t this happen more with new construction today?” Do we need a form-based code? This is a good example of how an FBC could be effective.

  6. dreww

    Does the dry cleaners at Franklin and Hennepin count? The entry is on the corner but the building is set back quite a bit back from Hennepin.

  7. Keith Morris

    I’ve noticed these around town and I’m a fan for sure. Nina’s in St Paul is another example and a fave: doesn’t get much more ornate than that. Oh, and on 50th and 28th it’s Nokomis Beach Coffee: more coffee shop than ice cream parlor. The one on 34th and 45th I happened upon while riding through the neighborhood on a street I hadn’t biked down before.

  8. Wayne

    This seems like the streetcar-era version of whatever they call it now when retailers have a default floorplan/building design that they stamp down everywhere. Except this isn’t terrible, because it’s a much smaller scale, more ornate, and lends itself to many different uses (as illustrated here). It’s an ‘off-the-shelf’ design that fits in with urban streetscapes and obviously didn’t break the architectural budget. It’s really too bad everyone thinks brick is too expensive to build with anymore.

  9. Damien

    I frequently get off the bus at 36th St and Cedar Ave by the Holiday gas station, and have often thought how much nicer it would be if the store had a door facing the corner, rather than just facing the pumps. Sameness done wrong.

    1. Sam NewbergSam Newberg

      Right! In cases like this (and the gas station at 28th and Lyndale) the back of the building actually faces the corner. Maybe zoning should only allow gas stations in mid-block locations….

    1. Aaron IsaacsAaron Isaacs Post author

      Butter Bakery in the new building at 37th & Nicollet also has a corner entrance. Ditto the Excelsior & Grand (St. Louis Park) CVS store.

    2. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

      That CVS is a perfect example of a store that can meet pedestrian needs as well as drivers’. There’s a parking lot in the back with an entrance right off it, yet the entire street frontage is fairly high quality with its own entrance as well. One could even make the case that the back entrance is totally unnecessary given the very short walk to the sidewalk+corner, but they also receive deliveries back there so it works just fine. There’s no reason the 38 (!!) parking spaces have to front the street as we so often see, and this design allows that space to be developed (leaving the alley access) at some point without the retail tenant needing to re-work their egress.

  10. Ethan OstenEthan Osten

    13th and Franklin has somewhat different brickwork, but essentially the same format. It’s still a corner store, though pretty rundown.

  11. Brian

    There is a 2 story version at Franklin and 27th (the former True Thai). The brickwork is kind of covered under the signage, but it looks less ornate.

  12. Joseph TottenJoseph Totten

    46th and Bryant has some of these. Nice little node. I’d think that those through streets like Bryant, that aren’t horribly major would have kept more of these structures.

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