2015 Dinkytown a Bit More Chain Store-y Than 2007 Dinkytown, Study Finds

Dinkytown: Is it full of chain stores now? We have heard that this is the case. Is this the case? Read on!


It’s hard to measure something like this 100% accurately–for our purposes, we’re looking at commercial storefronts in a five block area of Dinkytown. The actual borders of Dinkytown are a bit vague; the Dinkytown Special Service District defined by the City of Minneapolis is kinda big and includes blocks with no commercial activity–which makes sense when you’re talking about things like cleaning streets across from a commercial block, etc.

“Chain store” itself is also a bit nebulous. CVS and Starbucks are definitely chain stores, but is Mesa Pizza, with its four locations, or Vescio’s, with its Dinkytown and St. Louis Park locations? We’ll say no and count businesses with five or fewer North American locations as “independent.” We’ll also say that the Dinkytown Post Office and, in a certain way, Goldy’s Locker Room (nĆ©e Gold Country) are institutional uses and not count that towards the chain count.

Businesses were counted using Google Streetview and by comparing the June 2007 imagery to the September 2014 imagery and also using memory and also walking around the other day. The author arrived at the University of Minnesota in August 2008, though time flies everything is a bit hazy. (Mesa Pizza was half its current size freshman year?) 2007 is a good year to start, as that was prior to the construction of Sydney Hall, the first apartment building put up in the recent boom. The next year with consistent Streetview imagery is 2009, and site clearance for Sydney Hall had started by then.

To pre-address a hard-to-address concern, the former Marshall High School/UTEC/current The Marshall superblock wasn’t included, and also the businesses in the interior of the Dinkydome were not included. Many of the things in the UTEC building weren’t really walk-up retail or restaurant-type businesses that would have added to the “street life,” though, to be fair, the building certainly served a broader economic role that was probably more important for the region and the city than another 300 apartments. The Target Express on the ground floor likely makes it worth it on balance, though, but it was kind of a bummer losing the old high school for this. Anyway, UTEC and the businesses up inside the Dinkydome (there was a Taco John’s in the Dinkydome??) were not storefronts so we’re going to exclude them–you are free to disagree.

Maps and Charts

Here is the area in question. Again, we’re just looking at commercial storefronts–the University of Minnesota’s Donhowe Building is not included, nor is Hillel, as the Matzo Ball soup is free.

Dinkytown Business Map

Google Maps did their new 3D update mere hours after I made the first version of this

Businesses are listed by starting at the southern corner of the block and moving around counterclockwise. Chains are in red.

Block 1 of Dinkytown BusinessesBlock 2 of Dinkytown BusinessesBlock 3 of Dinkytown BusinessesBlock 4 of Dinkytown BusinessesBlock 5 of Dinkytown BusinessesAnalysis

So what do we have here?

The evidence isn’t massively overwhelming in either direction.

There were 61 total businesses in 2007, and 56 in 2015. In 2007, 14 were chains, and in 2015 there are 19 chains. So the total proportion of chain stores has increased by about half, rising from 23% to 34%, and that seems like a real amount. It’s also probably worth pointing out that the psychological effect of the big ‘ole Target Express and CVS bookending the area probably doesn’t help much if you’re trying to avoid corporate logos. The change in total square footage occupied by chain stores has certainly increased more than 50%. For a while, there were also a number of leasing offices for different under-construction apartment buildings taking up retail spaces in Dinkytown, though we’re down to just one now.

On the other hand, Mesa and The Refinery, both independent businesses, expanded and took up spaces that were previously occupied by other independent businesses. Dinkydale on 4th Street Southeast still includes a number of first floor independent businesses like Fast Eddie’s and that pasty place that aren’t right on the street, and the Bookhouse relocated to the second floor of Dinkydale after their previous space was demolished, and none of those are included in the independent count due to the rules of the exercise. Plus, active businesses in basement spaces and on second floors like Annie’s and the Hairshaft weren’t included due to the crummy resolution of the 2007 Streetview imagery, but those spaces were and are entirely occupied by independent businesses, and that would drive the percentages of chain stores for both years down.

Also worth pointing out some broader changes in the economy unrelated to big apartment buildings–we lost an independent travel agency and also a chain store, Hollywood Video. Other than the relocated Bookhouse, two other bookstores dropped off.

So, probably a bit of a wash, though the hose is leaning a bit in one direction. I will agree that Dinkytown feels more corporate and chain store-y in 2015 (got Mesa last week) than it did in 2008, but it’s possible I’m conflating my generally positive memories of college life with the abstract notion that independent businesses are positive, just like my college memories. It’s possible a lot of people are doing that.

(In any case, you should patronize independent businesses more often.)

The new students who now live right in Dinkytown are a bit more corporate, too. The University of Minnesota has drawn pretty heavily from the wealthy second ring suburbs of the Twin Cities for a while, but previously they were all spread out throughout Marcy-Holmes, Southeast Como, and Stadium Village. So they’d kind of live like they did at home–a house with four students at 23rd and Como would have three cars for grocery trips and social things and jobs and going home for the weekend.

That’s not the case as much anymore–thousands more students now live in or within a couple minutes’ walking distance of Dinkytown or Stadium Village, and are able to experience what’s probably the best urban experience Minneapolis has to offer on a mass scale. They’re buying Starbucks and McDonald’s Snack Wraps now, just like most Minneapolis natives, but as they get older and have some more disposable income, maybe their tastes will change a bit. And maybe some of them will stick around after graduation?

Nick Magrino

About Nick Magrino

Nick Magrino grew up all over the place but has lived in the Loring Park neighborhood of Minneapolis longer than anywhere else. He has a new cat, Sweater, and does not use hashtags at @nickmagrino. He is probably on a bus right now.

22 thoughts on “2015 Dinkytown a Bit More Chain Store-y Than 2007 Dinkytown, Study Finds

  1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

    If you go back to the mid-late 1990s, more of those chains drop out though (Jimmy Johns, Erbert & Gerbert, Caribou, Qdoba, Potbelly). Wish I could remember what was in those places then.

    1. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

      I spent my first 2 years (03-05) on the Stadium Village side and rarely ventured into Dinkytown (despite practicing behind the track for marching band every day in the fall). I seem to remember the Pizza Hut being much larger with a dine-in area? Burrito Loco also used to be located in the back alley of block 3 when it first opened. The current Burrito Loco spot was a Khan’s Mongolian BBQ at some point, right? Some casual internet searching says there was a Rocky Rococco’s Pizza somewhere in Dinkytown.

      This article says there was a Ragstock near a Dave’s Dinkytown Hairstylist. http://www.mndaily.com/2002/04/12/dinkytown-ragstock-close-shop Also Simm’s Hardware, Borealis Caffe, and a movie theater? Of course, the Kitty Cat Klub (local) is in the former Ragstock space.

      Nick makes a good point of local businesses expanding into other local spaces. Another example is Blarney taking up the old Dinkytowner basement space. In general, I’d say the emergence of those chains you mention, all pre-apartment boom, kinda show that chains don’t need new construction to come in.

      Also, re: Dinkydome, there was a PB&J sandwich shop in there that didn’t last long. Come to think of it, most things in there didn’t last long except the Taco John’s.

      1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

        There was a Rocky Rococco’s on 14th between 4th and 5th. I recall trekking over from the West Bank on the coldest day of my college career (-100 wind chills in my memory) for free pizza.

        Khan’s sounds vaguely right. But I feel like that spot has had at least one other tenant in the intervening years too, but I’m not sure.

        I bought a leather(ish) trench coat at that Ragstock for a Halloween costume. This Kitty Cat is unacceptable change šŸ˜‰

        I don’t recall Simms being a hardware store, but I was never able to find exactly when it closed.

        The bars have of course turned over in name and presumably ownership/management over the years too. The Library used to be something else as did the Blarney, the basement under which was the Gopher Hole for awhile.

        Oh! There was a wings place. I think that was where the Blarney is.

        1. Chris Lautenschlager

          Some notes in my head:

          Pizza Hut was a standalone site, at the current location of Purple Onion / 1301 University Ave apartment building.

          Khan’s Mongolian BBQ was replaced by Borealis, then Bobby Z’s, then became Burrito Loco (the current version)

          Rocky Rococo was in the space that turned into a hair salon (don’t recall name offhand), but now is location of the Radius rental office. Rocky Rococo had a regular first floor, but you could buy beer in the basement.

          Regarding: DInkydome, most places actually stayed there for quite some time, much longer than Taco John’s (which was actually quite brief in comparison):

          – Taco Bell was there throughout the 90’s, replace by Taco John’s in the late 90’s.

          – Paradigm Course Resource was there from 1993 – 2007, now in Stadium Village after the Doran takeover

          – Espresso 22 was there for that same amount of time, if not a bit longer

          – Hong Kong Express was there for that same amount of time

          – Student Book Store was there forever

          – There was a branch of Big 10 there for some time, then replaced by an Indian Place –

          – The PB & J place hilarious, as was 3-Way Chili. For awhile that space was called JJ Snack’s which was a weird front for a check-cashing scheme for a temporary employment place called Staffing a la Carte. The worst.

          – Nobody ever seems to remember the Taste of Perkins that was there, housed where current Baldy’s BBQ is. After Taste of Perkins left, the place was boarded up and had quite a few rats. Then it became Downtime, now Baldy’s.

          – There was a Burger King, building torn down and became Hollywood Video, now Your Yoga/Subway/Pizza Hut

          – Nelson’s became Cheapo then a CD Warehouse (after they left some space now occupied by Blarney), then today’s Pagoda.

          – There used to be a man who sold International Magazines on the corner of 14th Ave SE and University Ave SE. Then he moved his stand into the space now reconfigured as Qdoba

          1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

            Having lost a Burger King, a Rocky Rococco, a Taco Bell and a Taco John’s, it seems the question should be whether Dinkytown is in danger of losing all its chain stores šŸ˜‰

  2. Julie Kosbab

    I will argue that there is some utility to having something like Verizon within walking distance for students, and the other major carriers wouldn’t be a downer either.

    For food or the like, independence is great. But for a major utility, there are obvious issues there. And if you can find me a student without a wireless plan, I have a roll of tinfoil for them because I bet they use a lot of it.

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      Not that I disagree, but I’ve never really understood why anyone goes to a mobile phone carrier’s store. But lots of people do.

      Of course I say that having been frustrated recently with a malfunction AT&T webpage.

      1. Julie Kosbab

        I’ve found that for device issues, being able to flounce in and stomp a bit works much better with the physical device. Billing issues are fine online.

        But with the physical device, sometimes the best bet is tantruming until they transfer your SIM into a new device.

        1. Peter Bajurny

          For what it’s worth, this isn’t actually a Verizon corporate store, so it may actually not be a “chain” depending on how other locations this particular company has.

          So there’s no value as a place to take your busted phone, because they’ll just send you to the nearest corporate store. I know, because I tried.

    2. Nick MagrinoNick Magrino Post author

      I, for one, have an free-range wireless plan I buy in bulk at my co-op from the bin between the gluten-free komboucha and the cruelty-free veal.

  3. David MarkleDavid Markle

    Nick’s information comes as no surprise, but it’s well to have this documentation.

  4. Evan RobertsEvan

    Persnickety remark: It’s Espresso, not Expresso šŸ™‚

    More substantive remarks, Erik’s is a chain but it’s a local origin chain. No idea in the sequence when their Dinkytown location opened, but I’d really argue it’s different. If you went by square footage or FT equivalent employee count, the transition to chains is even more pronounced.

    And that’s OK — being able to online order something and then pick it up from Target on my commute is super convenient and saves me driving further for the same stuff.

    1. Joe

      One Two Three Sushi is also a small local chain. Only 5 stores, 4 in Minneapolis and 1 in St. Paul.

    1. Peter Bajurny

      Discussions like these take me back to the question of “what is the virtue of local business.” I think on a larger scale it becomes a proxy for small human scale business vs large big box chains, but in a p?lace like this it’s harder to say. Is it community involvement you’re looking for? Some “chains” are franchises owned by local people with local interest in the local community. Is Target local or a chain? The company is certainly local, and I’d say they’ve worked pretty well to integrate the Target Express into the community to meet the specific needs of the local customer base, rather than paradropping Target Box 4D onto the lot from twenty thousand feet. But it’s “big” so they’re a chain and does that make them by default bad?

      And I think there’s something to say for the pool of expertise a franchisee has access to versus going it on their own. Yes, some of that money will leave the community, but if 10% of twice as much money leaves versus none of half as much, isn’t that still a net gain?

      So yeah, what are we aiming for by seeking out local vs chains?

      1. Rosa

        I think we use chain/nonchain to stand in for a lot of things it doesn’t really stand in for, like you said. Are employees paid enough, do they get benefits, does the store use local suppliers, are profits spent or reinvested in the community? That varies widely – as an employee I’d almost always rather be with a big company than a tiny one, because the benefits are usually better.

        The one thing a franchise always has against it is that a certain part of its revenue is getting pulled out to wherever headquarters is, and not recirculating in the local community.

  5. Joe

    Everyday People is a chain (2 locations), as is Vescio’s (2 locations). Which would change it to 26% in 2007 and 36% in 2015.

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