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