Photo Essay: The Vacant Storefronts of Lyn-Lake

Lot going on in South Minneapolis lately! Just yesterday, the public got wind of two new proposals for buildings along the Midtown Greenway–five and six story buildings on both sides of Grand Avenue directly south of the Greenway. While there has recently been lots and lots of redevelopment west of Lyndale Avenue along what is generally considered the Uptown part of the Greenway, not much has been built on the Whittier side in the past decade, so this is kind of big news, in an economic sense.

The so-called “Lyn-Lake” business district centered on the intersection of Lyndale Avenue and Lake Street should, in theory, be one of the city’s most desirable and busy commercial nodes. There’s a ton of new residential that’s been built within walking distance, filling in some gaps in what were already and still are stable, prosperous, and densely-populated neighborhoods. For all that new density (thousands of units!) not much new retail space was added. There are a couple spots in Lime along Lyndale Avenue. There was a decent amount over in The Walkway (i.e. the hot tub building) but that’s over closer to Hennepin Avenue.

There’s something weird going on over at Lyn-Lake, though. It’s full of vacant commercial space! Two corners, previously home to Falafel King and Milio’s, are empty. Caffrey’s closed after much speculation. Country Bar closed, Tatters closed, Serendipity Road closed, and so on. There’s a natural churn to business of course, that’ll happen, but the issue here is that the spots are still vacant.

What’s going on here?

Yesterday, local celebrity and dog owner Phil Schwartz went out and took a bunch of photos of the area…let’s take a looksie.

LynLake Sidewalk & Banner

Snazzy Signage/Branding

Lime Retail Spot

The only new commerical space in the area–a restaurant moved into the corner there but this has been empty for about two years

The former Tatter's space

The former Tatter’s space has been vacant since fall of 2014

Former Serendipity Road

The former Serendipity Road space has been vacant since last year

Former Milio's

Next to what was Serendipity Road, Milio’s on the northwest corner of Lake and Lyndale closed last year

Former Falafel King

The large vacant space on the southwest corner of Lake and Lyndale lost Falafel King in 2014

Cellphone Repair

iCellphone Repair closed when Falafel King did

Former Midwest Makeup Supply

This spot on Lake Street was previously home to Midwest Makeup Supply and has been vacant for about a year

Former Rockler Hardware

This building on Lyndale has been vacant for ages–Google Street View has it occupied in 2007 by Rockler Hardware

Former Country Bar

Country Bar & Grill left this spot next to Falafel King on Lyndale Avenue in 2014 and is allegedly working on reopening at some point

Former Caffrey's

Area resident Matt Brillhart was devastated by the closing of Caffrey’s, next to Country Bar & Grill. There was a lot of confusion about their drawn out closure last year

3012 Lyndale

A couple storefronts down from what was Caffrey’s is another vacant spot, Metaphysical/Eye of Horus moved west down Lake Street a couple years ago

3014 Lyndale

Next to that, Defiant Tattoo at 3014 Lyndale has closed, though their website is still up

3020 Lyndale

3020 Lyndale is a long-vacant house that has had many different for sale signs over the years

Weird, huh! It’s not a huge area; these spaces are all within a couple minutes’ walking distance of each other. Other than Milio’s (and, technically, Falafel King) they’re all small businesses. Is that the issue? There are still plenty of locally-owned small businesses still thriving in the commercial heart of Uptown over at Lake and Hennepin, and there’s a pretty good example of fully-leased-by-small-local-businesses retail space in a newly-built apartment building a couple blocks up at 28th and Lyndale, though that building was built with subsidies and may not be subject to the same market pressures.

Any ideas? I would like to open a bagel shop somewhere around there, let me know if you have like $500,000.

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.

20 thoughts on “Photo Essay: The Vacant Storefronts of Lyn-Lake

  1. Kevin

    This is my neighborhood and I’ve often wondered the same thing. Particularly since just a bit East on Lake there’s a veritable wonderland of seemingly-thriving small businesses catering to immigrant communities, with few-if any–vacant storefronts.

  2. Wayne

    I’ve been really curious/sad about what is going on at LynLake for a while. It makes no sense to me why everything here is closing lately. I know what happened to Falfel King (wanted out of being a landlord to the people upstairs) and Caffrey’s (horribly mismanaged), but what is going on with the rest of these? Did the landlords all get together and decide to jack up rents at the same time? Have they all begun being haunted on an anniversary of some horrible event? What gives? This area still has plenty of foot traffic and proximity to stuff. Not that much new stuff has opened in the more uptown-proper area around Lake/Hennepin to account for stealing their business. If anything there’s *more* potential customers in the area now with all the new housing units that have opened up. I really don’t get it.

  3. Keith Morris

    This location would be perfect for my idea, a bar specializing in macrobrews: Schafer’s, Blatz, Bürger, you name it. And no internet jukebox.

  4. Bill Dooley

    My guess is that landlords are holding out for the big bucks long term lease that they believe will migrate east from Uptown.

  5. Morgan

    I have lived in mpls since 2008 and it seems like Lyn-lake has always been like this. It’s just not quite yet “there” economically as a true urban commercial district but the perception is that it is. Hence what is likely asking rents that do not match the trade area’s true value. The new development along the greenway is awesome but a lot of the walkable residences in both Whittier and lyndale are crap and probably don’t house great customers. There also aren’t ramps like in uptown. A lot of people from more than two miles away use those ramps.

    Two other things to consider:

    1) retail and restaurant operations, like all other industries, is suffering from baby boomers getting out of the industry. All of the recent vacancies mentioned are of business models that are probably just not that attractive to the next generation. Mr. Lee, the shoe cobbler, does good business and has been looking for an apprentice to hire and eventually sell to for years but can’t find one.

    2) 10 years ago these vacancies would have been eaten up by bank branches, corporate chain apparel retailers like The Gap, or Starbucks. All three of these national credit use types are suffering and closing locations not opening new ones. Maybe the landlords just haven’t gotten the memo because they are idiots.

    The owner of the Nomad on The West Bank bought the Cowboy bar building. Which was a total dump so it has taken some time. He’s a smart guy so it will be good.

      1. Wayne

        Ah cobblers, the tire salesmen of the pedestrian world!

        On a side-note I just bought a couple pairs of boots recently that are meant to be cobbled, so I’m looking forward to hunting down a still-extant cobbler I can easily bus to in a year or so.

  6. Mike Beck

    My take (strictly incidental, but based on my professional field of real estate finance): The businesses that left LynLake were most likely patronized by employees (and residents) of the small industrial businesses that vacated to make room for all the new housing stock. Dirt cheap rents, both commercial and residential in that area have been replaced with $2 per square foot housing rental units. The makeup of the neighborhood has changed. In my experience, typically commercial development lags residential development by a couple of years, especially in stand alone properties not tied to the new housing stock. There are existing businesses thriving in the neighborhood because they cater to the newer, more affluent residents. As the new housing stick matures, the retail to support it will follow. Some will fail, but by this time in 2018, we’ll see we had nothing to worry about today.

    1. Justin

      I lived close to there for a couple years and several of the businesses were somewhat out of date for the area. Stuff that was more popular and trendy in the 90s or the earlier part of this century. It’s transitioning, could easily become a luxe little spot.

    2. Janne

      One note about the “small industrial businesses that vacated to make room for all the new housing stock.”

      Having lived in the area for 10 years before the first new housing was built, the small industrial businesses were almost all vacant for the decade before any housing was built. Bennett Lumber was the last one doing anything, and the lumberyard didn’t have a particularly large employee base.

      I’m not suggesting it’s irrelevant, but I have a hard time believing the employee base was big enough to make much of a difference. My gut says it’s all rent speculation — that’s the word every time a business announces it’s closing.

    3. Wayne

      So I guess the question is … is this just the gradual culling of a bunch of marginal businesses that rely on extremely low rent to remain viable or an actual demonstrable case of the spectre of … GENTRIFICATION!?! (cue thunder clash and lightning flash with dramatic music).

      1. Rosa

        isn’t that what gentrification is, on the business side? Rents go up, businesses move or go out of business. Just like residential tenants have to move when rents go up.

        I just want Lynlake to gentrify enough to push a bunch of those little businesses farther east on Lake, please.

  7. David MarkleDavid Markle

    The photo of the space next to Thurston Jewelers, a long-time neighborhood fixture, reminds me of the Port Arthur restaurant that was nearby for many years. But I guess that’s ancient history.

  8. Matt Brillhart

    Area resident Matt Brillhart is still pretty devastated about Caffreys. Adding salt to the wound, my punch card was like 10/12ths full.

    Numerous sources point to mismanagement (fueled by addiction, other issues) by the owner. It’s a damn shame to see a fine local business go down like that because one guy couldn’t keep his shit together. Those delicious recipes will be lost forever. Anyone know where they bought the bread? It wasn’t made in house, but likely a local bakery.

    As for the other vacancies, yeah, wow. I was planning on writing a post very similar to this back in Fall 2014 as Tatters, Falafel King, Cause, etc. had just closed.

    Cause/Sauce might as well be vacant because the replacement “Iron Door Pub” is laughably bad.

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