Our local grocery wasn’t really very local. It was a 68,000 sq ft Rainbow big-box that closed last fall. This made our nearest general grocery a big-box Cub Foods (90,000 sq ft?) that is three miles farther away (there is also a Fresh & Natural about a mile away that we use often but it does not carry many items). There are good separated bikeways all the way to Cub Foods but at over five miles each way, that’s a bit much for grocery runs by car or bicycle.
The good news is that Kowalski’s is exploring a 20,000 sq ft retail grocery and 45,000 sq ft bakery operation where Rainbow was. The bakery is a back office operation that will provide baked goods to all of their stores throughout the Twin Cities.
Note: Europe has had a comparatively short run with big-box grocery stores. Tesco, Carrefour, and others expanded into the big-box format after the U.S. and are quickly reverting back to standard formats (5,000 – 20,000 sq ft) due to both demand from customers and municipalities that don’t like the centralizing and increased traffic caused by consolidated big-box stores.
We need a local grocery. At $1 per mile, driving six extra miles round trip to Cub Foods gets expensive. It’s also time consuming and generates more traffic, noise, pollution, and increases the probability of injury and death.
Perhaps most important is that local grocery stores are more than just a place to purchase food–they are a critical element of community life. This is where people most often come into routine contact with their neighbors. There is a vast difference in shopping at a local grocery frequented mostly by your neighbors and shopping with 50,000 strangers from all over.
We want better food options. Online, folks in this area have made clear their desires for better eating and drinking options–quality cafés with locally prepared food from fresher and healthier ingredients and good cappuccinos. A brewpub also seems a popular request. Good and healthy eatery options are sadly lacking in this area, with many people driving daily to White Bear Lake or St. Paul (Selby Avenue, Grand Avenue, Downtown) for meals.
Parking lots are unappealing. They don’t look nice nor feel welcoming and are worse when mostly empty. They also don’t generate much tax revenue. During the entirety of its existence I don’t remember ever seeing the Rainbow lot more than half full and even that was only once or twice per year when a greenhouse was taking up a chunk of it. It always felt deserted.
Eyes on the street. Writer Jane Jacobs made us aware of the importance of eyes on the street–for appeal and safety. A blank windowless wall like the east side of the old Rainbow building above is not only unappealing and unwelcoming but feels and is unsafe. Vagrants like places with few eyes to see what they’re doing. There is also comfort in seeing other people–walking by on Hodgson will be more appealing and comfortable if we see a cafe and windows and people going in and out on the east side of this building rather a blank wall.
1) A small café or two along the east side (image above) and southeast corner with ample windows and sidewalk seating. These would be facing Hodgson Road and Dairy Queen and should be entered from outside and NOT from inside the grocery. This will make this area much more appealing and safer and hopefully provide the better quality and healthier food that people desire.
2) A retail grocery facing 96 with as much window as possible. The current facade of a blank wall with a minor bit of doors and windows in the middle is not very appealing.
3) Eliminate unneeded parking, add a café or brewpub and some trees. An outbuilding café or brewpub would have numerous benefits including more people and eyes in this area and increased tax revenue for Shoreview.
3a) Include safe and efficient access for people walking and riding bicycles as well as bicycle parking (and ideally covered).
4) What to do about trucks from the bakery operation? Presumably there will be a number of them delivering supplies to the operation and delivering baked goods out to Kowalski’s stores. A lot of them through the Hodgson & Village Center intersection between 5:00 AM and midnight would be both unpleasant and dangerous. This especially with how many people walk and ride bicycles through here. If they are largely limited to before 5:00 AM, this might not be an issue. Another and perhaps preferred option might be to have them enter directly from Highway 96 along the western edge of the property, though this could be problematic for those to the west.
This will all immediately make this part of Shoreview more appealing, welcoming, and safer–a place that people want to go instead of where we’d go but not very enthusiastically. This will help Shoreview compete with other places that are becoming more welcoming and inviting communities instead of a hodge-podge of strip malls, big box stores, and traffic.
What will this area look like in five or ten years?
The BP station on the northwest corner of Hodgson and 96 is likely not too long for this world. The number of gas stations has declined by 35% over the past 25 years and this is accelerating with more electric and fuel efficient cars hitting our roads. What will go there next?
The future of the car wash may also questionable. While the car wash industry as a whole is stable, tunnel type washes appear to be declining. Car owners increasingly prefer either touchless drive-in wash bays that don’t damage paint or a full service hand wash. Both of these require less space. Then again, this is salty, slushy Minnesota. If it survives it may require half the space it currently uses.
This area will likely change a bit in the future. We need to think about that future and possibilities and not only how it will be with just a Kowalski’s.
Other thoughts and ideas?