Dear Saint Paul Business Owners,
My name is Dan. I’m 31 years old and I lived in Saint Paul for nearly 8 years. During that time, I was a patron of many local businesses (I still am actually), as it’s a personal value of mine to support local businesses and give back to my community. I bought my tools at Kendall’s Ace, I bought my records at Eclipse, I bought my beers at Ward 6. Generally speaking, I rode a bike to all of these locations as another personal value of mine is to live light in order to leave a better planet for the next generation.
I mentioned my age because contrary to popular belief, Saint Paul is a young city. In fact, the median age of the city is 31: exactly my age. This always comes as a surprise to people when I mention it. But worse, what comes as a surprise is when I talk to local business owners as an advocate and it is clear from their response that they don’t view me, the main age demographic of Saint Paul, as their demographic.
I first started noticing it when I was chatting with Keys Cafe owner Jean Hunn before she testified against the Saint Paul Bike Plan. She said (and I paraphrase) “I never see bikers come to Keys! I need to serve my customers!”
For the record, I had eaten at Keys a week earlier. I rode my bike there and locked it up at the bike rack at Lunds.
Also for the record, I recently ate at the Raymond Avenue Keys and they marked my old car for towing while I was in the restaurant. Like many millennials, I have an old car because that’s the kind of car I can afford to drive. When my partner called to complain, they apologized and said that the folks they hire to patrol their parking lot have done that to a lot of old cars under the idea that folks with old cars are likely vagrants.
This begs the question: Why am I as a millennial seemingly invisible to Saint Paul business owners? Or in the case of Keys Cafe, why do local business owners treat me, a middle class millennial with disposable income, as a nuisance and not a customer?
It frustrates me to see business owners along Cleveland Ave. actively organize in their communities against things like transit and pedestrian infrastructure while actively trying to appeal to millennials with their menu. It frustrates me to see a local bookstore complain about light rail in a meeting about a soccer stadium when many millennials love both light rail and soccer. It frustrates me that I find many business owners quoting the Villager: a paper expressly designed to service older home owners instead of a blog like this one: something the average aged resident and customer is likely to read.
I feel the city has more than adequately supported the needs of small businesses as the city of Saint Paul has developed. The small business grants offered during light rail construction were so successful that it is being studied and replicated at a national level. If businesses in Saint Paul are struggling, it isn’t Saint Paul’s fault.
It’s actually simpler than that. If you are a business owner in Saint Paul and you are shooing away the primary age demographic of your city, then you can expect to fail. It’s bad customer service. It’s bad capitalism. It’s just bad business practice.
So business owners, next time you see someone my age at a community meeting or moseying along on their bike, take note:
We are your future. If you don’t want us in your future, you have no future. You do not get to dictate how I am your customer as I am the one that carries the checkbook and supplies you with income. This isn’t specific to Saint Paul, this isn’t specific to millennials, this is just simple basic capitalism.
Millennials aren’t going away. And if business owners don’t change their attitudes and start realizing we exist, they aren’t going to survive in our future.