East Lake Murals

Symptoms and Causes of Car Dependency on Lake Street

I want to talk about Lake Street. Specifically, East Lake Street. More specifically, East Lake from about 35W to about 36th Ave S.

There’s a ton I like about this stretch. Every tortilleria, taqueria, and independent grocery, for example. The proximity to Powderhorn Park, a jewel in the Minneapolis Park system. The Midtown Global Market.

But right now, I want to talk about this:

A Map of Auto parts Stores on Lake Street

A Map of Auto Parts stores on East Lake

How? Why??? Why are there 6 auto parts stores on Lake in a 2.5 mile stretch?

Now compare that pattern to how the hardware stores and pharmacies are distributed:

South Minneapolis Hardware Stores

A map of South Minneapolis Hardware Stores

Pharmacies in South Minneapolis

A map of Major Pharmacies in South Minneapolis

There are NONE on or near the same stretch of Lake Street—no those two red pins in the middle aren’t actually hardware stores. Are those business types allergic to the neighborhoods or residents of Phillips, Powderhorn and Corcoran? Do we not need prescriptions filled, or tools and home-repair goods?

I’m not going to speculate how either of these patterns of geographic distribution make sense (they don’t). But I am going to talk about how it makes me feel, as someone who lives in the center of this… phenomenon.

It sucks. Particularly as I go up and down Lake Street on a bus, past auto parts store after auto parts store. It’s a constant reminder of how many people need to be DIY car mechanics because we don’t have adequate transit or complete neighborhoods, even in the core of the city. We force people into expensive car ownership; as a result we get this ridiculous auto-parts store density on a major transit corridor — Route 21 was Metro Transit’s second busiest route in 2017. And people have to come (in their cars) to clog up Lake street because those stores are concentrated there instead of distributed more sensibly.

The net effect is that East Lake Street less hospitable to everyone outside of a car, and in particular the people who live near it. In order to get non-car necessities we have to take a trip out of our neighborhood, and people who need to repair their own cars need to make a trip into our neighborhood to get what they need. The result: a manifestation of and a contributing factor for the vicious cycle of car dependency in the middle of Minneapolis..

I’m just going to end this by saying no, these patterns and geographic distributions aren’t necessary consequences of economics or “the market.” So what’s it going to take to encourage a new pattern to emerge and for the people of East Lake to get access to a wider variety of necessities? How can we ensure / encourage / incentivize sensible, more efficient distribution of retailers to bring about the complete neighborhoods we need to break the cycle of car dependency?

Christa M

About Christa M

Attorney. I do law stuff, ride bikes, and paint murals. Member of Hourcar & Nice Ride, and customer of Freewheel Bike and The Hub Bike Co-op.

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37 thoughts on “Symptoms and Causes of Car Dependency on Lake Street

  1. Jamie

    I agree with most of this – the area is underserved for many services. Just an FYI – I go to the CVS pharmacy at the Target on Lake street often and the Cub on Lake street also has a pharmacy. Google maps also shows one at the Fariview Clinic on Bloomington and Lake and another pharmacy in the Midtown Exchange building. Sometimes web searches are not complete.

  2. Peter Bajurny

    I’ve heard rumors of a small pharmacy going into one of the spaces in the new Hennepin County Service Center at Hiawatha. And for what it’s worth there is a full service pharmacy inside the Target at Hiawatha, but considering what it takes to get from Lake St to that Target by foot, it’s not nearly as convenient as it should be.

    And until recently, there was yet another auto parts shop, O’Reilly located in the Hi-Lake shopping center, which has now been replaced by a Dollar General (and one wonders if that’s even an improvement considering DG’s business model…)

    1. Christa MChris Moseng Post author

      Good catch. Doesn’t really change the dynamic of a big void in the middle where there ought be another one, just scoots the eastern boundary in a little.

      1. Rosa

        I live on Bloomington and I think the gap has more to do with the existing buildings available than anything else – once you get to a ton of freestanding buildings, you almost immediately get the Walgreens on 33rd Ave, which is where we switched to when the indy pharmacy on Franklin by the Franklin Library closed.

  3. Michael

    30th & Lake here… I’ve always described our neighborhood as “The section Lake Street that’s mostly auto parts stores” – honestly I could continue to suffer the auto parts stores and used car lots if I could just cross Lake safely on foot to take kids to the library or reach my polling place without waiting 5 minutes at a beg button.

      1. Michael

        Yeah, traffic is sufficiently light that the left lanes are a drag strip between 31st McDonalds and Minnehaha. 28th, where the E Lake branch library is, and which does not continue across Lake has a really, crazy short light for a couple of cars to turn onto Lake and for peds to sprint across. But invariably someone runs the red from either direction on Lake given there’s no cross traffic from 28th to stop them.

        1. Rosa

          a couple summers ago a car rolled through a right-on-red at that library crossing and almost creamed my kid, who was crossing in the crosswalk on the walk light on his bike. It was so egregious the people waiting at the bus stop shouted at the driver and he slammed on his brakes, but it was a near thing.

          And of course there’s no bike parking in that flat area between the library and Trinity because someone managed to drive up over the curb and take out the posts.

  4. Karen

    My understanding from developers is that retailers in particular are picky about locating around certain other businesses, retailers – so I think just history and surrounding store make-up can become an issue on where retailers choose to go.

    Often once one brave sole or two starts something at a location, others pile in, if basics are good.

    I don’t think the people in the neighborhood around Selby Ave in St. Paul changed much in last 10-15 years, that’s my old neighborhood, but gift/boutique, clothing retail sort of suddenly sprang up at Snelby, Victoria etc, the apartment building in this case actual apartment building came after the retail was already pretty developed – usually commercial follows residential building.

    I don’t know about hardware stores – the independent ones that have survived seem to be largely located in fairly well-off SFH areas. And small pharmacy retail is so difficult up again big box stores that people so often stop at anyways and mailed in pills.

  5. Monte Castleman

    It seems every time CVS or Walgreens want to locate in the city there’s incessant whining about them wanting to make things convenient for their customers by providing parking or a drive through, or wanting to locate in a place that doesn’t have apartments on top of it. When they get that kind of pushback is it surprising that they’re not particularly motivated to find new urban locations as opposed to empty lots or vacant strip mall space where they can just plop down a corporate prototype store instead of fighting a pitched battle with neighbors and urbanists?

    With the current market it’s also unlikely someone can open a cute little urban pharmacy in a hip old building. You have the $4 generics (using mainly imported pharmaceuticals) that the big box store have combined with Walgreens and CVS now having vertically integrated with PBMs (Walgreens with Prime Therapeutics, CVS with Caremark mean that an incredible number of people are required to go to those particular stores to get them filled or pay a penalty.

  6. Justin H

    This doesn’t even include the car washes, tire and repair shops, or used car lots. If you add those, the density of car-related crapola goes up about fourfold.

    I don’t know what to do to fix it, but it sucks. You’d think those used car lots have to barely be turning a profit and the rent has got to be fairly high. This is a corridor that is ripe for reinvestment and higher density housing, especially east of Hiawatha. A streetcar or LRT would do it, of course, but some decent BRT would do the trick, too.

    1. Monte Castleman

      Some used car dealers make a lot of money. Some lose a lot of money and some just about break even. A lot of them are probably engaged in real estate speculation and in the mean time they can write off losses from the actual business. Unlike say a restaurant a used car lot requires almost no investment to retrofit onto an existing building- just move in a couple of desks and computers, and requires very little staffing- one person, maybe two or so during peak buying periods.

      There’s a lot of these “aging but with gentrification potential” properties on Lake Street. That and with poverty being what it is but with even the poor wanting cars, there’s a lot of demand for cheap cars in the area, to the point that there’s even unmet demand. My stepfather gets people from the city all the time that find their way out to downtown Shakopee looking for cheap cars.

    2. Rosa

      there are fewer car lots than there used to be. And only, what, one car wash (all the way over at Portland)?

      The car parts stores kind of exploded during the recession, but they might be doing even better now – there are a lot of little car repair places along Cedar and 38th for sure, and probably more I haven’t noticed, and a lot of them buy parts from O’Reilly and places like that.

    3. commissar

      zoning and availability of suitable buildings are likely the main reason you get so many in that area. much of the parcels along lake are zoned c2. you are only permitted to put auto shops in c2 or c4 zones. maybe industrial, but that’s crazy expensive in Minneapolis. so, realistically, they’re there because they can’t be many other places…

      1. Rosa

        How does that get decided? Is it just that historically there already were mechanic shops there? A lot of them have been there forever – and there used to be even more, you see the weird “chalet with shop doors” buildings scattered around even though they’re not repair shops any more.

        1. commissar

          dunno. probably a feedback loop of lower rents, available zoning and buildings, and higherish car density. most of them are the sort mom and pop type businesses, rather than chains like are more common in the burbs.

  7. Adam MillerAdam Miller

    It’s pretty mind-blowing that there’s no major pharmacy anywhere near the Abbott/Children’s/Allina complex.

    Also, let’s talk street design. The stretch of Lake to the east of your subject (out to the river) definitely, completely, totally should get a 4-3. I’m less certain about the subject stretch.

      1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

        It must, but still seems like a location CVS/Walgreens would want serve.

        That said, if the Children’s clinic has a pharmacy, they haven’t mentioned it to us.

  8. sheldon mains

    doesn’t change your conclusion but you missed two pharmacies in Seward on Franklin besides the one in the Target stop on Lake

    1. Tim

      There’s also one in the Cub Foods IIRC. Which illustrates how stand-alone pharmacies are just less common in general than they used to be, what with so many of them in grocery stores and discount retailers now.

      1. Monte Castleman

        Small drug stores are going away just like other small format stores. Hardware stores offer goods and services not available at big box store, but a pharmaceutical is identical whether you get it from Walgreens or Walmart. That’s why Walgreens and CVS merged with the pharmacy benefit managers to force people to continue coming in (and maybe buying something else while they’re waiting to pick up their medication). The “I want a bag of potato chips at 3:00 AM” market is now served by gas stations.

  9. Monte Castleman

    As other commentators have commented, there’s quite a few pharmacies missing from the map. It appears you searched for “drug store”. Searching for “pharmacy” brings up a different, partially overlapping set of pharmacies in the area including the ones in Target and Cub, two on Franklin, on in the Fairview clinic and four associated with Allina / Philips / Childrens.

    I already commented on the economic situation that keeps players other than the big box stores and CVS / Walgreens out of the pharmacy game, (a situation I have knowledge of), but for hardware stores I’m going to speculate that what keeps them in business isn’t captive customers that can’t drive to Home Depot, but by offering products and services that Home Depot won’t or can’t. Need glass cut? Your snowblower fixed? Window screen repaired? Want Benjamin Moore paint? Not at Home Depot, those are exclusive to your local hardware store.

    I’m not sure you can link the “Auto Parts Store to Pharmacy Ratio” as being too high as the reason people in the area need cars. (setting aside the fact that a lot of people want cars even if they don’t actually need them). Maybe I’m missing something, but how hard is it to take a bus down Lake Street either direction and put your prescription in your pocket on the way back? Or a doorknob from the hardware store? But if you need 10 bags of wood the distance to the hardware store is kind of irrelevant since you need a vehicle to carry something like that anyway.

    I’d look more at how for a variety of reasons jobs between “burger flipper” and “college educated business executive” have disappeared from the city. See Ford, Northern Metals, all the factories and warehouses in the cities that are being replaced by housing. There used to be so many industrial jobs in the Midway that a freeway was (half) built to serve them. To the extent this missing middle of jobs still happens, it tends to happen in sprawling office-warehouse buildings out in the suburbs where the land is cheap and access to freeways is easy and are just about impossible to reach by anything other than a car. The stories my stepfather hears again and again from people from the city and suburbs alike aren’t “I need a car to get to the pharmacy or hardware store” it’s “I need a car to get to my job”.

    Of course now that the city has decided it knows better than business owners what their employees labor is worth, maybe people making careers out of burger flipping jobs in the city will be feasible and common so they won’t need cars to get to jobs in the suburbs. Of course this is also going to discourage anyone from opening more hardware stores and pharmacies, or for the existing ones to stay in business.

    1. commissar

      actually, home depot does offer small engine repair at tool rental. but otherwise, yes, you are correct.

      1. Brian

        Only a select few Home Depot stores have tool rentals. The repair shops at those stores don’t seem to be set up to handle a large volume.

        Home Depot stores in the northern part of the metro send (or sent) all of the their small engine repairs to Beisswenger’s Hardware in New Brighton. The storage room at Beisswenger’s for equipment waiting for repair or pickup is larger than the entire repair area at Home Depot tool rental.

  10. Rosa

    I’d be interested in a small hardware store map of the rest of the Twin Cities – I feel like we actually have a lot of them, and it’s partly because the housing stock is so old – we get stuff at Wellna we actually can’t get at Home Depot even if we wanted to shop there. But there’s a shortage of neighborhood hardware stores almost everywhere because there are so many Home Depots and Menards and Lowe’s.

    I’d include the Reddy Rent place on 38th & Cedar in tools & home repair supplies, too.

  11. Eric W.

    Besides parts stores, it’s kind of incredible how many auto service and repair businesses there are between Hiawatha and the river.

    What hasn’t been mentioned is that East Lake Street was on the outskirts of town when the automobile market emerged and it was the location of many early car dealerships. The building Longfellow Market occupies was a car dealership (Ford, IIRC) and I think the same is true of the graphic supply store at 4200 E. Lake. These are both east of the section the article focuses on, but still important to the historical momentum that has kept these auto-oriented businesses around.

  12. commissar

    part of the reason you got so many auto parts stores, is that you have a ton of auto shops in the area, and most auto shops get their parts from the same places as the rest of us. in fact, i’d say that 2/3 or more of the business of any auto parts store is wholesale.

    you have a ton of auto shops for two reasons:
    zoning: cities are very restrictive about where you can place shops and store cars for repair, with damage, etc.
    and the other reason, is the availability of suitable buildings. you have a fair number of building with drive in doors, etc.

    just some things i’ve seen as a tow truck driver in the area.

  13. Holly Weik

    We used to shop at the True Value Hardware store on Lake. It apparently closed in 2017. So I’m not sure the problem is that these businesses have not ever been on Lake, but that they have closed or relocated to greener pastures. Looks like more digging is in order for a real root cause.

  14. Brian

    I suspect more people might take LRT to Lake St if the LRT station wasn’t so gross. I went through the LRT station this week and it was as bad as I remembered, It smells terrible inside and is absolutely inside too. Metro Transit needs to take a pressure washer to the inside of the station to clean it up.

    Some of the buses in that area aren’t much better. I quit using a medical clinic in the area because I was taking the bus there and the buses were packed to the gills and quite slow. The last time I went to that clinic I decided to walk the two miles back instead of taking the bus.

  15. Ryan

    There is also a concentration of FOUR auto repair places on Lyndale between 35th and 36th. I would love if just one would close and turned into a restaurant or brewery in its place. Keep the big doors, keep the oil stained concrete, just serve the community in a way that doesn’t promote cars.

    1. Brian

      People aren’t going to magically stop driving because an auto repair shop closes. They’ll just find another place to fix their auto. New repair shops will pop up if a bunch of them close unless the city bans new auto repair shops.

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