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Business Owners and Parking: It’s Complicated!

During street redesigns, business owners are often portrayed as preferring car parking over safe streets. But their takes are more nuanced, so let’s chat with some!


Our theme song is Tanz den Dobberstein, and our interstitial song is Puck’s Blues. Both tracks used by permission of their creator, Erik Brandt. Find out more about his band, The Urban Hillbilly Quartet, on their website.

This episode was hosted by Ian R Buck, edited by Parker Seaman aka Strongthany, transcribed by Stina Neel, and produced by Sherry Johnson. We’re always looking to feature new voices on the show, so if you have ideas for future episodes, drop us a line at [email protected].

Many thanks to our guests Dan Marshall, Danny Schwartzman, and Jamie Schwesnedl.


[00:00:00] Dan: You don’t have that kind of experience in the suburbs. I mean, I grew up in the suburbs and you just, everything is planned and the city experience isn’t planned. It allows you to discover.

[00:00:13] Ian Buck: Welcome to the Streets.mn podcast, the show where we highlight how transportation and land use can make our communities better places. Coming to you from beautiful Seward, Minneapolis, Minnesota, I’m your host, Ian R. Buck.

Today we’re going to talk about everyone’s favorite subject, parking. Neighbors are concerned about traffic and parking.

But not just parking, we’re also going to talk about the conversation that happens around parking. Meta, I know. So, when safe streets activists are putting forth visions for making a particular street safer and more welcoming, often we suggest turning on street car storage spots into other things like bike lanes, bus lanes, outdoor dining patios, etc.

And this often puts us in a spot where the narrative becomes Local business owners oppose moving parking to make the streets safer, out of a fear that they will lose customers and go out of business. Uh, it sure feels like we have the same conversation over and over again for every project in all parts of the metro.

So, I wanted to step off of this hamster wheel and chat with some business owners who aren’t all currently thinking about a specific project on their own street. All right, let’s meet our cast of characters.

[00:01:29] Jamie: Uh, so I’m Jamie Schwesnedl and, uh, my wife and I own Moon Palace Books, which is at, uh, Minnehaha Avenue and Lake Street in what’s called downtown

Longfellow, and

I didn’t know that we called it downtown.

Oh, you might not, but we do. Yeah. And what was the next part of the question?

How we

[00:01:54] Ian Buck: Like, like, how would you describe that, that space : Lake and Minnehaha?

[00:01:58] Jamie: So it’s a community, uh, or that neighborhood?

[00:02:01] Ian Buck: Yeah.

[00:02:01] Jamie: Uh, it’s, it’s a little pocket of a business district that, uh, until about four years ago was, um, just a really neat, uh, mix of kind of old buildings that house local, locally owned businesses, a real mix of kind of like immigrant owned and long time locally owned places.

And then just on the other side of Lake is the. Target and the Cub Foods and stuff like that. Um,

[00:02:30] Ian Buck: and my favorite Aldi in the Twin Cities,

[00:02:33] Jamie: the Aldi, the AutoZone, the Wendy’s, um, and, uh, then of course with the uprising, uh, after the police murder of George Floyd in 2020, uh, the neighborhood was, uh, about half, uh, burnt down. Um, so now it’s a little more sparse, but on our side of the street, we still have a big. theater, the hook and ladder that has, um, three stages for live music and a little retail space in back. And there’s a bike shop, The Hub and us, and then Arbeiter Brewing next door to us.

[00:03:07] Ian Buck: Thanks.

[00:03:08] Danny: Yeah. So I’m Danny Schwartzman and from 2007 to 2022, I ran Common Roots Cafe.

At 26th and Lyndale and Common Root’s

[00:03:17] Ian Buck: next to my second favorite Aldi

[00:03:19] Danny: kitty corner, right?

[00:03:20] Ian Buck: Yeah

[00:03:22] Danny: Before that it was a nice independent business, right? When we opened it was just at the tail end of being a hardware store

[00:03:27] Ian Buck: Mm hmm

[00:03:28] Danny: and then they built an Aldi’s and called it the name the development after the hardware store

[00:03:33] Dan: Huh,

[00:03:33] Danny: but so it’s an exciting memory Yeah, so the so the business is was in a two story 1890s building You And also had a surface parking lot next to it. So to put different parcels of surface parking, about 20 something spaces.

[00:03:48] Dan: Yeah. All right. Yeah. My name is Dan Marshall and my wife and daughter and I own Mischief Toy Store on Grand Avenue near Victoria in Saint Paul, and Grand and Victoria has been going through a lot of change lately. It lost a number of, of chain stores, but I think there’s some opportunities for new businesses to come along, but it really needs some reinvestment to my mind at this point.

And changing the streetscape is one of those things that needs to happen. Our store. I mean, we’ve been selling toys for like 25 years and Mischief, now, I think, we’re eight years old, eight and a half. And it was really my daughter, Abby’s idea. The whole concept is toys for all ages. And, uh, we’re in an old Victorian building, which has its own challenges cause it’s not like super accessible, but we only have two parking spots in back next to like a, a tumble down garage.

Those parking spots are just for employees. Um, but we have a really nice bike rack out front and a little pergola and a patio where people can hang out, which I think is a huge amenity to the neighborhood.

[00:04:52] Ian Buck: Which is kind of the unique thing about the Grand Avenue corridor is a lot of the businesses are in houses and they have a front yard, which makes it feel very different from like Lyndale or Minnehaha. But are all three of those, like, so Lyndale and Minnehaha, those are both, are those both county roads maybe?

[00:05:09] Danny: Yeah.

[00:05:10] Ian Buck: Yeah.

[00:05:10] Dan: Grand’s a City,

[00:05:11] Jamie: Minnehaha – city Lyndale is too.


[00:05:13] Ian Buck: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. And, and so yeah, so we’re, we’re, you know, we’re dealing with different entities, different levels of bureaucracy when it comes to decision making around, you know, the parking situation in those, in those areas. So there’s some, some similarities, some differences, but yeah, like how have, how have each of you approached parking solutions for your businesses? I know, Danny, I’m really interested in hearing yours because you had a surface parking lot that you, you kind of changed your approach to it over the years.

[00:05:42] Danny: Yeah. Yeah. So when I opened the business, I mean, parking was not a main thing that I was thinking about. You know, if you’re, I was young and I was starting a new restaurant. And there’s a billion things you have to think about and learn about. And you know that you need people to be able to access your business, but you sort of start with what you started with.

And I had a parking lot, those surface parking lot, and it was all asphalt and there was no green space and there wasn’t much to it, but it was a very functional parking lot. And, you know, I opened my business and I ran the business and navigated through all kinds of different things. And the parking lot was like, made minor improvements to it.

And at first they upgraded the patio. I had a patio in there and I made minor improvements to the patio. I really wanted to have a garden and so I was looking for that and I took over two duplexes across the alley from my building. They were on the market. They were run down rooming houses. And they were completely covered in asphalt.

So like there was no backyard at all. There was zero permeable space It was entirely asphalt and turned that into the garden So I solved that problem across the alley and had a garden for the cafe and a much nicer community presence there And then on the the parking lot side, it was a gradual change in how I was thinking about it but I mean I was certainly concerned about losing any business because people couldn’t, didn’t think they could get to my business easily.

And so like, just like most any business owner, making it more challenging for customers to get to my business as a big concern. And the business was never in a position where like, we didn’t need more customers. We always, you know, we always could use more customers pretty much. Um, but over the years of watching it, I noticed that like the parking lot being full didn’t or empty did not at all line up with whether or not my business was full or empty, I could have one, if we had a meeting room, um, where we had meetings, free community meetings for a variety of different uses and all kinds of things, one meeting, if a bunch of people were coming from out of town for the meet, or from out of the neighborhood for the meeting, one meeting would fill up our parking lot, potentially, even though there were 20 spaces, because if everyone’s driving to a meeting, and the cafe could be empty, one meeting is all it is.

[00:07:34] Ian Buck: Right.

[00:07:35] Danny: Same thing, like we could be nearly full and have everyone walking into the cafe. So like I realized the parking lot wasn’t the essential, critical, only component on whether or not people were coming to the business. Pretty quickly, I realized that that wasn’t the case. So gradually I decided to look at changes to the parking lot and then, you know, think about stormwater runoff, think about some other environmental things, which is my approach to the whole business, and eventually decided that I would take the leap and close off the access from Lyndale.

And make my patio larger, increase permeable space and do a rain cistern when we have a rainwater cistern that would feed that be a nice community project and be a nice environmental ad and completely change the feel of the patio because there would no longer be a driveway running through it or next to it and make it a lot more comfortable.

[00:08:15] Ian Buck: Yeah.

[00:08:16] Danny: So that was the, that was a change. And now I thought about parking

[00:08:19] Ian Buck: those big, big changes.

[00:08:21] Danny: Yeah. Surprisingly expensive changes to things you don’t realize are expensive. Like curbs are really expensive. Yeah. Yeah, we had like designing that.

[00:08:29] Ian Buck: Oh, so, oh, so you…

[00:08:31] Danny: I Didn’t change the curb. We talked about it. Like there’s still a curb cut because if you want to put a curb in, it’s really expensive.

[00:08:36] Ian Buck: Yeah.

[00:08:37] Danny: Just that, that little kind of, that kind of concrete is much more expensive than other concrete.

[00:08:40] Ian Buck: Huh. Yeah. Not all concrete is made the same I guess.

[00:08:43] Danny: Little details.

[00:08:45] Ian Buck: Um, Dan, you mentioned that you don’t, you don’t really have direct control over much parking in your space, right?

[00:08:52] Dan: I mean, we made the decision when we first bought the building. Um. You know, we could have knocked down the ancient garage that’s behind our building and we could have paved the backyard. And maybe got six spots there that might’ve been convenient for people. And we were all in agreement that like, no, there’s no point in doing that.

[00:09:12] Ian Buck: Have you seen, uh, have other business owners on Grand done that kind of thing?

[00:09:15] Dan: Yeah, just a couple of buildings down where the Yarnery used to be. And more recently it was Nothing But Hemp. That whole area kind of behind Cafe Latte and the two kind of house businesses

behind that. They’re all paved there.

[00:09:27] Ian Buck: So, so people who are familiar with like shopping on Grand know that that’s the type of parking that they can like look for.

[00:09:33] Dan: Yeah, I think a lot of people look for parking behind the business

[00:09:35] Ian Buck: Interesting

[00:09:36] Dan: And there’s zoning to allow that and so forth. But we’re just like, you know what? There’s a parking ramp half a block away. It’s not expensive. There’s, you know, street parking. And my feeling has always been that having to walk a block or even two blocks to the store that you want to visit is more of a feature than a bug. You know, like if you park at Rosedale, for example, you’re going to walk maybe a quarter mile, half mile, even to get to whatever store you want to visit.

And you’re going to walk past all sorts of other shops. And that’s why malls make sense because you can’t park right directly outside the Apple store. Or you have to walk. Through the whole mall and ask the little robotic dogs barking at you. And selling phone cases

[00:10:19] Ian Buck: and smell the food court

[00:10:21] Dan: and yeah. And Grand Avenue is no different. You know, if you park two blocks away, you’re going to walk past Brasa and you’re going to smell what they’re cooking, or you might walk past Cafe Latte and decide you need a turtle cake. And you might also be trying to get to Brasa or Cafe Latte and walk past our store and be like, “Hey, what the heck is that? Let’s go in there and check it out.” And so having parking right next to your business, actually, I think a lot of times is detrimental. And what you want, I think, is you want a walkable neighborhood that you feel safe and comfortable walking in and where there’s things to explore and experience new things that you didn’t know that existed.

[00:10:57] Ian Buck: Yeah, and Jamie, how about Moon Palace? What’s, uh?

[00:11:00] Jamie: Well, so when we moved to our current location, something we were thinking about is, uh, really there’s a ton of parking in the neighborhood. But it’s all private. Not all, but it’s mostly private. You know, that Target has just a sea of parking. There’s a factory across the alley from us, um, that has, you know, like three shifts of workers and they have a ton of parking that’s mostly full during the day and then a little full during the other shifts. Then there’s like a medical center a block away that’s got a huge parking lot right behind where the Arby’s was. You know, there’s just some

[00:11:34] Ian Buck: of those giant parking lots are being converted into other things like the, the Everlake, uh, Uh, Apartment building is just like smack in the middle of like the Aldi parking lot.

[00:11:44] Jamie: And yeah, and so some of that, and there’s always talk that maybe that Target parking lot, which is never full, even close, will get developed, but it’s somehow owned by a trust of 52 people who live all over the world.

[00:11:58] Ian Buck: Sure.

[00:11:58] Jamie: And no one can make a decision or who knows what’s really going on. You know, additionally, then there’s the police station, the third precinct down the block. And they had this huge parking lot and they had, I think, 311 upstairs from the third precinct, um, or some somewhere in that building. And it was basically, uh, mostly officers’ personal vehicles. And so we kind of moved in with the idea that we were doing a bookstore with a restaurant and an event space, and we would need some parking probably.

But we felt like long term, there was a lot of possibility for the neighborhood to work together to have some kind of shared parking or structured parking or something. The city is always talking about, you know, high density mixed use. And, you know, we talked to our city council people and we’re like, what’s it going to take to change this police department parking lot into a structured parking that, you know, that everyone in the neighborhood can use.

And, uh,

[00:12:57] Ian Buck: police parking lots are always the ones with like barbed wire fences surrounding.

[00:13:00] Jamie: Yeah. Although

this one, you know, it was locked sometimes, but it was, uh, back in the day. Uh, there’s a lot of barbed wire around there now, but back in the day, you know, we, we knew that nothing was going to happen immediately and there’s a lot of space around there that’s kind of slated for future development and that we’ve been renting as parking. And so we have really about like 25 spaces of parking, which doesn’t make sense for a community bookstore. Right now but back when we were having, you know, live music and reading events and queer dance nights and a pizza place, you know, we could fill that stuff up. The interesting thing was all our parking is behind our store off the alley so people really prefer to park in the lots of other businesses that uh, they can see from the street and then, he people who are trying to go to those businesses end up parking in our parking, which, uh, or, you know, like frequently,

[00:13:58] Ian Buck: which is the feature that Dan was just talking about. You’ve got to walk past all the businesses.

[00:14:02] Jamie: And it really speaks to the kind of like, Hey, structured parking that everyone shares or some kind of shared parking, uh, you know, and now we don’t have the restaurant anymore, and we aren’t doing the same level of events. And so now we just have a lot more parking than we need.

And, um, you know, there was a while where we were letting the Midtown Farmers Market use that space for a couple of years while their plaza was being redeveloped. And that made really great use out of that, all that parking space. But yeah, now it definitely just feels like, “all right, how are we going to get something to happen here?”

And there’s some plan for, um, Pangaea World Theater is hopefully going to be building a theater next door and that’ll wipe out some of our parking.

[00:14:42] Ian Buck: Okay.

[00:14:43] Jamie: Eventually it’ll mostly go away.

[00:14:45] Ian Buck: So, this kind of … oh, Dan.

[00:14:47] Dan: Well, I, I, I was gonna like set the stage a little bit cause back when we allstarted out, things were a little bit different cause Saint Paul a few years ago, Minneapolis a little bit before that, got rid of parking minimums. Right? And so, if you were gonna open a business before that, you had to have parking sewn up. Otherwise, you had to go to like the neighborhood group, your city council, get a variance, and there was this whole rigmarole.

Grand Avenue parking is like a blood sport and like they’ve rejected businesses over just a few spots. Like, Cupcake, for example, wanted to move in on Grand and because they were gonna serve wine they needed like two extra parking spots and what they had available to them And so they like the the neighborhood and the City Council voted no and it’s like “why did we say no to this business? It could have been here”

[00:15:32] Ian Buck: Right.

[00:15:32] Dan: For us, the only reason we were able to buy our building, which only has two parking spots and occupied as a retail store, is because it was retail before that.

[00:15:43] Ian Buck: So you got grandfathered in

[00:15:45] Dan: And our previous store on Como Avenue was the same thing. It used to be a hardware store when we, back then, when we were looking at buildings, we could only be looking at buildings that actually were retail or had enough parking, everything else. If it was like some other use, like an office building, It was just like, “forget about it”. You can’t, unless you want to go through, you know, some myriad of decisions through your neighborhood council and. And City Council to get a variance on parking. It just wasn’t going to happen. So yeah, that’s how we all started out. It’s a really good thing that parking minimums went away.

[00:16:16] Ian Buck: Let’s talk about kind of the difference between on street parking versus off street parking and how each of those, what role did they have in, in shaping like the feel of, of, uh, commercial space and a, and a whole corridor.

[00:16:29] Danny: I feel like the key thing is for customers to feel like they will be able to find parking It doesn’t really matter that much if it’s on street or off street If there’s the perception that there’s accessible parking and like what is an okay parking? I mean different but some businesses need parking right next to the businesses because people are loading heavy things or whatever else but if it’s a business like I was running, people are comfortable walking a little bit. So like if it’s parking within a block or so on the street, it’s about this, not that different from pulling up in a parking lot.

But some people would say that they, in part, they choose the business because they know that there’s good parking and it’s easy to get to on their way home and they can run in quickly. So like that, it makes a big difference, but those people would be happy to park on the street mostly. If it was, they knew it was going to be right in front and not be an issue, probably.

And like, sometimes my lot would be full. Like most people would not, would still come in if the lot was full. The, the, the issue is if they think that the lot’s going to be full and if they’re concerned about parking, so they don’t come

[00:17:25] Ian Buck: RIght.

[00:17:26] Danny: As long as they feel like there’s likely a, an easy way to park somewhere nearby.

I think most people are fine with it.

[00:17:32] Ian Buck: How about like the, the walking experience of lots of on street parking versus like, you know, most people like parking off, off street.

[00:17:40] Jamie: Yeah. I think the biggest thing with, between on street parking and off street parking is, um, the on street parking and the roadways and transport ways and sidewalks, it just needs to be organized in a way that makes sense.

Like, uh, you know, we, we were in a neighborhood. It’s not. Not that way right now, but you know, before the pandemic and the uprising, you know, if, if Hook and Ladder had a show and Nuevo Rodeo had a show and it was a weekend night and people were going to eat at Midori’s and Gandhi Mahal and we had something, you know, that’s like 700 people in the neighborhood, you know, uh, sometimes up to a thousand, um, you know, and so there’s going to be a lot of cars and, uh, you know, people would just be parking and crosswalks parking, you know, just like it would just get crazy. And, you know, meanwhile, there’s this huge sea of parking across the street, but then..

[00:18:31] Ian Buck: Encourage everybody to go into target and like buy a toothbrush and then, you know, walk across the street.

[00:18:35] Jamie: Well, well, I think like Nuevo Rodeo did work something out with the U S Bank down the street where they, no, one’s parking at U S Bank at night.

So they’re like, “Oh, people can park there.” Um, but you know, there’s similar things during the day where you have. You know, most businesses get deliveries, especially retail and food businesses. You’re getting deliveries. Most of those are coming in semi trucks or large like UPS style trucks. And um, if you have only on street parking, which is great for that kind of like neighborhood, everyone can see each other, busy sidewalks, but you know, if you don’t have anywhere for delivery vehicles to park. And if the are blocked or weird and hard for delivery vehicles to get into. Those delivery trucks are just parking in the street or on Minnehaha, you know, parking in the bike lane. And, um, additionally we have, there’s so many different people who feel like the bike lane is for parking and, uh, there’s just

[00:19:34] Ian Buck: One of the reasons that I love parking-protected bike lanes where you have the vehicle travel lanes in the middle and then parking and then the bike travel lanes are on the outside of that. And yeah.

[00:19:47] Jamie: Yeah. So it’s, uh, I mean, I, the, the chaos of it all, I just, I feel like, um, whether it’s on street or off street, I mean, I would prefer to not have to provide the parking and, you know, managing a parking lot is just really not why anyone goes into business, you know, the surfacing, the picking up trash, the security, the lighting.

Sure. The insurance, the snow removal, which is so expensive and, uh, and just a big pain. You know, I’d love there to be more on street or, you know, somehow shared parking, but it’s, it’s gotta be designed and managed well, or else it just turns into something that people are like, “I don’t even want to go over there. I’m going to get stuck in traffic.” And it’s like, people get stuck in traffic and it’s not even like rush hour, busy traffic. It’s just like dumb traffic. I’m like, this bus can’t get around this beer truck that’s, you know, in the bike lane because there’s, you know, somebody who’s left their car for two days in a on street parking space or whatever, you know,

[00:20:50] Ian Buck: Dan, you’ve, one of your like pet projects, the thing, a thing that you’ve written about a lot is like, having more delivery bays, right? Where parking isn’t allowed, but like, only temporary deliveries.

[00:20:59] Dan: I don’t know if I’ve written about it, but yeah, I think, I think it would make sense to design in delivery spots. You know, on streets, cause we get UPS, we get FedEx, we get DHL, we get the occasional semi truck that shows up at the store and they’re like, “where’s your loading dock?” and I’m like, “you’re looking at it”. Um, and they try to go down the alley, which is like this old cobblestone alley. It’s like, no, you’re not, you’re not going to turn that truck down our alley. I’m sorry. But yeah, it would make sense to have, you know, to structure the parking in such a way that the UPS truck had a place to park and they could load up their dolly for the whole street and they could hit everything, but we don’t do that. We just have,

[00:21:37] Ian Buck: I mean, I feel like UPS driver and especially Amazon drivers, right? Like, would they even go for a solution like that? Would they, you know, be willing to take the time to go to a dedicated delivery spot and then like walk halfway down the block to get to where the building that they’re actually delivering to?

[00:21:53] Dan: I mean, Yeah, all these drivers, they’re under pressure to hit the quotas and get stuff done, and you get closer to the holiday season, and it gets worse and worse and worse, and these people are like harried as hell, it’s insane. So, yeah, I have a lot of sympathy for what they have to do, but yeah, it would make a lot more sense to have like, hey, here’s a spot painted out, this is for delivery trucks to park, and Amazon and UPS and FedEx and everybody else can just take turns with it.

And one of the ideas that I’ve had for For Grand Avenue is like, instead of parallel parking, which we have a window to watch people trying to parallel park all day long. And it’s like, Oh my…

[00:22:31] Ian Buck: We should set up a camera.

[00:22:32] Dan: Are they going to pull out? Are they going to give up? Are they going to move on? Are they going to do it? And you know, like, it’s hard to predict who’s, you know, which, uh, which SUV is going to be able to get into that spot and which one’s going to give up and drive away. But Grand Avenue is like five lanes wide, right? So there’s like two parking lanes, two driving lanes, and there’s a center turn lane. And this is like a pedestrian oriented shopping district where people are

[00:22:55] Ian Buck: Supposedly …

[00:22:55] Dan: walking around. And the wide street just makes everyone speed and the parallel parking is just chaos and there’s no delivery zones. And it’s supposed to be one hour parking but Saint Paul has like two parking enforcement people for the entire city. And they just never show up to like ticket anybody. So, it would be really cool if we had structured parking like, like what Jamie was saying where maybe it’s like a back in angled parking kind of thing, where instead of parallel parking, we take away that center turn lane and give people like striped spots where they can back into, um, back in.

[00:23:26] Ian Buck: You see that all the time on like main streets in tiny towns.

[00:23:29] Dan: Yeah, exactly. And say, “Hey, this is a shopping district. Let’s paint it like a shopping district”. And part of that make a bus stop here and a delivery zone here and just make it really clear what everyone’s supposed to do and where everyone’s supposed to be.

And I think if you did that, you would narrow the street. You would make people drive slower. You’d actually increase the amount of on street parking because people are. The cars are taking up less space instead of.

[00:23:52] Ian Buck: Right. Less, less, like less vertical space, more horizontal space kind of thing. Yeah.

[00:23:57] Dan: Yeah. So that’s the idea of kind of like floated a little bit to the neighborhood association and, and to the city. And they’ve been like, it’s been an interesting response. Because it’s like change, and people are like, “Oh, that sounds like change. I don’t think we can do that.” Um, and the city engineer was like, “I’m not even sure this is legal in Saint Paul. We’re going to have to look into that.” And to my mind, this is like, it’s just some paint and maybe some signs. And we could do this and get it done. You know, like, next month, if we wanted to. But no, the process is, like, way longer than that. And it feels just, like, so hard to just change the inertia of what’s been happening on this street for, like, the past 75 years. You know what I mean? Just to, like, change the arrangement of how people park.


[00:24:44] Jamie: like, how we’ve all been living for 75 years, you know, just, I mean, change is hard, but guess what global warming and, you know, oil, uh, reserves running out and, you know, like cars,

[00:24:58] Ian Buck: change is going to come for you

[00:24:59] Jamie: It’s coming anyway. So like, I just feel like we could, we could do a better job of embracing it and like really figuring out, um, what’s going to work. And you know, obviously like. I think the issue is that, um, that can’t be on individuals and business, you know, small business owners. That’s got to be like society-wide thing, which is, you know, theoretically why we have government people to lead

[00:25:21] Dan: leadership.

[00:25:22] Danny: Yeah. I think one of the really, one of the really tricky things with small businesses and parking is like, it doesn’t seem like many people are actually thinking about how small businesses interact with these kinds of projects. Like despite all the conversation and energy behind it, like if you try and talk about getting help with like how to actually make structured parking work. No one wants to do that, but it’s like these business owners want to have, or generally independent small business owners are working with tiny margins under insane amounts of stress and are very concerned reasonably about any small decrease in their business or that aren’t necessary that are going to hurt their business.

And so like you start seeing bike lanes are a great thing, but when you’re worried about the bike lanes taking away the parking and their loading area for your business, and you’re not seeing bikes. People on bikes come into your business, you freak out about it because you think that your business might not be able to make it because people will be afraid that they can’t find parking and come to your business.

Like it’s very practical things that I think people forget just how very impactful these people’s businesses are because they might actually really be on the thread of a failing, at least the people running them might believe that. And it’s just a, it would be great if the cities took more leadership and saying, how are we actually going to make it?

So in the medium term, while before we have. The great transit infrastructure that allows for everyone to not have to drive to your business or most people to not drive to your business. When we don’t have that infrastructure, how can we have an in between step of people being able to perceive that they have parking nearby and you don’t have to worry about it.

[00:26:42] Dan: Yeah.

[00:26:43] Danny: Which is, we just don’t have people who are, we’re solving that problem proactively for business owners. And the assumption is a business owner is going to figure it out, except most business owners can’t, like they don’t have the capacity, they don’t have the tools, it’s not their business and they’re just going to get pissed off.

[00:26:55] Jamie: Well, and when you’re talking about something on the street or, you know, it’s like, No one can figure it out, like, unless you want it to be your full time job.

[00:27:03] Danny: And then suddenly, like, some guy comes and then there’s a bus stop in front of your business you didn’t know about. Or, like, there’s, like, and, like, big things about the front of your business change, and it’s not your street, it’s the city’s street, which, and the community, which is reasonable and appropriate, except, you know, your business is there, and if your business can’t survive, you’re gonna have an empty business at that corner instead of, like, it’s a serious thing.

[00:27:22] Jamie: Oh, yeah, yeah. And I think the thing, you know, people see things like a bus stop or a bike lane and, you know, business owners and we’re like, Oh, that’s going to make it hard for my customers, uh, or, you know, hard for me to attract customers. Cause there’s less parking, but, you know. I think of it as like, Oh, it’s going to make it way easier to attract customers who take the bus or bike.

But if there’s a bike lane on, you know, getting put in in front of my business and it doesn’t connect to a really good bike infrastructure,

[00:27:49] Ian Buck: Sure, the rest of the network kind of thing,

[00:27:50] Jamie: then it’s like, well, that’s going to make it really easy if anyone ever shows up in a bike, but how are they going to get here? And you know, like we chose the location we chose partially because it’s by the light rail, you know, or three blocks from the light rail, we’re right by. A whole bunch of bus lane, uh, you know, major bus line change stuff on lake. Um, but you know, if, if the city can’t make people shovel their sidewalks in the winter, you know, like if we don’t have municipal sidewalk clearing and there’s no enforcement for the fast food place around the corner from us, who has never once in the three years they’ve been open, you know, since the Arby’s burnt down and they rebuilt never once shoveled their sidewalks.

You know, and that’s like 200 feet between the light rail and us. And you know, that’s like, yay, our employees and customers can take the light rail. Oh, it’s not that great when there’s three feet of snow that’s been packed down into ice. Um, so yeah, I think that there’s just, there’s a lot of opportunity to make changing the parking situation, not as scary, but it’s a thing where, yeah, people aren’t, or governments aren’t thinking about it from that small business perspective. They’re thinking about it more from like the bigger picture or like accomplishing one thing. Perspective.

[00:29:06] Danny: And so much of some of these changes are like long term big things. And I would love to see more bike infrastructure. That’s a good thing. And I’d love to see more transit infrastructure. But also I know that like most businesses are not likely in the short term to see dramatic increases in their customers because of bike infrastructure right now. It might be the right thing to do, but like something, it needs to be a more holistic perspective on how we support Small businesses and make these and make these things changes work while not just taking away parking and making people pissed off and margin smaller.

[00:29:32] Dan: Yeah, and a lot of us small business owners are just like downright reactionary kind of like how you said Danny that you just don’t you don’t want change You’re like you’re gripping on tight to this, you know, not that you got put together this Thing that seems to work more or less and any any change in the formula even down to like putting in like a curb bump out You know that’s gonna take away one parking spot. It gets met with just a huge amount of resistance and it’s just that’s just the nature of being a small business owner That’s kind of drives that mentality and I think like a lot of leadership in the city just doesn’t want to work with that They’re just like yeah “You people are impossible, I don’t want to engage with that”, but somehow we do need to engage, and we do need to like, figure out how to make this work, and to kind of like, tilt things toward having a more multi modal way of interacting with businesses in the cities.

Because, what’s happening now, it’s just, it’s not fun to like, walk across Lake Street to like go from Moon Palace to Target if you happen to have errands at both places or it’s not fun to cross Grand Avenue during rush hour when cars are going like 45 miles an hour down the street and somehow we need to like change that so you feel like being on foot in that neighborhood.

[00:30:45] Ian Buck: One, one way that I’ve heard it framed before is like, concern that like, Oh, if, if I don’t have enough parking at my business, then customers are going to go to businesses out in the suburbs where there is enough parking. And the, the, the way that I think about it is like, there is no way that we in the cities can compete with suburban businesses on the realm of parking.

Right? Like, that’s just, that is a losing battle already. So, what are the unique aspects of the urban core that we can emphasize, that we can really lean into, you know, that makes our businesses and our spaces, like, desirable places to visit? Things that like, that the suburbs can’t do as well as we can.

The walkability, you know, making it fun to hang out there is, is I think the key.

[00:31:33] Dan: You’re, you’re looking at me, so maybe…

[00:31:35] Ian Buck: I am. Yeah. Well, cause I mean, you, you, you led me to that segue. Yeah.

[00:31:39] Dan: Yeah. Well, I mean, the city’s just fundamentally different. I mean, the way malls manage things, strip malls or whatever, it’s, you just get chain stores, mostly.

It’s really hard to like start up an independent business and, you know, uh, Pretty much any street car corner in the Twin Cities in Minneapolis or Saint Paul. There’s still to this day, you know, a mix of really interesting businesses at these streetcar intersections, you know, everywhere you go. Whether, you know, it’s Victoria and Grand or it’s Minnehaha and Lake, you know.

It’s totally a different experience and it’s multi ethnic and it’s, I mean, I was just thinking on the way over here. Actually, I was biking home from the doctor. I had a doctor appointment in St. Louis Park, I’m going down the Greenway, and I smelled, I was hungry, I smelled like tacos or something, and I was like, what the, and I was like, oh, I gotta find, I came up out of the Greenway, and I found the taco truck, and I’m like, this is heaven, I love this, right on Lake Street, and that’s what it means to be in the city, and you don’t have that kind of experience, I mean, I grew up in the suburbs and you just, everything is planned and the city experience isn’t planned. It allows you to discover.

[00:32:52] Danny: Yeah. I mean, I think a critical mass of like interesting destinations, you don’t need a hundred of them at your stop, but if you have a handful of them, like where it feels like it has character, it feels like it’s an enjoyable thing to walk around once you get there. You know, once you get out of your car or vehicle or bus or whatever it is.

But I think that, like, the premise of your question I have a little bit of a challenge with because I don’t think we have – we’re not trying to compete with the suburbs in the quantity of parking. I think we can compete with the suburbs and you can go to the city. You can drive to the city if you want, or take any of the variety of other ways to get there.

And you might, it’s not going to be as convenient as the suburbs and a giant parking lot at the mall. But if you can park within a couple blocks of where you’re going, you know, it’s not as easy, but we can pull that off most places. And then we have all of these creative destinations and, you know, more character and nice boulevards, hopefully. And. Walkable pedestrian areas.

[00:33:41] Jamie: Yeah. Well, and cities always have, you know, something that like strip malls and malls aren’t going to have as those kind of business owners and businesses that are just like people’s passion. That’s weird. There’s always pockets of city that are,

[00:33:57] Ian Buck: Oh, that’s one of the things that I love about the Seward neighborhood.

It’s just like how many weirdos there are who started businesses here.

[00:34:04] Jamie: And there’s always a pocket of a city that’s like the lower rent area. Um, That people are kind of like carving out to be like, all right, you know, we can afford to have our shop that sells this weird thing here, caters to this smaller community. You know, I think you just have a better experience a lot of times, you know, and sure there might not be as much parking, but you know, like I, I want to go to places that are, that I can walk to generally. So, you know, that makes cities way better than, you know, we’ve, we’ve beat the suburbs right there.

[00:34:37] Ian Buck: Sure. Sure. Yeah

[00:34:38] Jamie: For me personally.

[00:34:41] Dan: I know what you mean. I, I happened to have an errand that I needed like some like touch up paint, right? I thought, well, why don’t I try out the scale model supply place on Lexington and University? I’ve never been in there. I lived in the neighborhood for like 25 years. Never been in there. I walked down in there. Oh my god. It’s like a whole they have the whole basement. It’s like obviously somebody’s passion –model trains models of all sorts And i’m like blown away. I’m like, holy smoke and you wouldn’t guess it from the little door out front But there’s like There’s hundreds of little businesses exactly like that all throughout the city that it’s just somebody loves what they’re doing here.

[00:35:18] Jamie: Not that people, there’s no one in the suburbs that loves what they’re doing, but it’s just yeah, like you find You just have a much better chance in the city of finding something that’s, you know, and a bunch of those things, uh, you know, near each other.

[00:35:32] Danny: I think there are things we can do to support the density of those kinds of things and make more people want to open those kinds of businesses, and it would be great if there was more focus on that.

Because I mean, I think that’s a large part of why people want to come to a city and like walk around to shop in a city versus going to a mall.

[00:35:47] Ian Buck: Maintaining, uh, like turnover, a healthy turnover of the people parking there and, you know, they’re there for as long as they’re, uh, you know, attending the businesses and then, and then they leave.

Uh, Dan, you mentioned that there’s theoretically one hour limit parking on Grand, you know, that’s one way to go for a city to go about it. Another way is metered parking, right? I actually charging for the parking. Do you, how do you guys feel about like, does that turn people off from wanting to come to an area enough?

[00:36:16] Jamie: I mean, it’s hard for me to answer those kinds of questions. Like when I want to go somewhere or do something, I’m going to do it. I’m going to figure it out. And like, if I’m not riding my bike or walking, if I’m driving, like. I’ll park further away, or I’ll plan to get there 20 minutes early so that I can find a parking space, or, you know, I’ll park somewhere and take the frequent bus that is, you know, just a quick zip down the road to that place.

Yeah, so I think it’s, and, and I think what Dan was talking about, like, I’m less concerned about the turning over parking. I would love to see people parking there and then spending their day just wandering around.

[00:36:54] Ian Buck: But like you mentioned, Oh, we might have this big, like backup of stuff because, you know, there’s a bus that can’t get around or whatever. And one of the things that you mentioned was a person who just like has been parked there for two days. So like, that’s the kind of scenario that we want to avoid.

[00:37:08] Jamie: Yeah. Well, and you know, I think Dan’s idea or not really your idea, but you’re pointing out if there’s a designated delivery space and people can’t park in, it doesn’t matter how long someone’s parked there.

[00:37:19] Ian Buck: That’s fair.

[00:37:20] Jamie: Right. Yeah. Most places there’s like no parking, like most business districts, there’s no parking for a couple hours every night in a way to kind of encourage people to not abandon their vehicles there, right?

[00:37:32] Danny: Yeah I mean Lyndale sort of interesting because there is a density of businesses but there’s also residential on the blocks and mostly residential on some of the blocks and there’s like mostly no parking restrictions so like people do just park in front of their apartment building for the whole, you know, for however many days.

And I think that like the availability to having to pay a little bit for parking is much less of a concern for most customers than worrying about not being able to park. So like, it feels like we have a pretty easy step we could take as a community of just like having relatively cheap metered parking or even just like two hour parking limits and you know, it’d be a good start.

[00:38:07] Ian Buck: Yeah. I think it’s definitely important to acknowledge that, like, Everybody’s going to have a very different set of like what they’re willing to do and not do in a situation. Right. You know, like a cheap metered parking might not be an issue for some people, but for others that are like diehard, I should never have to pay for parking. And so they’re never going to come.

[00:38:26] Dan: I’m sure a long time Streets.mn readers will know. The, the Grand Avenue Armageddon from about 12 years ago, when they suggested putting meters in on grand, oh my God, you’d think that the mayor was suggesting shooting puppies in gravel pits or something. It was, it was,

[00:38:43] Ian Buck: no, that’s, that’s South Dakota.

[00:38:44] Dan: I’m sorry. I’m transposing. Um, yeah, it was horrible. It was like the worst thing ever. And I don’t think it’s going to be brought up again on grand Avenue for another generation or two, just because people got so mad about it. And it’s just a small change to say, “Hey, this isn’t free parking. Even if we’re not paying for it with a meter, it’s still not free. Somebody’s paying for it.”

[00:39:06] Ian Buck: Yeah.

[00:39:07] Jamie: Yeah. And I think that it’s really hard for all of us to kind of step back and see the bigger picture, just like it’s really easy as a business owner to get like totally, uh, upset about, you know, that curb moved one foot over or, you know, whatever, um, little thing, you know, people are like, I’m never going to pay that 50 cents to park there for an hour.

And it’s like, but then you’ll spend a dollar on gas and put 3 dollars of wear and tear on your tires to drive out to a place where you park and then spend half an hour of your time walking through a giant parking lot. Um, you know, like, I guess it’s worth the 50 cents.

[00:39:43] Ian Buck: I guess it is worth, you know, noting that some, a lot of those costs are kind of not invisible, but a lot less visible than the straight up like, yeah, 50 cents to park here.

[00:39:52] Jamie: Yeah. Yeah. And a lot of those costs are ultimately passed on to, uh, You know, future generations or anything that’s going to generate more pollution or use up more resources or cause more water runoff to flow down into the Gulf of Mexico, ultimately, like there’s, there’s costs to that.

[00:40:10] Ian Buck: Sure, sure, sure, sure. Yeah. And. You can’t, you can’t take every hot take that you see online, you know, with the same, same grain of salt, you know, like I’ve seen people who have said like, I don’t, I don’t feel comfortable, like taking my car to uptown and leaving it unlocked for a couple of minutes while I go into the store.

And I read that and I go, where in the Twin Cities are you comfortable doing that? That’s fricking insane.

[00:40:33] Jamie: Yeah, that’s. That’s weird. Yeah. I have been, you know, pretty anti car, pro biking, walking and all of that. But, you know, like I tore a calf muscle recently and, you know, like we have customers who have more kids or, you know, mobility issues, like, you know, we need so many modes of transit.

[00:40:55] Ian Buck: And I would like to note for the record that when you called, you know, uh, you were about to get on your way, you said like, Oh, is the parking okay over by your place?

[00:41:02] Jamie: Yeah, that was true. Okay, good. I knew what we’d be talking about. But actually, um, had I, uh, set my calendar correctly, normally I would have just biked over. Um, but because of this calf muscle tear, I can’t bike for a few more weeks. And, uh, so, you know, I’m so glad to be able to drive or yeah. It would be even cooler if there was like really frequent transportation that was easy to navigate. Yeah. Transportation.

[00:41:28] Dan: And your, your, your apartment needs some like bike racks of some sort.

I don’t know.

[00:41:32] Ian Buck: I agree. Yeah. Um.

[00:41:33] Dan: Get them on there. Get on them about that.

[00:41:34] Ian Buck: Well, so here’s the thing. Like if we want to, if, if we’re willing to walk about a block, as Danny said, you know, like there is Seward Cafe and the hardware store right across the street.

[00:41:46] Dan: One of the privileges of biking is you get to like usually lock up right in front of wherever you’re going.

[00:41:50] Ian Buck: That’s true. Yeah. Yeah.

[00:41:52] Dan: I take that seriously.

[00:41:55] Ian Buck: Do we have any other like final thoughts, any pressing things that anybody wanted to bring up that that we haven’t gotten to talk about yet?

[00:42:02] Jamie: I think I would just say because parking is really a municipal issue or a government issue, you can as a small business have your own parking, but it’s It’s more difficult and we do rely on, uh, on street parking more or shared parking.

And I think of it as a municipal issue. I would love to see municipalities, governments think more about small businesses and not just providing us parking, but when they’re changing things, thinking about how that impacts us, communicating with us, having better signage. If the road work is only happening during the week and businesses are really busy on weekends.

You know, take away those sidewalk closed signs on the weekend, uh, you know, or whatever, whatever, you know, like just if it would be really great if there were someone on every kind of like road redesign project, who actually was not just the small business pre project consultant, but like the. I’m in charge every day of making sure that, you know, like the delivery trucks can get to the businesses or that the customers can get down the sidewalk and cross the street or things like that.

So, um, and I think that comes up a lot with any, you know, we all want changes to the, you know, Parking situation and everything. But, uh, you know, that’s going to require street projects that oftentimes small businesses, I feel like we just kind of get rolled over where you’re like,

[00:43:29] Ian Buck: Oh, you think they should do more than just like send out a newsletter with construction updates every month or

[00:43:34] Jamie: invite us to 20 meetings two years before the road construction.

And then when it happens, have no one we can contact when there’s an issue. Yeah.

[00:43:43] Danny: I mean, sort of riffing off of that. I feel like there’s a tremendous lack of imagination of what could be possible and how our streets could be used at the municipal level around supporting small business nodes. And like, you know, you hear businesses complain about not having a parking space accessible or, you know, all the, whatever project taking away parking. And, but the context of it is almost always a more holistic thing that they’re in, which is like the city is not doing enough to support this business node and they’re not seen like, you know, despite playing this important role in the community, there’s not actually someone at City Hall or is thinking about how whatever vital business corridor it is, is working that there’s someone who’s thinking about the road reconstruction project and like the logistics of it.

But there’s no one thinking about, like, what are the complicated challenges in this great street that we all care about that has all these businesses that provide all this income to the city and tax revenue and everything else. And we could do so much more if we just had people who thought about this every day and were thinking about, You know, how to curate a great selection of independent businesses and help them work together and make the streets more attractive and figure out plowing issues and figure out landscaping that makes it more walkable and think about how to do shared parking, knowing that we can’t use the street in this way, you know, we need less space for park cars on the street so we can do all more of the other things, but we need to have a way for people to park.

And we don’t have a great bus infrastructure, like all the kind of stuff that’s like, we need more creative solutions and we can get past just talking about parking.

[00:45:09] Ian Buck: Yeah, like the mayor’s office seems very like responsive to say the downtown Alliance, right? You know, which is a lot of very large businesses that, you know, Come together to, to voice their opinions on things. And like, where is the responsiveness to small business owners?

[00:45:27] Danny: Yeah. I mean, from when I started my business in 2007, like through multiple city leadership teams, and I’ve always been interested in how cities can support small businesses and economic development. It was a really big learning curve for me when I realized there wasn’t someone in economic development who was thinking about this all the time, this kind of level, unlike despite being on a very busy corridor, it wasn’t on anyone’s radar.

They review the applications for that come in their door. But there wasn’t a proactive team that was thinking about like, how do we actually support this? And for me, like, it was obvious that like economic development is about giving us in a progressive city that cares about supporting independent business should be about in large part, supporting small independent businesses and making that work and community friendly ways.

And like, that just doesn’t, that’s not what economic development here mostly does. Like that’s, and the loan programs don’t, don’t support, like there’s all, there’s a whole layer of elements to this critique, but like, it’s just not what it’s designed to do. Um, which is a real problem.

[00:46:16] Dan: Yeah, I’d like to see city staff be more entrepreneurial and say, what can we do to increase investment and, and increase activity in this business node?

I’ve seen some of that with Saintt Paul particularly around Grand Avenue, where there’s a little bit of like moral panic right now about what Grand Avenue is going through. The city has been doing some visioning kind of sessions with the neighborhood and business owners, which is great, but we need more of that.

We need to, be looking at like every business mode and say, Hey, how can we get people to cross the street from, from this business to that business, you know, and, and get cars to slow down and make people feel comfortable being here and, and not just be thinking about throughput of traffic and, and making the city as efficient as possible to drive across or to drive out of, it needs to really be like an approach to saying, how can we engineer the environment so that people want to be here and stay here?

And once they’re out of their cars, they’re going to want to walk around and discover new things.

[00:47:13] Ian Buck: Thanks. I’m glad that we didn’t have to end on a downer there. Jamie, Danny, Dan, thanks for coming on the show.

[00:47:23] All guests: Thank you.

[00:47:24] Ian Buck: Thanks for joining us for this episode of the Streets.mn podcast. The show is released under a Creative Commons attribution, non commercial, non derivative license.

So feel free to republish the episode as long as you are not altering it and you are not profiting from it. The music in this episode is by Eric Brandt and the Urban Hillbilly Quartet. This episode was edited by Parker Seaman, aka StrongThany, and hosted by me, Ian R Buck and we’re always looking to feature new voices on the Streets.mn podcast, so if you have ideas for future episodes, drop us a line at [email protected]. Streets.mn is a community blog and podcast and relies on contributions from audience members like you. If you can make a one time or recurring donation, you can find more information about doing so at streets.mn/donate. Find other listeners and discuss this episode on your favorite social media platform using the hashtag streetsmnpodcast. Until next time, take care.

About Ian R Buck

Pronouns: he/him

Ian is a podcaster and teacher. He grew up in Saint Paul, and currently lives in Minneapolis. Ian gets around via bike and public transportation, and wants to make it possible for more people to do so as well! "You don't need a parachute to skydive; you just need a parachute to skydive twice!"