Signs of the Times

What Happened?!?

Contrary to what you may have heard, and the stores appearance, we are open for business. Here's what happened:

Due to several factors, including theft and music piracy, sales have declined nearly 70% in the last two years. As result, the powers that be decided to close the store. The inventory was osld off to a broker in Texas (don't worry, you didn't miss some giant blow out sale), and the building was to be leased to someone else. Unfortunately, the individual that was going to take over the lease backed out at the last minute. Since we now still have to pay rent on the building, it was decided to reopen, albeit on a smaller scale.

With that said, the only change we will undergo, aside from the look of the store, is that we will no longer stock most new CD's and DVD's. We will, however, have the newest releases availble each Tuesday, but they will only be available for a few weeks. We will continue to buy and sell used CD's, DVD's, and video games as we always have. We will still be able to order new CD's and DVD's, or find them used at other stores for you if you'd like. We have even added a machine that will let you burn whoel CD's, or even just the trackss you want, at 99 cents each. As always, anything you purchase at CD Warehouse is 100% guaranteed to play like new, or we'll replace it for you.

Thank you for your continued support
during this transition.

[4th St and 15th Ave SE (Dinkytown), Minneapolis MN]


RING BELL, WAIT 4 Seconds, Then Pull
Handle. "If You wait more than 8 seconds
the door will RELOCK!!"

[Chicago Ave and 29th St, Minneapolis MN]

It has come to our attention
at Chicago's Pizza that we are being
associated with a pizzeria with a
similar name located at
5602 N. Sheridan.
WE ARE NOT affiliated with
Chicago Pizza on Sheridan.
We have received several
complaints regarding food quality
here but we can't strees it enough that
we aren't related in any way to that store.

We apologize for any confusion.

[Somewhere in Chicago IL]

Stop trying to break in.
We leave no money here
and the alarm is turned on.
If you need money that bad,
Apply Within
(during open hours)

[Saratoga and Randolph Avenues, Saint Paul MN]

No Shirt
No Shoes
No Problem we've got them

[Lake Street and Bryant Avenue, Minneapolis MN]


Lake Street in a Day -- Part 3

For the purposes of this blog (and the walk), the third and final stretch of Lake Street runs from Interstate 35-W all the way to Lake Calhoun. This is the stretch of the street that most people know about, the part with all the good restaurants, new condos, fancy stores, and thriving streetlife. But to tell you the truth, for the first half of the street, practically up to Grand Avenue, Lake St. West doesn't seem that different from Lake St. Center. There is, for example, a large (outdoor) Somali (strip) Mall just off the street where you can walk around and browse wares from all over the world. Here's a shot of a curtain-selling storefront where "Romantic Houseful" curtains were stacked like bricks. I took a picture of them and a Somali woman came out of the store and started giving me the third degree. I don't think I was able to explain to her what urban geography was... How do you say 'irony' in Somali?

But as soon as you pass Grand Avenue (Dulono's Pizza & The Yukon Club) and draw near to Lyndale, the street tranforms into a yuppie paradise. Bill's Imported Foods stands across the street from the couple-year old City Apartments, about which I have roughly 60/40 love/hate feelings. The buildings are all new, and all the same size and age, but they make the Las Vegas-ian attempt to appear to be different, sporting one of four different facade/balcony/trip combinations as one walks down the block. I guess its better than nothing, and I'm generally pro-condo despite their obvious flaws. As I've been trying to point out during this three-part series, there are tons of open spaces along Lake Street that could be filled in with some sort of housing/retail mix. (Just next door to this condo, they're doing just that with an old gas station site.)

As you draw closer to Hennepin Lake Street changes from a two way to a one way street as it splits with Lagoon. This is something that I never really understood, as it increases the speed of traffic along the most pedestrian-rich part of the avenue. (What, people need to get to Lund's at 45 m.p.h.?) There's some sort of construction project going on here, too, about which I plead ignorance. Interesting to note that, even here only two blocks from Calhoun Square (another interesting topic) there's a Car-X auto repair shop that takes up an entire block...

Finally getting to Uptown proper (the corner of Lake & Hennepin), I noticed a number of changes... First, a new Thai Restaurant was opening up where Panera Bread had opened up less than a year prior; here's the guy actually stenciling the restaurant's hours onto the door. Now I know that a) most restaurants don't last very long, and b) Panera Bread kind of sucks, but shouldn't Panera make money here? Maybe Uptowners are getting tired of chain stores... (Haha. Not!)

Or are they? Calhoun Square isn't actually that successful, and on top of it, the Gap (@ Hennepin & Lake) has closed, along with American Eagle, to be replaced with a new American Apparel outlet. Now, I don't understand the appeal of this last (Wow, a red T-shirt!), but there's very little that warms my heart more than a faded gap in the blue paint where the Gap logo used to be (pictured at right). Am I a snob? Very well, then, I'm a snob. But I'm really intrigued by the kind of chain ordinances with which Grand Avenue has recently been toying. Are they right for Uptown or Lake Street? Probably not. There's so much space on this street, and its potential as a walkable commercial corridor is pretty high, that there's plenty of potential Panera nooks and Gap gaps. (BTW The Gap's been seeing hard times lately, not just in Mpls, but sales are down across the country.)

Anyway, my walk down Lake Street was satisfying, not just because I got to dip my toes into Lake Calhoun on a windy day in early summer, but because walking down the entire length of this vital Minneapolis street really gives you a sense of the continuity of the city, of all the different populations that make up our
urban fabric, and the way that negihborhoods subtly change between them. At the same time, Lake Street is undergoing a gradual shift from an auto-oriented service "strip" to a pedestrian-friendly shopping street. Its not there yet, but someday Lake Street will really be the heart of Minneapolis.


Lake Street in a Day -- Part 2

The middle third of Lake Street is in many ways the most interesting part of the street. It's what lies between Highway 55 (Hiawatha) and Interstate 35W, and is a main street for many of the poorer communities in South Minneapolis (Phillips and Central neighborhoods). Not only that, but this stretch of Lake has a higher density than the Eastern third (Part 1 here), with much larger (often industrial) buildings, in general, and a number of key corners with a lot of commercial activity (e.g. Lake & Bloomington, Lake & Chicago).

That said, I was struck again at the frequency of dingy car lots along the way. For example, at right is Freedom Auto Sales, one of the more depressing auto vendors thatI saw on my daytrip.

The frequency of old industrial spaces along the route, combined with the density of ethnically diverse populations along the way, makes for a lot of interesting uses of space once you get past the cemetery that runs for four blocks along the route.

From a strictly infrastructural point of view, though, the Phillips neighborhood isn't that different from the Uptown and Longfellow neighborhoods on either side of the two freeways that run through South Mpls. This is a picture of an alley running through a residential neighborhood of two-story wooden homes on decent-sized plots. I love the alleys in Minneapolis. I think they're great, pedestrian friendly spaces that accomplish a number of useful tasks for the city: keeping cars off the streets, keeping cars moving slowly, providing important public and infrastructural spaces for homeowners. This one looks particularly like a roller coaster.

This is a shot of the headquarter site for the Immigrant Rights rally and fast that marched down Lake at the same time we were there. They took one of the street's ubiquitous surface parking lots and turned it into a 10 day rallying point for their cause, complete with crosses (to commemorate the lives of those who died crossing the border?) and tents and microphones and a Catholic shrine. T'was a pretty interesting sight.

This part of the street, between about 14th Avenue and basically all the way to the Interstate, has a number of different marketplaces, including Mercado Central by Bloomington Ave. (the large Latino indoor marketplace), Sabri's mercado by Clinton Ave. (a run-down version of same), and the old Sears Building complex (now called Midtown Global Market). This last is the city's grand scheme, at Lake and Chicago, to attempt to reuse the gigantic old Sears warehouse and turn it into a mixed use center for the neighborhood. Whether or not its successful at this point is a matter for its own post, but given enough time I think the MGM will turn out to be a real asset for the community, and will hopefully help reintegrate some of the money-laden into the neighborhood.

Meanwhile, the area around Lake & Chicago is still the center for a number of communities of color. Robert's shoes ("Hardly a Shoe we Can't Fit!") sits on the corner and is well worth a stop for the footloose and fancy free. The only gun shop in the city of Minneapolis sits on Chicago Avenue, right up the block from this abandoned store (pictured at right) whose only purpose seemed to be to sell this one piano that's barely visible past the glare, inside the empty room. Chicago Liquors, the site of many a MPD incident, sits on the corner too. The main question about this area remains: How will the recent amenities -- the Greenway bike trail (@ 29th St.), the brand new streetscaping, the new bus stop/"transit center", and the Sears redevelopment -- how will these infrastructural improvements change the neighborhood, if at all?

Meanwhile, as you walk from Chicago Avenue over to the freeway, it gets progressively more auto-centric and dingy, as would be expected in freeway-proximate places. My favorite detail is the way that 35-W has a bus stop along it, with stairs going up from the Lake Street to the side of the interstate. It's really two different worlds: the world of the pedestrian walking alongside a slew of interesting shops, down a dense, commercial street in a big city, and the world of commuters, eight lanes wide, speeding along at 70 mph and 20 mpg. The come together at this staircase, and you can for yourself how odd the juxtaposition can be.

Update: Obviously that immigrant rights rally has worked wonders with local governments: Yesterday at noon, over two hundred community members gathered at the corner of Lake Street and Bloomington Avenue in South Minneapolis to witness an undetermined Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) operation...


Lake Street in a Day -- Part 1

The other day my friend and I decided to walk the length of Lake Street in Minneapolis, just to see what we could see along the way. We began at the Mississippi and headed for Lake Calhoun at around 11:30, on a nice, warm, windy day in May. I'm pretty familiar with Lake Street, as is most everybody in Minneapolis, but Lake Street is constantly changing. Its such a diverse mix of commercial, residential and even some industry, not to mention the way that the history of Twin Cities urban development visible along the way, not to mention the way the street functions as a microcosm of the ethnic and economic diversity of the entire metro. It's no exagguration to say that it is probably the most interesting road for hundreds of miles in any direction. This is me heading out, starting at the Lake/Marshall Bridge over the river...

There was road construction for about the first ten blocks (from W River Blvd to 36th Ave or so) as the city was completing the final stages of their multi-year streetscaping project, a total restructuring of the sidewalks, curbs, and trees along the road.

But almost the first thing we saw (@ about 43rd Ave) was a parade of latino people marching, some wearing indigenous headdresses and beating drums, some waving American flags, all walking down the sidewalk towards us. It turns out they were marching all the way to the State Capitol (farther!) after a 10 day fast to try and acheive action on immigrant rights in the U.S. A friend of mine was marching with them and it seemed an auspicious beginning to our own Lake Street walk.

The first third of Lake St, stretching from the river to Highway 55 (Hiawatha) gradually evolves from a upper-middle residential (along the river) to a middle class residential neighborhood to a much more industrial corridor as you approach the old railroad tracks parallel to the freeway. Because of that, once you get a few blocks past the river (and its new mixed-use condo development @ W River Road), Lake St in this stretch has a lot of large, liminal spaces -- big old buildings like the American Rug Laundry, a block-long "machinery" store with all sorts of industrial gadgets inside, and a great many automotive dealerships and repair shops. Pictured above right is an old, large brick building that used to be the "Riverside Clubhouse," (with Six Packs to Go!), and didn't seem to be used for much of anything any more.

In fact, considering how relatively well-off this neighborhood (Longfellow) probably is, it was surprising to me how little commercial space there was along this stretch of Lake: along with the aforementioned rug cleaners and car shops, there was a leather cleaners, union headquarters, some office space, a record shop (where I bought an old 78), old churches, gas stations, &c. There were maybe two restaurants or bars, one coffee shop, and no retail stores apart from ubiquitous the Super America (which was involved in putting Molly Quinn's, one of the more successful bars in the area, out of business).

It wasn't a total retail wasteland, but it certainly didn't have the density of many commercial corridors that I've seen in other cities. But while there were many spaces for rent or unused, the stretch didn't really seem economically depressed. It's just kind of a spread out, really blue collar street at this point, and it only gets more so as you approach the Hiawatha interchange.

In fact, the stretch in the photo at right is probably the most densely active corner along the whole stretch (if you discount the Big Box retail... more on that later). There's a hardware store, a braid store, the MN School of Barbering, and a store that offers "gold teeth". Its pretty close to Joe's Garage, a nice lil' restaurant/bar in an old auto repair shop.

But, much more frequent along Lake Street is this kind of business, the mid-50's small used car lot. This one, Bob Kennedy Motors (since 1951) is one of the nicer along the road, but there are probably more than 50 used car lots and auto repair/auto parts places (Car Quest, Tires Plus, or small independent shops) along Lake Street, from edge to edge, and they represent probably the largest single land use on the street, and the car businesses make for a rather awkward marriage with the commercial and retail aspects of the street. The aforemetioned Joe's Garage is only one example of the intermingling of car and people-focused uses, but there were a number of times when I was struck by the way that car dealerships were right next to food establishments: Midas Mufflers shares space with a Subway sandwhich shop, a Chinese food place is located right in a used car lot... maybe there's some shared cost savings for the engine and cooking oils, but it seems a rather odd mix of land uses, and is actually kind of a problem for enhancing the future walkability of the street.

One of the interesting details of this photo is the way that the new, streetscaped sidewalk comes up to the car lot... Minneapolis finally invested in some infrastructure improvements laong Lake Street a few years ago, and this stretch along East Lake is the last part of the avenue to get made over. They windened and repoured all the sidewalks along the route, added bumpouts to slighgly calm the traffic, and re-did the tree plantings. I guess the idea is to improve the pedestrian experience along the route, and in the picture at right you can see where the new sidewalk replaces the old sidewalk (right in front of the E. Lake White Castle). So far, I'm not that impressed with the new sidewalk... its so bright and glare-y, and the trees have yet to attain any sort of respectable size. Time will tell, though, and in a few years I think the Lake Street pedestrian experience will be vastly improved. It might even start a renaissance along the boulevard, and maybe someday a few of these car dealers might become corner stores, bars, or shops.

But one big obstacle along the way is the Target/Cub Foods located at Lake & Minnehaha, right next to the LRT stop. It's this vast wasteland of parking lots, and probably did as much to suck the retail life out of the surrounding neighborhoods as any economic depression. Of course, people like shopping at Target, which is why they make money, but that doesn't mean that having this giant big box/grocery complex on the corner of one of the city's premiere retail corridors isn't counterproductive. Not only that, but it makes for a pretty unaesthetic part of the walk, and its located right between the LRT stop and the densest part of E. Lake, the block just East of Minnehaha Avenue. I've marked in red all the spaces along Lake Street that are lined with parking lots, for whatever reason, and as you can see, the Target plaza is the largest auto-dependent use along the street.

More to come in Lake Street in a Day -- Part 2


Chain of Lakes v. The Emerald Necklace

I'm finally done with my semester's toil, and thought I'd share with you the project I was just working on. The assignment was to compare, in some way, the 19th c. park systems in Minneapolis and Boston: the so-called 'chain of lakes' and the so-called 'emerald necklace'. Which chain is stronger? Which looks more beautiful draped around your neck? Which is forged from the most precious material?

Well, I was lucky enough to be in Boston over Spring Break, back in March, and I walked with my sister through the stretch of the Emerald Necklace from Brookline Village down to Jamaica Pond and over to Franklin Park. It was a nice day, though it snowed two days later, and I had an interesting experience.

This first picture was my first impression of the Riverwalk, what the Bostonians I know call the park along the Muddy River. As you can see, except for the March weather and lack of greenery, it look a lot like the Minnehaha Creek park in Minneapolis... wide open spaces through which runs a paved pedestrian path, replete with benches, receptacles, geese, and yuppie dogwalkers. The 'river', which at this point was split up into many small rivulets which formed something F.L. Olmsted (the park's designer) called Leverett Pond, was small and trickly, and struck a pleasant appearance on the eye.

So far, so good... the problem arose when I came to a bridge, which you can see in this second picture.

I walked over the bridge, as one does with bridges, and found myself amidst a completely different landscape, allatonce like...

Here I was wandering, kind of lost, down a muddy path through the woods that seemed to stray back and forth without any clear purpose or direction. It wasn't bad, but it was muddy, my shoes were getting dirty, and I wasn't sure that I was enjoying the new landscape. My sister and I wandered around in the forest for a spell, kind of tromping through weeds and swamps, sticks and leaves, over bogs and mud puddles until we glimpsed it, through the trees... the other side of the creek!

Finally, we'd found a bridge across the river and could join the civilized, park-going masses. Finally we could stroll peacfully down the gauntlet of geese, making our way at good pace towards Jamaica Pond, our distant destination. But I'd learned something on my brief foray into the woods... I'd learned that I don't like muddy leafless urban forests in March. And I'd learned that Boston's Emerald Necklace was weird.

In a way, the landscape reminded me of Chicago's Woody Island, another project that Olmsted had his hand in, or certain parts of Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis. Walking aroundthese places, or along the wrong side of the Riverwalk, its easy to feel intimidated by your surroundings. After all, you're in a large city, and some sort of creepy stalker could jump out at you from behind any bush. (I have seen weird people in the woods, you know. (Hell, I've probably been one of them.)) It's an interesting feeling, and it made me wonder what was going on with Olmsted's Bostonian park.

Compare the experience with my recent trip through Minneapolis's Minnehaha Creek park, where everything is green and sunny, the birds sing in the trees, lil' children frolic in the grass and men sing love songs as they bike, alone, wearing a helmet, down the creek-side path. (Seriously, this happened.)

At the very least, even if its not Sesame Street, the Minnehaha Creek park has a far more uniform presentability. Here's a snapshot of the well groomed pedestrian path running along the creek.

... and here's another one, of a god-damned Edenic bench placed where the creek runs into Lake Nokomis.

Finally, here's a vista view of the park running lenghtwise, from somewhere around 21st Avenue S. You have to admit it looks nice, and even if you imagine Boston's Muddy River in the summer greenery, it would still be kinda crappy looking compared to this.

Now my question for you, good readers, is this:

Why the big difference between the two parks? They were both made at around the same time (1880-1895), they were both designed by famous Victorian landscape architects (Fredereick Olmsted for Boston, Horace Cleveland for Minneapolis), and they both run along creeks through relatively wealthy, but urban, areas. What could possibly explain why one park is so different from the other?

(Any guesses? Answer will come soon!)


Coffeeshop Chameleon

I was at a coffee shop in Minneapolis the other day and I saw this student stuying at a table. At first glance, she was dutifully typing on one of those new black Macbooks, but then I looked again, because something didn't seem right. For one thing, all the inputs were at the back of the computer, and there were all these jagged unclean lines around the screen panel. Then I saw what was going on.

She'd put a Apple logo over the top of the Dell logo, and it blended in almost seamlessly.