Politically bookended by the dogged, probably all-male Libertarian Party of Minnesota headquarters on one end, and the longstanding (hopefully female) quality newspaper, Minnesota Women's Press, on the other, the sidewalk along Raymond Avenue is this week's Twin Cities' Sidewalk of the Week. Where else can you find such a spectrum? Congratulations!
In a way, stepping down Raymond Avenue is like stepping back in time, wading through a yellow fog of modernity, and standing on tiptoes of timelessness to peer through the knothole of The Now into the hearts of Saint Paul's Hamden Park. (So to speak...) What I mean is, the two block stretch of businesses that runs along the West side of the street boasts of the kind of retail diversity you rarely find any more in the Twin Cities: two restaurants (Key's and Jay's), a host of really small offices including a print shop, a newspaper, a political office, and a karate studio, a hardware store, an antiques shop, and a medium sized grocery store called Herbst Maket which doesn't appear to have changed one iota since the mid 60s -- in other words, canned vegetables abound around the meat counter. This sidewalk's vibrancy really sets a high bar for the University Avenue area, and I think there are only certain parts of the Asian districts of the street can match its pedestrian attraction.
My sense is that this stretch of sidewalk, practically the only retail corner along this largely industrial section of University Avenue, serves as the Main Street for Saint Paul's Hamden Park neighborhood, located just North of this corner along Raymond Avenue. Somehow the folks that live around here have managed to support their grocer and the hardware store and keep them afloat for all these years.
One of the things that makes this sidewalk so interesting is the way in which the businesses extend out onto the street, forming a kind of arching tunnel of trees, shop signs, grass & tables through which one is invited to amble. For example, [photo at right] the vintage store, Succotash, puts some of their awesome 60's furniture out on the street, inviting anyone to place their tuchas into an antique chair. Jay's Cafe, too, has under-umbrella sidewalk dining, a rarity in this part of Saint Paul
Another of Raymond Avenue's nice sidewalk features is the rear-of-the-building parking lots, that presumably date back to the time before cars (a.k.a. B.C.). The sign for Noll Hardware [pictured at right] points to the parking in the rear of the building, and cars can drive down the little dirt alleyway to a parking lot that doesn't intrude at all on the sidewalk retail frontage. This alley is perhaps a little narrow for drivers today, but, really, new businesses thinking of ways to incorporate additional parking ought to really consider this kind of parking structure. All it takes is a little bit of fore knowledge on the customer's part, and you have parking lots and sidewalks harmoniously working together. The sidewalk keeps its finely woven fabric, its window'd warp and dog walk'd woof. If only every sidewalk could be so lucky.