Sidewalk of the Week: Payne Avenue

Diversity is a misleading concept. A lot of people think it means people of different skin color, or people from different parts of the world.

Sure, that's part of the picture. But it's not the whole story. For example these people all come from different parts of the world, but I bet they all shop at the same high-end London haberdasheries.

Diversity really means different ways of living a life in the world. And in the most diverse parts of the city, you'll find a heap of different kinds of buildings, houses, yards, landscapes, stores, etc. You'll find people using space in entirely contrasting ways.

[A mural on the side of a general store.]

The sidewalks of Payne Avenue, just north of Maryland, are a good example, This is an old neighborhood, and walking around you see so many different kinds of buildings. This is not your cookie cutter street. Even though a lot of the houses look home made, there is no ticky-tacky here.

[An odd arrangement of house.]

Instead, there are weird buildings. A long house, all one story with no windows, attached to a factory-esque attachment. Old brick retail space now being lived in, attached to other spaces. Modern poured concrete stores. Places built one hundred years ago and places built in the 1970s sit next to each other, a mish mash quilt of ages, sizes, and building types.

[Two old buildings stitched together.]

Part of the reason this part of the city is so diverse is that there were no rules about how to build buildings. Some of the time, immigrants built their own homes, cobbling together whatever they could find. Most of the homes and buildings were mixes of different styles, incorporating features without any pre-determined plan. Surprisingly, most of these homes are still standing, and have been modified throughout the years in an endless variety of ways. Buildings that were originally stores have been re-used in new ways.

[Furniture sits inside the window alcoves of the furniture store.]

The coffee shop on the corner is a meeting place for many of the different types of people. So much so, in fact, that the Star Tribune found the place newsworthy recently:

Ground Zero for strategic planning is Polly's Coffee Cove, about 3,000 miles, stylistically speaking, from the nearest Starbucks. The shop, which opened in 1921 as a Swedish grocery store, is decorated in Tiki kitsch, antiques, stuffed Elmos and Mickeys.


In this hot spot, located in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood on St. Paul's East Side, the buzz is palpable on this Saturday morning. Neighbors in sweat shirts and jeans, from their 30s to 70s, pull up chairs, fill up on Peace Coffee, schmooze with three police officers who seem very much at home.

The article is mostly about the crime problems around Lake Phalen, but the coffee shop is a crazy and interesting place, filled with the kind of random bits of matter that come with only the most idiosyncratic of shop keeps: parrot paraphernalia, nautical nets, palm trees, kids books, wooden boats, old stoves, klatch, knick-knacks, doo-dads, bric-a-brac.

It's as diverse as the sidewalks of Payne Avenue.

[Signs, yellow men, and file cabinets on the sidewalks of Payne Avenue.]

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