Sidewalk of the Week: Lyndale and 27th Street

[The laundromat boasts an awesome Jack mural.]
You’re starving and the fridge is empty. It’s a good thing you live on Lyndale Avenue.

“Hey honey?” you shout. “I’m going to get something at the café. Do you need anything?”

“Oh? Sunnyside?” she asks.

“Yeah, I was thinking hashbrowns” you say.

“Well, in that case I could use some tea” she says.

You smile. “No problem. I’ll pick you up some Earl Gray.” You head for the door, but just before you open it you look back and catch her eye.

“Oh,” she says remembering something. “Can you grab a new soccer ball? Our last one’s wearing thin.”

“OK. Sure. Why not?” you reply. Your hand is hovering just over the doorknob.

“... and you might as well throw these towels into the laundry while you’re out.” She tosses you a pile of dirty dishtowels, and you catch them with one hand.

“Got it.”

And life just seems so easy, until you remember one more thing. Like Columbo, you turn and pause and clutch at your forehead.

"Just one more thing, before I forget” you add, with a long pause. “Do you want me to pick up the vacuum cleaner while I'm out? The repairman called the other day, and it’s ready down at the shop”

“Great idea!” she chimes. “See you in twenty minutes!”

And with that you almost jump through the doorway into the warm summer air, heading for the corner of Lyndale and 27th.

[The old Sunnyside Café window, and the neighboring two-story buildings.]

This fantastic tale may seem like something out of science fiction. Surely that's not possible in today's modern Minneapolis, you mutter.

But friend, not so long ago, this was the reality of daily life on Lyndale Avenue. The corner of Lyndale and 27th was home to perhaps the most eclectic string of shops in the entire city. Within one string of old buildings lurked: a laundromat, a breakfast joint, a tea shop, a vacuum cleaner store, and a soccer equipment place. On top, there sits a set of old apartments. Such an odd assemblage is rare in our Twin Cities, and while these buildings may not be long for this world, it’s worth pausing for a moment and reflecting on their service to our community.

In her magnum opus, Jane Jacobs takes pains to emphasize the importance of old buildings in changing cities:

Time makes the high building costs of one generation the bargains of a following generation. Time pays off original capital costs, and this depreciation can be reflected in the yields required from a building. Time makes certain structures obsolete for some enterprises, and they become available to others. Time can make the space efficiencies of one generation the space luxuries of another generation. One century's building commonplace is another century's useful aberration.

[from Death and Life Chapter 10, The need for aged buildings.]
As Jacobs argues, old buildings serve an important function by providing "low rent" space for new business (or in this case, really quirky businesses) that might not be able to afford the kind of ground floor retail you might find in a new condominium. And Jacobs' maxim couldn't be more true than for the block at Lyndale and 27th, which was (until recently) composed almost entirely of oddball quirky establishments.

[The awesome mural on the side of the old Vacuum and soccer ball store.]
But, today this block is a little bit sad. As you might be aware, the three buildings on this corner may not be long for this world. The new condos across the street attest to how this stretch of Lyndale Avenue has become a prime location for new development. And you might be aware that a while back stories appeared in all the local papers that these three or four buildings were going to be torn down and replaced with Minneapolis’ first Trader Joe’s grocery and liquor store. According to the rough sketches, it would have been a one-story building with a large parking lot and curb cuts all around.

As it turns out, the vagaries of local Minneapolis politics and blue laws may prevent Trader Joe’s from going forward with their nefarious plan. (The store would require a zoning exception to open its liquor store, and they likely won’t get the exception, and likely won’t open a food store without the revenue from four-buck chuck.) But TJ’s temporary demise likely won’t prevent the slow, gradual diminishment of this corner. The old breakfast joint, Sunnyside Café has been shuttered since last year. The block has certainly seen better days.

A friend of mine was doing laundry on this corner the other day and happened to chat with the man running the place. He asked him about Trader Joe’s, and it came out that the old man was the property owner for all three buildings, the very Joe who had made the deal to sell out.

My friend peppered him with questions. As it turns out, owning old buildings and running a laundromat is not all fun and games. The man described long days of maintenance, shoveling snow off the roof at all hours, and the fact that his children didn't seem interested in 'taking over' the family business. I guess they'd rather just have a bunch of money, which a big developer like Trader Joe's would throw at them.

And can you blame them? Maintaining old buildings and running a laundromat is a thankless task, and older undervalued buildings like this are always under pressure by developers looking to flip old property and "realize the potential" of a spot like this.

Still, though, this kind of thing always makes me sad. This is a classic case of undervalued non-auto oriented building stock. Maybe Minneapolis needs a campaign like the "Keep Austin Weird" mantra, whereby old quirky buildings and establishments are explicitly supported by the city. Meanwhile, if you want to increase density along Lyndale Avenue, there are plenty of spots with single-family homes where you could increase density (if you could somehow get zoning or permitting changes). It seems a shame to take out some of the already-existing mixed-use stock, like these class two-story retail & apartment buildings.

Seeing the gradual erosion of the city's most eccentric block of buildings makes me casts a shadow on future of Minneapolis. Are interesting places condemned to a fate of obsolescence? Are they playing out the rest of their commercial lives like a man on death row? Is post-modernist boredom the inevitable fate of Lyndale Avenue?

Time will tell. Meanwhile, if you want to buy some Earl Grey tea, you can visit the old batty couple in the tea shop. They're on a month-to-month lease.

[The tea shop's quirky window.]


Anonymous said...

One small correction. The new "condos" across the street are actually affordable housing.

Charlie Quimby said...

Back when they were doing the redevelopment between Loring Park and Nicollet in the '70s, I interviewed an old bookseller who had already moved his store three or four times for "urban renewal."

The city had offered some relocation money, as in previous times, but moving 200,000 old books isn't like moving a tea shop. Low rent space near foot traffic of the size he needed was becoming more scarce. And he'd done it too many times before.

This is the other meaning of "creative destruction."

Anonymous said...

the adult children of the old man who owns the property have worked in the business since childhood, the revenue barely covers the property taxes anymore, and they could really use "a bunch of money"to help make ends meet.

Alex said...

The Minneapolis equivalent of Keep Austin Weird would be something like Keep Minnesota Normal.

Phil said...

I'd like to inquire about doing a sponsored blog post - about 150-300 words that talks a little bit about Immigration Visas and links back to our site http://rapidvisa.com. We are a immigration visa company and thought we might be a good fit for your readers/visitors on http://tcsidewalks.blogspot.com/

Here's a list of some blog post titles we've done in the past:
- How to Get Your Marriage Visa
- Things To Know Before Applying For Your Immigration Visa
- How to Get Help With Your Immigration Process

Our budget is around $15 for the post. Is this something you'd be open to?

Also we might be interested in a small banner ad if the price is right.
Our budget is $40/year - something like this:

Let me know if you'd be open to either or both of these.

Also if you have some other sites just send them over and we might be interested in doing a sponsored post on there as well!



Bill Lindeke said...

thanks for the helpful comments (everybody but Phil)

Nathaniel said...

Ahhh Bill! Don't be hating on Phil. He's just trying get some people some quality Visas.

But seriously, I agree with everything you said. I'm not opposed to development on this site (I get it), but it needs to be an improvement or a creative re-use of existing space.

Uptown is folding and it's plans are being ignored (e.g.: One Story CB2 store) ...