Lots of businesses in St. Paul are capital “O” old.
They may not be old by the standards of the East Coast’s settlement, 400 years ago; but they are venerable for businesses.
Examples: In this neighborhood, Nelson’s Ice Cream dates back 92 years. Regina’s Fine Candies, a chocolate shop, is 89 years old. A. Johnson & Sons Florist began in its Grand Avenue location 79 years back. The local Carbone’s Pizza goes back 53 years, to 1962. Snuffy’s Malt Shop was founded in that location 32 years ago.
How many businesses in, say, Groton MA have that level of multi-generational longevity? Few or none (now that the Stagecoach Inn has burned down). How many would we find even in denser, inner Boston suburbs such as Newton or Wellesley? A few perhaps, but not in the profusion that obtains here. Even Boston would be hard-pressed to match the density of multi-generation businesses found in St. Paul’s Mac-Groveland neighborhood.
And note, Mac-Groveland is far from unique. A similar pattern would hold across other neighborhoods in this city (which has been called “fifteen small towns with one mayor,” owing to its neighborhood-based life).
Why do you suppose this is? It must go back to careful planning and design, on the part of some St. Paul officials, starting a century ago and extending over decades as this city was being built out from its original center.
The illustration shows nine super-blocks in and around the Macalester-Groveland neighborhood. Earlier, in the Alley post, I described the pattern of short and long blocks that characterizes these neighborhoods. What I am calling “super-blocks” (there must be an official name for these) consist of rough squares 4 long blocks by 6, 7, or 8 short ones. Ignoring intrusions such as Macalester College, the Tangletown region to its west, and Ayd Mill Road, the super-blocks are pretty uniform, with enough local variation to preserve interest and curb appeal. The border roads for the super-blocks are more major streets than the purely residential ones in the interior.
All of the businesses named above, and many more besides, cluster around the intersections that border the super-blocks: the E-W streets Marshall, Grand, St, Clair, and Randolph, crossed with the N-S ways Fairview, Snelling (labeled “51”), Hamline, and Lexington. No commercial businesses exist in the interiors of the super-blocks.
This must have been the result of careful planning and decades of meticulously enforced zoning.
The businesses at these intersections can all draw from a cachement area of at least one square super-block, consisting of about 900 households (the estimate is from Nextdoor.com). In a pedestrian- (and now, bike-) oriented domain, that is probably enough customers for a small business to thrive on.
And those 900 families are going to be reasonably long-lasting. Many of them have kids in the neighborhood schools. When the kids grow up, many of them stay around. This neighborhood is friendly for empty-nesters, so the parents may not pull out after 21 years, either. Others in the neighborhood are academics teaching or otherwise employed at the local universities and colleges (which are the backbone of St. Paul’s tax base, according to one poster elsewhere on this site). They are probably longer-lived in those jobs than most.
If the kids of the local residents are happy enough here to stick around, the same may apply to the children of the business owners. The business is handed down, and continues for another generation.
These neighborhoods are zoned, unlike (for example) “Live Free or Die” New Hampshire. The resulting commercial / residential mix is good both for local business and, unquestionably, for those of us fortunate enough to live here.
[Update 2015-08-17] An emendation: Nelson’s Ice Cream, as a business, is 92 years old. It started in Stillwater, MN and is still going strong there. The branch a few blocks from here has only been there for a couple of years.
Over in Minneapolis, the more than 100 year old Schubert Theatre was saved from destruction and literally lifted and moved 3 blocks away to 5th and Hennepin. If you go to the Schubert Theatre website, there is a Youtube fast forward video of the building being moved to 5th and Hennepin. It was am amazing feat!
Your talk of neighborhood & urban design patterns reminds me of a book called “A Pattern Language” by a group of architects & urban planners. It was written in the 70’s but from what I understand continues to be one of the best-selling books on architecture. It describes a set of design patterns that promote healthy neighborhoods. You described a number of them in your post (shopping streets, neighborhood boundaries, density, etc.). Great to have a number of these design elements in Mac-Groveland supporting this being such a livable community.
Jim, thank you for the reference! I have seen A Pattern Language; at some point I perused it standing up in a bookstore somewhere. Will keep an eye out for it. Katharyn was a bookseller back in Massachusetts, and we brought a hundred or so boxes of the cream of the collection with us; perhaps there’s a copy still awaiting shelving downstairs.
You and Katharyn might be interested in a new (and maybe the second?) bookstore in Mac-Groveland called Addendum. It is young-adult focused and located at Randolph & Cleveland. I have not had a chance to stop in yet but the Pioneer Press did a nice article on them and another bookstore earlier this summer (link below). Great to see some openings and expansions of local brick-and-mortar bookstores instead of the opposite that has typically been the case.
Jim, thanks again. Very nice profile of the two stores. It happens we dined at Luci this evening, 2 doors down from Addendum. We’ll visit soon when they are open.
Enjoying the blog! A New York transplant that has lived here for 5 years. You mention how the businesses cluster at intersections of “super blocks.” I am pretty sure all those little micro villages trace back to where the street cars had stops. But not 100 percent sure.
Thank you, Benjamin. Good observation! I will see what I can turn up in the way of old streetcar maps.
Benjamin, look what I found: a map of old Twin Cities streetcar routes. Below is a close-up from it. Your theory is half borne out. Lines ran down the east-west super-block bordering streets Selby / Marshall, Grand, St.Clair, and Randolph. Of the north-south streets, only Snelling was covered.