Grand on Grand
Both the Pioneer Press (photo credit for the image above) and KARE-11 have recently had stories about the decline of Grand Avenue (I linked to the KARE-11 one because it's virtually identical and no paywall). And heck, I've seen it — yesterday we stopped in to Sixth Chamber, the Bibelot Shop, and Traditions (all closing soon). The Loft is gone (not that I ever went there), and there are still multiple empty storefronts, especially at Victoria Crossing. And there's a vigorous debate on Facebook about what to do about it.
Some say that this is the normal ebb and flow, but I've lived off of Grand for my whole life and I strongly think it's more than that. Others say it's parking, but honestly I don't think it's that either; I shop there multiple times a week and almost never have an issue with parking. I think, as one of my friends indicated, that it's the "perfect storm" of online shopping + changing retail and shopping habits + tightening our belts as we worry about the future + high rents + high taxes + a lack of the kind of shops that used to make Grand Avenue special + general malaise.
So what's to be done about it?
Well, to think big:
The City of Saint Paul has a clear interest in preserving it as a unique shopping destination. To that end, they could:
- Declare a sales tax holiday for a period of time for Grand Avenue merchants (or even just the retail merchants, leave the food and liquor taxes). This would encourage people to shop at, say, the Grand Avenue Pottery Barn rather than the one in Edina. Or, similar to European VAT tax refunds, allow consumers to apply for sales tax refunds once they have demonstrated spending over $X on Grand Avenue.
- Provide small "move-in grants" of $3,000-5,000 for small stores who open up on Grand. This would allow the stores to cover the costs of establishing a new location.
- Provide signage and accessibility small grants.
- Encourage street artists. Everyone loves the trumpet guy outside Cafe Latte! (IMO, they should be doing more of this in general throughout Saint Paul.)
- Even without meters, more stringently enforce the parking times, so there is more turnover and more parking available.
- Host pop-up shops and arts events in the empty storefronts. It would be great, for example, to have a local maker's space for the first two weekends in February, for Valentine's giving.
- Hire a consulting firm to look into retail trends and how they affect the city's big shopping streets.
- Look into where B2-C zoning has succeeded and failed, and what could be done to improve it.
- Require any new construction on Grand (other than single-family housing) to incorporate affordably priced retail space.
- Cover each small business' membership to the business association, allowing....
The Grand Avenue Business Association to do more, including:
- Boosting social media and other promotion. For instance, they could feature a business a week — do a big piece on them on their web page and on social media. The business could offer a special "Mention this piece and get 10% off all board games," for example, to get people in the door. (hint - a bigger discount is a loss leader and really brings people in!)
- Run promotions showing how Grand Avenue businesses are different than their counterparts elsewhere. What makes the original Kowalski's so awesome?
- Highlight Grand Avenue pioneers! Billie Young, the original Dunn Brothers, all the places that have stayed there for years. Why do they remain so loyal?
- Publishing a Grand Avenue paper coupon book.
- Run a "tasting tour" down Grand where participants could have different progressive courses at various restaurants. Just enough to give each place a try, so they are hooked and come back. Run it on a festive trolley down the street!
- Have a mascot (Beatrix suggests the "Grand Avenue Gorilla.") Hide stuffed gorillas in various stores, and send people on a scavenger hunt to find them. Have a punch-card, and when someone has found 10, they win a prize.
- Encourage more family-together experience. We really miss the Game Nights that Sixth Chamber hosted at Grand Shanghai. It was always full, and tons of fun!
- Encourage local support. One person was just telling me about a local givers party they were attending, where each person brings a gift from a local maker and tells the story of that maker. It would be great to have a Grand Avenue themed one!
- See "encourage street artists" above.