Poor St. Paul. Even losing its last department store didn’t linger in the news much longer than a warm popover in the River Room. Macy’s inevitable St. Paul closure—greeted with shrugs by most everyone other than downtown workers—was quickly overshadowed by good news: Nordstrom is going to open at Ridgedale Center.
Nordstrom’s westward expansion is made possible by Macy’s come-to-its-senses decision to consolidate its two Ridgedale stores under one upgraded and expanded roof. Many news outlets described this plan as yet another closure for Macy’s, when really it is a savvy investment in the western suburbs. Macy’s is going to dress itself up, supersize its Ridgedale presence, and then better its odds by sharing the spotlight with a more dashing and adored co-star—Bradley Cooper to Ed Helms.
Macy’s construction will begin as soon as the ground thaws. When Macy’s closes its men’s/home store next year, it will be torn down to make way for the new Nordstrom, opening fall 2015. After a hat trick of department store closings, it’s a relief to have good retail news to share. But the excitement over progress in the suburbs and the lack of tears over the end of an era in the city is a sobering reality check. Theoretically, we want vibrant downtowns with classy shopping. In practice, we love our Dales—their convenience, climate control, and free parking—so much that we are blinded to their flaws.
When I asked Ridgedale shoppers how they were feeling about their lagging mall a month before the Nordstrom announcement, most said “Great!” Few complained that it doesn’t have standout restaurants, a movie theater, or many of the hot specialty stores that have opened at Southdale and Rosedale.
“A J.Crew would be nice,” said one shopper, who was quick to add, “I grew up shopping at Ridgedale. I love it.”
That loyalty, coupled with choice demographics and the annoyingly long ride to Mall of America, helped Ridgedale weather some rough years. Now Nordstrom will make Ridgedale the Twin Cities’ premiere Dale. (Enjoy that gleaming Herberger’s, Southdale.) Specialty stores are already lining up for spots near Nordstrom. Better restaurants—a high priority for the mall—will be that much easier to secure.
Meanwhile, St. Paul is left to find a replacement for the windowless department store that never quite fit. Another national retailer is unlikely—downtown Minneapolis can’t even get those. Better to tear down the box and focus on industry, arts, residents, and a few quality independent retailers. Just look at downtown St. Paul’s best retail success story of recent years: Heimie’s Haberdashery. The tailored men’s store and barbershop is so charming, so intimate. It harks back to the heyday of urban shopping in a way Macy’s never did. Heimie’s is proof that St. Paul executives will shop downtown when given a classy option, and that folks as far-flung as Edina will cross the river for a unique shopping experience. And that’s something a suburban mall can’t deliver.