Uptown Grows Up

Lake and Hennepin works to regain status as a unique retail destination

It was the ’80s. Prince was shrieking about everybody going Uptown to “set your mind free.” My parents would drive my friend Tyler and me to Southdale, and we’d jump on a city bus bound for Lake and Hennepin. We sauntered from vintage store to grungy gift shop feeling like the coolest kids in the world (who didn’t sport Mohawks or nose rings).

Now where I come from, we don’t let society tell us how it’s supposed to be. Our clothes, our hair, we don’t care. It’s all about being there. Everybody’s going Uptown. That’s where I wanna be.

I hummed the Prince classic to myself the other day as my husband and I browsed the new CB2 store at 31st and Hennepin. We need new placemats.

Today, edgy in Uptown is black nail polish from the MAC store. And that’s about my speed. As I buy cards at Paper Source and get computer help from Apple, I can’t help but feel like Uptown has grown up with me.

For the first time since Calhoun Square’s heyday in the ’80s, shopping is becoming a reason to go to Uptown.

Yes, the main drag is now dominated by chain stores, but not just any chain stores. Particularly in the wake of Block E’s massive failure, Uptown deserves credit for being strategic. Retail broker Jeff Herman, president of Urban Anthology, had the vision for an Uptown that would appeal to those reformed punkers who are now homeowners, executives, and triathletes. From iPads to North Face jackets to Blu Dot tables from Roam, Uptown is selling toys for grown-ups.

Herman sees Uptown appealing to the “creative class” of intellectuals who want to live, work, and be entertained in the city 24/7, from a pre-dawn run around Lake Calhoun to late-night drinks at Lucia’s Wine Bar. Shopping helps set the mood.

“There’s an eclectic, sophisticated customer base in Uptown,” Herman says. “Major local and national retailers are salivating to get in.”

Expect a high-profile announcement in the coming weeks that strengthens Uptown’s newfound status as a hub for modern design. We likely haven’t seen the last of the active lifestyle retailers, either.

But to really appeal to women, who do most of the shopping, Uptown needs to bring back boutiques. The trick is where to put them. Street storefronts are scarce and expensive. Calhoun Square, which feels a bit like the lobby of a doctor’s office, doesn’t offer enough exposure.

This month, the Mozaic development will bring 553 parking spaces, restaurants, and offices to Lagoon Avenue. Developers hope that will shift some attention to streets off Hennepin. The one boutique that has managed to be extremely successful on Lagoon is Covered. Neighbors would be nice—perhaps a boutique chain with capital. Herman believes the Twin Cities is ripe for a proven fashion retailer such as Intermix, Scoop NYC, or Barneys Co-Op, and Uptown is vying to be the place everybody’s going once again.

Nothing like a fabulous sweater to set my mind free these days. Am I right, Prince?