Photo by Courtney Mault
Macy's Sky Room
Macy's Sky Room
So it's officially official, Macy's will close in March, just like Twin Cities Business said so many weeks ago.
Ali Kaplan said all that needs to be said on why this is happening. As a loyal and happy one-time Dayton's employee—in coats, as part-time help on college winter break—it breaks my heart to see how this iconic store has been turned into an also-ran Macy's. But now what? The building has been sold to an investment firm in NY that intends offices and retail, but perhaps we can still bend their ear.
Let's steal some ideas from the best. First of all, nothing good is going to come from the building being turned into office space—aside from some tax revenue and someone somewhere making a buck. I mean real good, the kind of good that will have a multiplier effect for all of us in the state. That real good is not going to come from transforming a core-city icon into an inaccessible cube-farm.
So what's my big idea? Go really big. Turn it into the showcase of Minnesota food that we, the Silicon Valley of America's breadbasket, deserve. How? Stuff all 12 floors with food, drink, food manufacturing, food education—the works.
In Alabama, there's something of a model for this: Its historic city center Pizitz building has been turned into a city-anchoring food hall. And don't think that we're limited by the boring Macy's you walk through today, spend some time poking through the Minnesota History Center's photo archives and you'll rapidly discover the spaces in that building are much grander than what we can see today. But we could go a couple degrees of awesome further than Alabama, by stealing some of the best ideas in community food around, specifically:
1) Ground level see-and-be-seen eating
Yes, let's start off by stealing from Eataly, grabbing the best ideas of Mario Batali and Co. The street level should be a public space ringed by restaurants, with big cafe areas spilling into a major central promenade of cafe tables, and with that spilling out onto Nicollet during good weather. Fancy see-and-be-seen dining, drinks, the works.
2) Beer garden
As we move up a level, let's steal from the great energy and smarts of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild and their summer State Fair extravaganza. Why couldn't we have a wall of taps supplied exclusively by ever-changing beers from brewers all over the state? We could have a Marzen month, a stout celebration at Christmas, Hefeweizen to kick off summer—yes, I can come up with 12 of these. It could easily grow into something as seasonally meaningful as apple-picking in fall or strawberry festivals in June—and there would be urgency to get out of the house. Darling, if we don't go this weekend, we'll have missed this year's stouts!
3) Food market
On the second or third floor—how about a food market, with permanent vendors (can we get a Wisconsin cheese pavilion?), food stalls, and spots to rent by the day? This last one I'm stealing straight from Toua Xiong, the founder of the Hmongtown Marketplace near the state capitol, who had an idea that some vendors would come and sell their wares if they only had to put $15 or $30 down for the day. What if different groups—a craft group, woodworkers, bee-keepers—could come and sell without the rigamarole of applying and getting on a waitlist for one of the major farmers' markets?
4) Fundraisers built right in
I'm stealing this idea from Summit Brewing's founder Mark Stutrud, who lets charity groups use his taproom. This is brilliant, because it means a particular group—cancer research supporters, Eagle Scout trip supporters, church groups, you name it—get their people to come out and spend money. The charity gets to keep that money, and while Stutrud has done this as a money-losing, good-will-generating project on his own for years (thanks Mark!), why not build a space right in to the beer hall floor for local groups to raise money, with beer, cookie parties, or something else food- or drink-related?
5) Commercial food production and incubator
Let's look to the good ideas that underlie the Midtown Global Market and Kindred Kitchen—how about turning a floor into commercial kitchen space to help food entrepreneurs get off the ground? People could make their food on one level, take it down to the market to sell, or load it on to the coming streetcar that will be right in front of the building, to distribute to markets up Central or down Nicollet.
But that's not all!
Most importantly, this new food building would be the way we finally acknowledge, as a metropolitan area, that we really are nothing less than the Silicon Valley of food. With General Mills, CHS, Land O'Lakes, Cargill, Hormel, Organic Valley, Supervalu, Target, and oh-so-many other food companies based or effectively based here, it's been obvious for a while that we, as a city, have the biggest talent pool and professional interest in food in this country. Not always restaurant food, but food in the macro sense. With our education and health infrastructure, and the way everyone knows that the next big thing in medicine is food, we've really only begun to see what it means to own food in these fair cities.
Is it too against our modest grain to put a flag in the ground and say: Yes, Minnesota is where it's at? Can't all us food types pull together to make the good old Dayton's auditorium a center of food lectures and food thought? When we brought April Bloomfield in to talk at our Tastemakers event, it was a gangbusters hit. Imagine that, times a thousand, in the middle of downtown.
Dare to dream, Minnesota. You have nothing to lose but nothing.