Eric Dayton’s anti-skyway campaign just gained a formidable ally: century-old Nicollet Mall retailer Hubert White. The venerable menswear store—one of just a handful of high-profile stores left on Nicollet Mall—has joined Datyon’s Skyway Avoidance Society, which aims to “bring vitality back to the streetscape of downtown Minneapolis.”
“Eric has a passion for downtown, and I think his feelings regarding the skyways stem from that,” says Hubert White President Bob White, whose grandfather started the high-end store in 1916—back when folks put on a coat and a hat to move between downtown stores, and the streets were crowded. It’s Dayton’s well-documented contention that more people on the streets will lead to more stores in downtown, and in turn, a more dynamic city.
White, whose store is located on the first floor of IDS Center, connected to skyways on all sides, says he tends to agree.
“In my opinion, skyways help service retail, but they harm full service retail because the person using them never stops to look around,” White says. The Hubert White store is accessible from the IDS Crystal Court as well as Nicollet Mall. White sealed off its skyway entrance—which took users down a staircase straight into the store— three years ago. “It became a problem to have too many entrances to the store,” White says. “It was our finding that the skyways pulled in non-serious traffic.”
But skyways aren’t the biggest problem this downtown stalwart has had to contend with recently. Nicollet Mall construction, which started back in the summer of 2015 and won’t be complete until the end of 2017, has greatly reduced street traffic to the store—especially on weekends, White says. At one point, the store entrance from Nicollet Mall had to be closed all together. Losing high profile neighbors, Macy’s and Barnes & Noble, hurts too—the bookstore, perhaps even more than the declining department store.
“Barnes & Noble is a terrible loss. People used it. It was a traffic draw,” White says. “It’s going to take a couple of years to build Macy’s into something else, but I see it as an opportunity. There could be specialty shops of different sizes, an anchor.”
The New York developer that purchased the Macy’s building has not yet offered details on its plans for the old department store. Even as shopping fizzled, Macy's remained a major skyway connection, with a reported 15,000 passing through each weekday. Questions have been raised about what will happen to that traffic during construction. White thinks it could be an opportunity to push people back to the streets.
“Would people be up in arms? Yes, of course, but you’ve got to start somewhere,” he says. “With all the office and residential around here, once Nicollet Mall is complete, you get some stores here that not only serve downtown workers and resident but also are an outside draw, and it could be really fantastic.”
This, from a store owner who knew the heyday of downtown retail and has seen its continual decline.
“I’m a retailer,” White says. “I’m optimistic by nature, or I wouldn’t be doing this.”
Like Dayton’s Askov Finlayson store in the North Loop, Hubert White will offer a 10 percent discount on outerwear year-round to shoppers who present a Skyway Avoidance Society membership card. Anyone can join at the stores by signing a pledge to swear off skyways—yep, even in the cold and snow.