Macy's Minneapolis store
Like the next "one-day" sale, we’ve known, in our heart of hearts, that this was coming: Macy’s is trying to unload the downtown Minneapolis store, built by Dayton's more than a century ago. The Star Tribune reported late last week that the national retailer is in negotiations with a potential buyer for Nicollet Mall’s last remaining department store, and that buyer would likely convert the 1.2 million square foot building into—get ready for it—office space. Macy’s declined to comment, but the news is perfectly believable. We know Macy’s plans to close 100 stores next year. We know the goal is cost savings, and downtown Minneapolis is one of its 10 largest, and thereby most valuable, pieces of property. And it doesn’t take a super shopper to see that the downtown Macy’s has been on the decline for years. The last major improvements happened more than a decade ago, when it was Marshall Field’s.
Now, I know what you might be thinking: join Amazon Prime and get over it already. You haven’t shopped at Macy’s in years. You stopped bringing the kids downtown at Christmastime when Macy’s started phoning in the annual holiday show, recycling the same ol’ Santaland exhibit year after year. You stopped attending Glamorama when they switched from showing designer collections to house brand juniors’ merchandise. Then they killed the annual fashion event altogether, and the glory of the Oval Room along with it.
I’m with you. It’s pointless to rehash what went wrong, or what Macy’s could do differently. The reality is, they don’t care about the vitality of downtown Minneapolis. They aren’t interested in bettering Nicollet Mall. They aren’t concerned with helping Minneapolis make its best impression for the world when the Super Bowl rolls into town a little more than a year from now. They aren’t encouraged by the more than 20 new hotels, apartment buildings, and office centers that are opening downtown.
You know who does care? The family whose name we still use when recalling the glory days of downtown shopping: the Daytons. They’re busy, of course. They've moved on. To the Governor’s Mansion, and to the Galleria. Still, more than anyone, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton sees the value in downtown being a crown jewel—he recognizes the light that shines on the entire metropolis. And while the younger generation is quite modest about their heritage, retail is in their blood. The governor's sons, Eric and Andrew, have already proven their ability to build up a neighborhood in the North Loop with good food and drink, quality merchandise, and loads of state pride—perhaps they could spread some of that love (and maybe the occasional presidential visit) to Nicollet Mall. They have plenty of relatives with keen business minds and an impeccable sense of style to help. Interior designer Martha Dayton recently created retail division Witt + Bliss with locations in the North Loop and 50th & France. Twill by Scott Dayton has been catering to a discriminating male shopper at Galleria for years. And any time you hear about a new Dayton retail project, you can be fairly certain cousin James of James Dayton Design is handling the build out.
We have yet to hear the selling price for the Macy's building, but it seems like the Daytons could probably pool their pennies. Their fortune is listed by Forbes at $1.6 billion, making the Daytons the 157th richest family in America.
But what would they do with that 12-story relic? Why, the same magical things they’ve done in other parts of town. Make it headquarters for The North, and all that it means, from culture to commerce.
They could start by asking some of their James Beard Award winning chef friends to create fresh food concepts on the street level—Gavin Kaysen’s answer to Eataly, if you will. Restore high-end retail. Create studio space for the makers and designers they’ve embraced and touted as integral to our more thoughtful 21st century marketplace. Bring back the furniture department (remember when the downtown Dayton’s had a furniture department?) and devote it to Minnesota brands, large and small, from a unique big-name draw, like a Room & Board Design Lab, to floorspace for the many promising designers selling their handcrafted sofas and tables and lamps at cool spots beyond downtown Minneapolis, like Forage Modern Workshop.
Add an art gallery, and maybe jumpstart it with a few pieces from the collection of the late Bruce Dayton. The governor’s father, who died last year, was an avid collector and supporter of the arts, giving more than $72 million in cash and gifts to the Minneapolis Institute of Art over the course of his life.
Use some of that old office space on the upper levels, which have been dormant since the mass Macy's layoffs of 2009, to house philanthropic projects, like climate control and arts education. Create event space—these days, everyone wants to tie the knot in a place with architectural interest and historical relevance, such as the 114-year-old department store building, which virtually every Minnesotan of marrying age remembers visiting as a kid. Heck, create a skating rink in the 8th floor auditorium so we can all glide around in our North hats and sip fancy $6 coffee drinks.
For as much as we pride ourselves on the development of the North Loop, and are encouraged by the growth around our shiny new stadium in the area we are just getting used to calling East Town, we need to link it all to a central artery. Nicollet Mall is still the heart of downtown, and we need to get it pumping again.