The minute I heard Saks Off Fifth would anchor the new Twin Cities Premium Outlets in Eagan, I had a sinking feeling its days in downtown Minneapolis were numbered. Although the retailer denied plans to leave when I asked, the Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal reports today that Walgreens is looking at the Off Fifth space for its new super sized concept. Yes, Walgreens.
The idea of an upscale Walgreens selling luxury cosmetics and gourmet foods is fine, especially for those of us that work at the end of downtown farthest from Target. But to lose Off Fifth in the process is a huge bummer—especially with all the available real estate around it. Granted, our expectations of downtown shopping continue to get lower and lower as Gaviidae is all but cleared of retail, including stalwart Len Druskin, and Macy’s is a shadow of its former shelf. At least Off Fifth brought some designer brands to the city—with its many professionals who need a dress or a suit in the 10 minutes between meetings—and with Diane Von Furstenberg, Marc Jacobs, and Kate Spade at 40 percent off, it even gave suburban shoppers a reason to head downtown. At least, once in a while.
The future of downtown retail seems to be limited to serving workers (and dwellers) with daily essentials. And that’s a shame for the Twin Cities—including the suburban malls that have drawn traffic down 35W. Downtown is still where visitors, and businesses look to gauge the health and vibrancy of the city and make their initial impressions. It should be a crown jewel for the entire metropolitan area, which boasts top theaters, museums, restaurants, creative firms, and sports teams. And from a retail perspective, ours doesn’t begin to suggest the vibrancy and sophistication we offer in those other areas. Shopping used to be a reason to make a day of going downtown. I think about cities like Seattle where downtown feels alive even on the weekends and even when there’s no special game or event taking place. Why? Because there’s shopping. Good, upscale shopping to bring energy, traffic, and style. Hard to imagine that being the case in our city again.