And on Wednesday, the 16th of November of the year 2016, Eric Dayton, under the umbrella of his Askov Finlayson retail store, shall declare the commencement of the Skyway Avoidance Society. Come rain, shine, snow or sleet, Dayton and his staff will be out on Nicollet Mall with clipboards during the morning rush asking citizens to sign a pledge that they will stop using the downtown Minneapolis skyways and come out to the streets.
“If you want downtown Minneapolis to change,” Dayton says, “take the pledge to be part of the solution.”
Of course, the pledge presumes that skyways are indeed the reason why retail has fled downtown and why the city's center often feels dead, even as downtown business thrives and residential grows. It’s a debate that’s been ongoing for decades and usually results in urban planners and city leaders acknowledging that skyways are both a blessing and a curse—a cold weather convenience that does, no doubt, suck the life off the streets.
Despite his forefathers who played a role in the earliest phases of connecting downtown Minneapolis buildings above the street, Dayton has long been anti-skyway, recalling that during his days working for Target Corp., he always skirted the skyways and walked outside, even when it required layers of long underwear and boots (Dayton insists an overcoat and scarf were adequate). His philosophy: don’t apologize for our cold climate; embrace it. That’s what Dayton has done with the North movement, which started as a conversation about shedding our Midwestern feelings of inadequacy and celebrating who we are and where we live.
Three weeks ago, I wrote a piece calling for Dayton’s family to take back the downtown Minneapolis Macy’s store and recreate it in a way that could restore some vibrancy to downtown. He responded with this tweet: “I'll make you a deal, @AliShops - you bring down the skyways, and I will buy that building.”
I've been shopping for the perfect sledgehammer—preferably artisan crafted, in Minnesota.
Spurred by the conversation that has ensued online, around town—particularly on the streets of the North Loop—and in the newspaper, Dayton decided to take action. The Skyway Avoidance Society will take sign-ups in Askov Finlayson and online at askovfinlayson.com. Those who register will receive a membership card and sticker, and 10 percent off on all outerwear purchases at Askov Finlayson's flagship store (not online)— an ongoing perk of society membership. Everyone who signs up on Wednesday will be entered to win a Patagonia parka. T-shirts and iron-on patches are on their way to the store.
But, Dayton emphasizes, “this is not about selling merchandise. It’s about trying to have a conversation. Foot traffic is the lifeblood of the city. And that’s destroyed by skyways. Why can’t it be on the table to rethink that decision?”