Northfield should be grateful for the area’s big-box stores, especially the Menard’s in Dundas

In last Sunday’s Strib, Eric Wieffering’s business column was titled Vibrant economies aren’t found only in cities. Citing the recent Trade-Center Hierarchy in Greater Minnesota report by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA), Wieffering wrote:

Trade-Center Hierarchy in Greater MinnesotaWhile the survey measures more than retail activity (it includes taxable sales reported by a dozen different industry classification codes), the presence of a single big-box retailer can significantly boost one city’s fortunes at the expense of another.

Schwartau illustrated how that’s happening in Fairmont, a city that doesn’t have a building materials retailer. His analysis suggests people are leaving Fairmont to buy building materials at the Home Depot in Mankato. Once they get there, it only stands to reason that they’re more likely shop for other things as well, such as clothes or groceries.

The anti-big-box crowd might say this illustrates exactly why small cities should be discouraged from recruiting chain retailers, but Schwartau suggests the opposite might be true. The best way for Fairmont to protect its local retail base might be to recruit its own big-box home improvement store.

From the report:

Destiny is not preordained. Cities of similar size and location often experience different outcomes. Albert Lea in southern Minnesota appears to be outperforming nearby Austin. Owatonna has outperformed Faribault. Cities can change their own vitality by making conscious decisions and investments. For example, Owatonna was successful in attracting Cabela’s, Target, Lowe’s, Walmart, and an outlet shopping center, thus becoming a retail destination.

Menard'sAre Northfielder’s grateful that there’s a Menards and a K-Mart just across the border in Dundas, as well as a Target nearby, just inside our city limits?

I am.  It saves having to make a lot of trips to the south Metro or to Faribault.

I wonder, though, if more couldn’t be done to attract those who travel to the area for our big-box stores to our downtown. Any ideas?

4 thoughts on “Northfield should be grateful for the area’s big-box stores, especially the Menard’s in Dundas”

  1. The job citizens have in city building has as much to do with propagating good will and good nature as it does good business. Choosing big box stores and chain boutiques that serve either broad spectrum or specialized tastes means an opportunity for citizens to cultivate a common culture and install representations of that blended preference. Inviting the outer fringe in to share in that culture and take away what they can is the right thing to do both financially and culturally. Diversity and utilitarianism come to a hard corner where commerce is concerned, to be certain.

    Northfield has plenty of local and townie-centric draw, expertise, niches and arts. What it does not have is an office supply store that sells different sizes of reciept tape, stocks 11×17 glossy paper or has classification folders. You know what would be wonderful? A fabric store that stocked basic quilting fabrics (not $20 a yard) and used sewing machines. Personally, I’d love to see a resource for people to find/buy/sell/trade building materials like sinks and extra lumber or stuff that’s being replaced (like a 4’x5′ mirror). Just a big warehouse or barn or somewhere…

    All this leads me to my point-and I do have one…

    If any one of these unique things was close to downtown (old video store=office supplies and a small loft office in the Crossing were a fabric shop) there would be crossover. Also, the business owners each need to place thier businesses on google maps. So few are there!

    The last suggestion: and here is where I get lynched: no parking on Division at all. Ever. Side streets and the lots should be enough, you can’t see the shops before you pass them with all the cars. Or maybe just one side of division…

    Oh! And the white brick building close to Holiday might be the place for that reclaimed materials thing.

  2. In the reference to Owatonna in the above excerpts, I didn’t see any mention of the manufacturing and economic base there. There is SPx Corp, Viracon, Wenger, Truth Tool, Owatonna canning Co., Federated Insurance and Jostens. All these companies have international markets. I lived there for 16 years, and the town was quite vibrant, but the downtown area is now mainly bars, restaurants and fitness centers. At least they still have the Louis Sullivan bank. One unique aspect of the town is SPx Corp. This started out as Owatonna Tool Co., owned by the Kaplan family. That whole business started in a garage. When Buzz Kaplan sold the business to SPx, the upper management people got at least $1 million each for their stock options. That year, Owatonna had the most millionaires per capita of any city in the nation. All interesting history that really affects how a city grows.

  3. I will admit that I shop quite regularly at Menards and Target, but I’d have trouble saying they’re an asset to the community. The lack of aesthetic continuity between the south commercial district and downtown is severe. In fact, many out-of-town St. Olaf students knowingly state that Target and Cub are actually in Dundas. Northfield, in their mind, ends somewhere around Jefferson Parkway.

    Obviously things need to work at a certain scale for big-box to work. Yet many communities have done much better with big boxes (largely due to the companies’ changing trends in the way they develop). Look at the Target in Edina, for example, which is parking-lot-oriented, but still welcoming to 70th St. Compare that to Northfield’s Target, which is hundreds of feet away from S Hwy 3, without even a sign on Jefferson or Honeylocust, and no connection to Jefferson or County Road 1. In Edina (from 70th St), you’re greeted with an obvious welcome and covered pathway to the front door. In Northfield (on Jefferson Rd), you have a steep slope to traverse, followed by loading docks, then a walk through an attractive-but-entirely-useless park.

    In terms of connection to downtown, the other issue is the older development. The south commercial district is suburban/exurban, but you pass through a very underdeveloped/industrial area — Central Valley Co-op, Jesse James lanes, etc — before hitting downtown. The street itself also doesn’t obviously connect to downtown, either: with a 95-foot width, no sidewalks, not even street lights, there’s no sense of arrival to a town.

    The other issue is that these stores from a town perspective is that they tend to “expire” quickly. Look at the Kmart — the parking lot is cracked and broken, and the store looks grim and dead, after only twenty years. County Market was torn down only a decade after being built. Long-term maintenance and improvement of the site seems to be a real issue.

    1. To put things perfectly clearly: if Northfield has any goal of continuity with the big boxes, they need to pursue a complete and aggressive reconstruction of Highway 3. It is by far our deadliest road, and its presence and current form causes all development around it (like Target) to be built in similarly massive scale. There is not a single instance of “town”-style development between East Street in Dundas and the Cannon River. The only place where such new development has occurred is The Crossing, and that only happened in conjunction with a significant (though not significant enough) aesthetic and functional change to the street.

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