Let’s Stage a “Sit-Out”

Sit-inI’ve had it.

As I mentioned at the tail end of our podcast a couple of weeks ago, I’m thinking that a little civil disobedience might be in order in re the outdoor dining situation in Northfield.

Let’s pick a date and stage a “sit-out”! The restaurants in town could put out tables and chairs, citizens would be encouraged to bring their lawn chairs downtown and we’d fill up the sidewalks. If we got enough of the businesses to participate, I doubt that the City Council would hold their liquor license renewals hostage, or whatever consequences are being dreamed up for violating our current prohibitions.

Friends, Romans, Countrymen….. lend me your chairs. Any takers? Suggested dates?


  1. Rob Hardy said:

    I’m with you, Tracy. I’m out of town this weekend, but on a sunny afternoon in June I’d be happy to buy you a glass of wine and sit on the lovely citizen-owned sidewalk outside the Hideaway.

    I effing hate it when officials of “the city” act as if “the city” were some entity that stands above the citizens who constitute it and elect its officials. The sidewalks are ours. I have a bill from “the city” for 5th Street infrastructure work to prove that I own me some sidewalk. So, hell yeah, let’s sit and enjoy some refreshments on the sidewalk and thumb our noses at the Keystone Cops of the city council who will not be getting my vote next time around.

    May 22, 2008
  2. John S. Thomas said:

    Why don’t you just use the Taste of Northfield date?

    May 22, 2008
  3. Gilly Wigley said:

    Although staging the “sit out” on the same afternoon/evening as the Taste of Northfield is a great idea because, there is already gobs of people down town, so there would be plenty of people to participate. I think it would be better to stage it on a day when there’s not so much going on down town, because of that reason.

    It’s inevitable that there will be people wandering around outside restaurants, bistro’s, cafe’s, snack/candy shops, bars, etc, with food in hand. So, the City Council might not think much of it. As well as local citizens will think it’s all just for the T.O.N. Where as staging it on an insignificant (though soon to be significant) day, you’d get more people walking through town trying to decipher what’s going on, and proceeding to ask if they can join.

    May 23, 2008
  4. Griff Wigley said:

    Gilly, I think I agree with you. As for a date, as soon as possible (and on a nice sunny day) after the ordinance goes into effect.

    May 23, 2008
  5. Robert Hall said:

    The outside dining issue looks like another counsel train wreck. While they dither and pontificate about someone eating a hot dog outside, they say nothing about people who pile used junk along the streets with a “Free” sign on it.

    May 23, 2008
  6. john george said:

    Robert- Are you against “recycling?” Remember, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.

    May 23, 2008
  7. Isn’t there already outside dining at Bridge Square?

    May 24, 2008
  8. Griff Wigley said:

    Bright, anyone can take their food and eat on Bridge Square. It’s a park like any other. But restaurants can’t serve people alcohol there and I don’t think they can set up tables/chairs/a booth without it being a special event.

    May 26, 2008
  9. Griff, give us three more reasons why there should be outdoor drinking in dt nf and I’ll lend you some of my chairs.

    May 26, 2008
  10. John S. Thomas said:

    I have a great idea…

    How about we let the liquor store serve on the sidewalk as well, and let them use the new Water street river frontage as well…

    😎 (being silly again) 😎

    May 26, 2008
  11. Holly Cairns said:

    I think the downtown needs restructuring to accomodate for outside dining. Let’s think outside the box and have a city we want. I don’t want to walk between stores and not be able to get from point A to point B because of a raucous outdoor group eating or drinking. Outdoor smoking is better than indoor smoking, so that is not included in my thoughts.

    What if we closed the downtown to car traffic, or made it one way traffic, and redid the sidewalks? Hmm, seems like we just redid the sidewalks with beautification. I like practicality AND beautification…

    CHAMPS-E’LYSE’ES style? Room for traffic and shopping?

    May 26, 2008
  12. Griff Wigley said:

    Holly, I think there’d be zero support among the merchants downtown for closing off Division to vehicles. We’re still a car-culture.

    If downtown sidewalk dining proves so popular that it becomes a tourist draw, then I could see merchants possibly supporting closing off parts of Division more regularly, eg, Thursday eves, 5-10 pm, once a month. If that proved to be a huge hit/good for revenues, then maybe every Thurs during the warm months. And then maybe some weekend time slots, etc.

    May 28, 2008
  13. Holly Cairns said:

    Mmm, I like the idea of one-way traffic, heading south through downtown. Divert traffic heading north to water and Washington.

    May 28, 2008
  14. John S. Thomas said:


    I get so frustrated with the “IT CANNOT BE DONE” mantra that keeps appearing.

    If the NDDC would just get a group of folks together, do some planning, and make it happen, it will happen.

    The NDDC needs to step up to the plate, and take the first baby steps. Plan something, then implement it.

    I know it can be done, because the NDDC has pulled off the Taste of Northfield, a successful event.

    I really think that the Third Thursdays would be a great opportunity to close the streets, and put shopping and dining out in the street.

    In previous attempts, the street is blocked off, and all you have is a couple of antiques and ‘junque’ on the sidewalk, and skateboarders, bikers going wild, and pedestrians running for their lives.

    The street should be blocked off, and there should be music, dining, and shopping. Close the street at 3 or 4 PM, allowing enough time for businesses to set up, then open it up at 5 PM.

    It can be done. It just needs to be planned, promoted, and bring enough of the downtown stakeholders involved with buy-in to the plan to make it happen.

    It reminds me of that saying… “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Lets get a plan in place, so downtown can take that first bite.

    Plan it, Promote it, DO IT, and they will come.


    May 28, 2008
  15. Jerry Bilek said:

    I’d support closing Division st. to auto traffic. 2nd to 5th st. I realize I am in the minority. places like Nicollet mall in mpls, state st in Madison have done it successfully. I’d also like to see water closed in front of the post office so bridge square could extend to the river.

    May 28, 2008
  16. Tracy Davis said:

    John, the “can’t be done” vibes you’re getting are coming from City Hall, not the NDDC!

    May 28, 2008
  17. John S. Thomas said:

    Okay Tracy, I understand.

    What is the stumbling block? City Hall denying a request to close the street on Thursdays?

    Step 1 is to identify the problem. We need to get the parties involved together.

    City Hall is supposed to exist to support the city, its businesses, and its citizens.

    If we can identify the problem, we can work toward solving it. Lets shed some light on it.

    If it is elected officials, well, then we have an election coming up. If it is with City staff, well then, we have to work the process.

    I understand it is painful, but isn’t it the function of the EDA, the NDDC, and the CVB to work with the city to get these things going?

    Please understand, I am not pointing fault. I am a project manager, and many things do not get done at work because they are “Difficult”. Many of us would not have jobs if every task were simple.

    I would love to see this upcoming meeting that Mary was discussing take on step 1, and identify the issues.

    Thanks for your candor Tracy. I am person of action, and inaction and excuses frustrate me. I hate being told “No”, or that it cannot be done.

    I suppose this is why folks and businesses downtown are so frustrated.

    Also, I did not mean the NDDC was being negative. I was just hoping they were the group that can take point on this. If this is not a function of the NDDC, where should the leadership of this task lie? I am just trying to understand who all the players are, and where responsibilities for certain tasks lie. I am trying to become educated.

    According to the NDDC Website:

    We’re an organization of dedicated residents who seek to realize their vision of a vibrant and vital downtown through direct and indirect investment, collaboration and cooperation with other public and private groups, and by creating awareness of the opportunities that downtown Northfield holds for the community as a whole.

    That mission statement sounds like the task of building, and making the collaboration with City Hall is within the NDDC’s scope. Do I have it right?

    May 29, 2008
  18. Kurt Larson said:

    Quick question, has anyone asked the downtown merchants if they would like to see even occasional closure of downtown streets? In the past I have heard complaints that the streets get closed enough for the events we already have.
    As far as one way streets, go to Faribault and see how that grand exercise went. I grew up in Faribault and watched the downtown decline. Especially after they turned them into one ways. Now they are back to two ways and retailers I have talked to said it has improved the traffic and business.

    May 29, 2008
  19. Griff Wigley said:

    Good question, Kurt. I bet between Ross and Mary Rossing, we should know to what extent downtown merchants benefit from street closings during the special events.

    May 29, 2008
  20. Kurt Larson said:

    I just raised the subject with a local business that confirmed my thoughts. They notice a drop in business everytime the road is closed. Be it for crazy days, DJJD or construction. They also echo’d your statement that we are still an auto based economy.
    Close the streets too much, or alter the traffic and you will be able to easily walk, bike, stroll the downtown. A lot of the stores would be gone and thus less traffic.

    May 29, 2008
  21. Jerry Bilek said:

    I’ll say it again:
    I’d support closing Division st. to auto traffic. 2nd to 5th st. I realize I am in the minority. places like Nicollet mall in mpls, state st in Madison have done it successfully. I’d also like to see water closed in front of the post office so bridge square could extend to the river.

    You just need to be creative with parking. I also believe you need to create a place where people want to be. imagine a pedestrian zone along the river, incorporating bridge square and ames park. Currently we virtually ignore the river. we face the river with parking lots.

    May 29, 2008
  22. Kurt Larson said:

    I am all in favor of looking at other cities for ideas, but,,,
    can we really use Nicollet mall as an example?
    If we had mass transit pumping people downtown all day and had thousands of people working within walking distance it would be one thing but we have to rely on people driving to and through our downtown. If we make it too hard then the customers will take the “easy” way to do business and it won’t be downtown.
    Just my thoughts.

    May 29, 2008
  23. Anne Bretts said:

    Even smaller towns have abandoned pedestrian malls for ideas that blend open space and vehicle traffic. It just seems that the Italian model of giving up a parking space or two (protected from cars by heavy but temporary concrete planters and shrubs) to create dining space along narrow sidewalks can work if there’s truly a problem. It seems this summer should be a real chance to waive all the rules and test a lot of options and then create an ordinance from the ideas that work.

    May 29, 2008
  24. Jerry Bilek said:

    Kurt, I’m not advocating we just close the street. You have to create the environment where people want to walk. If you do that closing the street to cars will be the easy part. Will it ever happen in Northfield? Doubtful, we’ve spent a decade studying the concept of a new liquor store.

    The idea of closing that very small section of water st. to expand Bridge Square to the river was discussed about 10 years ago. Northfielders opposed it. The short cut to water st. was more enticing than making the square bigger.

    May 29, 2008
  25. The City of Boulder, Colorado has a wonderful pedestrian mall that has been very successful since Pearl Street in the heart of historic downtown Boulder was closed to vehicular traffic between 11th and 15th Streets in 1976. I visited Boulder in April 2007 and blogged about my positive impressions of the community, including the happenin’ pedestrian mall where live music, outdoor dining and public art abounds.

    I think a Division Street pedestrian mall could be a wonderful thing, perhaps from the Archer House to Bridge Square, and could revitalize downtown. People should be able to get off their fat #$$es and walk a block or two to their favorite downtown establishment if they need to. We don’t need to continue to bow to the almighty car if we dare not to. 

    May 29, 2008
  26. But, Bruce, consider the layout of Boulder not to mention the population. There is plenty of parking ramps and spaces next to the pedestrian downtown, including that well-designed retail/office block with hidden and integrated parking just south (?) of city hall. There is also access roads between the buildings on Pearl Street and the other feeder streets for deliveries, garbage, etc.

    Boulder is configured and arranged totally different to Northfield. What is needed here is a sit down heavy-duty conference about all this stuff and not just a knee-jerk, green, sustainable, wouldn’t it be wonderful if…

    Northfield could benefit from a well-arranged one way and/or pedestrian-only configuration but only after an enormous amount of realistic talk and planning and a firm commitment to good growth of both local population and local economy.

    May 29, 2008
  27. Yes, Norman, there should be adequate parking next to downtown (not just inefficient surface parking). Boulder certainly has that as well as the kind of bicycle infrastructure that puts Northfield to shame. People actually get around by bicycle in huge numbers in Boulder, even though it’s a much larger town.

    I have no interest either in knee-jerk wouldn’t it be wonderful if… I’m trying to help build a more sustainable community in my own way.

    I completely agree with you that an “enormous amount of realistic talk and planning and a firm commitment to good growth of both local population and local economy” would be an excellent thing. If we could ever get beyond crisis management, liquor store follies, etc. and focus on how a thriving 21st-century Northfield can be created (gee, isn’t that what the Comp Plan revision was supposed to be?), maybe we can do that as a community.

    May 29, 2008
  28. Bruce: Agreed. Yet I am still bothered. Here in Minnesota, bikes are only useful and by no means necessary (currently that is provided you have a European perspective on gas prices) five months of the year. It’s a bit like eating locally; What the hell do we do the other seven months of the year? Can and bottle like a dervish in the fall in anticipation of winter; walk or use the car ‘cos you end up on your ass or in the ditch from Oct to April? I ask – is all this green/sustainable stuff a fair weather friend – or here, in this part of the world, has it got legs?

    May 29, 2008
  29. Rob Hardy said:

    I’ve visited several cities with wonderful pedestrian malls—Boulder, Colorado and Bath, England come to mind—and I grew up near Ithaca, New York, with its wonderful pedestrian Ithaca Commons serving as a true city center. Since it was created, by closing off part of State St., in 1974, it’s gone through economic ups and downs, but it has survived. In part because traffic flows fairly easily around it, and there is ample parking nearby, and because it’s a destination. There are things there that people want to get to, including shops and events and gatherings. It would be difficult to close off all of Division St. as a pedestrian mall and still maintain traffic circulation around it, but there is potential, I think, for a more pedestrianized downtown if people can manage to think creatively. Norman, for example, has oriented the Cow toward the river with his wonderful double-decker patio. Jerry’s right: why front the river with parking lots and the backs of buildings? For example, it’s a shame that the big deck on the former Paulina’s (now Carlson Capital Management) isn’t available for riverfront dining.

    If I were in charge, the model wouldn’t be the Nicollet Mall or even Boulder or Ithaca, but Pepin, Wisconsin. We’d have a restaurant like the Harborview that people would travel two hours for. It would look out over the lovely Cannon River. As in Pepin, it would be legal, while waiting for a table, to take your gin and tonic and stroll along the waterfront or visit the little local galleries. And then, the pièce de resistance, halibut in black butter caper sauce….

    Excuse me, I’m dreaming.

    May 29, 2008
  30. john george said:

    I think all this discussion about what to do with arranging downtown Northfield has overlooked one very important economic consideration- tourism. Maybe I missed it in someone’s post, but I would like to know how much revenue is generated by local shoppers and how much is generated by out of town shoppers. Northfield is, afterall, a destination city, not an on-the-way city.

    I was in Grand Marais once, talking to a local business person. He found out I was from Northfield, and he said it was one of the places he liked to visit when he was on vacation. It’s quite interesting that downtown Grand Marais has good streets, good parking and good bicycling lanes. Since tourism is an important part of our economy, I think we need to keep in mind how these tourists get here. It is mostly in cars. If we are not careful how we accomodate these visitors and ease their access to the downtown, I think we will lose something.

    Just this last Sunday, when my wife and I and our grandson were walking across the 4th. St. bridge, a car stopped by us asking directions to the bank that was robbed. It was very easy to direct them to a parking place right in front of it, not two blocks away. I know that after I have driven a couple hours, I’m a little stiff to try to walk several blocks to a site. It’s really nice to be able to get close to an attraction in my car.

    May 29, 2008
  31. Jerry Bilek said:

    John, I don’t think it overlooks tourism, it embraces and encourages tourism. I don’t have any numbers, but I do a very strong business with out of towners. If you design a better downtown, that would only improve.

    I think that building a downtown that is more pedestrian friendly would actually help downtown. I’ve never said you should eliminate parking, just change it.

    People park and walk at successful businesses all the time. think malls or disney. You end up parking very far away and walking. The avg tourist will park and walk much further at the mall of America than downtown Northfield. It’s all about design.

    I’m told the south bank of London was a mess just a few years ago. Now it is a hugely successful tourist destination for pedestrians, no cars.

    May 30, 2008
  32. john george said:

    Jerry- I guess what I was reacting to is I couldn’t remember anyone coming out and openly stating the position that we need to be mindful of the tourist.

    As far as “walk only” downtowns, St. Augustine, Florida, is another good example. They do allow auto traffic on the east/west streets, but not on the north/south streets. Maybe this disqualifies it as a “walk only” downtown. It is handy, though, as a person can get pretty close to their destination.

    I’ve only been to the larger amusement partks a couple times, and that was when my kids were much younger. If I recollect right, when we parked a long distance from the entrance, there was a shuttle that picked us up at a stop near our car and took us to the entrance and back. It was a good thing, too, as we certainly walked a long way after we got inside the gate.

    May 31, 2008

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