Harry's Gang: Got an idea for the West End?
October 20, 2023
People keep asking me what I’m doing with my building in the West End. It’s the original Barr Brothers funeral parlor on the corner of Avenue C and Vine Street. Most recently, it was the home of Carol and Gene Risdon’s The Rock Place store. For months now, the windows have been boarded over and some exterior canopies have been removed.
I have lots of ideas. We haven’t had a restaurant in the West End since the terrific Avenue C restaurant closed after less than a year in business. Whatever it was that killed that restaurant, it had nothing to do with the location. The place was hopping daily until the day it shut down. Parking wasn’t really a problem. While it had a small lot in the back, on-street parking was adequate for the crowds, even when the VFW club was busy with one of their many events. There’s plenty of parking in the West End.
Before that, Hong Kong was located across from the newspaper office, but that relocated to Sunnyside years ago. There was the Corner Café that my old boss, Dave Lindgren, used to talk about, back when the Newby law firm was on the second floor at 123 Ave C. I know Holly Hansen, the city’s development director, would love to see a brewery. One might fit in across the street at Naalsund’s cute brick building that’s been unused for years.
There are some food options in the West End. Wood City Nutrition, a weight-loss shake shop, is across from the old Chief theater where, soon, Common Ground Coffee Bar & Deli will be adding barbecue and changing its name to Holy Smokes Coffeehouse & BBQ. The plan, I’m told, is to offer lunch with counter service like a real Texas barbecue. The coffee shop will stay open, too. Eventually, depending on how it goes, they hope to add dinner too.
My wife has made it perfectly clear that my restaurant ownership days are over, so I’ll probably have to come up with something else.
The West End has evolved over the past decade, and has been attracting the types of small businesses that can spark vital neighborhoods. There’s a pottery business, Savannah’s Pottery House, that holds classes. There’s a new gaming store. We have a local hair salon, Crowned Salon, that really fixed up the old building it’s in — the floors, for example, look just like the floors at our 100-year-old courthouse in Carlton, because the same company did the floors in the salon. Stop in for a haircut and check out the amazing floors.
Some people think we need a bible store, but I’d be happy with any kind of bookstore. That would likely be a labor of love for someone. Bookstores are a real niche market these days. Of course, that’s what people said about local newspapers when we started this one, and we’re doing just fine. If you want to start a local bookstore, call me.
Personally, I like the idea of several small businesses sharing some retail space. Maybe a small cleaning business needs a headquarters, or a painter or contractor wants the visibility of a storefront in the West End. It would be great for a small service business, like a lawyer or an insurance agent. There’s already one of each in the neighborhood. Attorney Abigail Nouska is right across the street from me, and Lisa Montminy sells Farmers Insurance a few doors down.
Many of the old storefronts have been converted to living space. Ground-level apartments are not conducive to retail development, and against city code along the street. I’d prefer to see stores and shops on the street level, and leave the apartments to the back areas and upper floors. But there’s no crush of demand for storefront commercial space, especially in a town that has two old downtowns but where the most demand is for Minnesota Highway 33 space. One thing I’m certain of, though: the West End is changing, and it’s changing for the better.