Northside Minneapolis development means more groceriesby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
The grand opening of new grocery store in north Minneapolis draws a host of local dignitaries and area residents. In other communities, such an event is unremarkable but this store is the anchor of an $8 million privately-funded development that promises to re-energize a once-vibrant corridor that has recently suffered from underinvestment.
Minneapolis, Minn. — The afternoon sun shines brightly into the new Aldi grocery store near the corner of Penn and Lowry Avenues. It dances across barely used, white floors and sparkles off the metal shopping carts.
Aldi is not a big box store. This building is about 10,000 square feet, about eight times smaller than the average Cub or Rainbow.
Aldi doesn't offer the amenities of those stores. The store is not open 24 hours; it doesn't contain a bank or a butcher counter and customers pay for bags and carts.
This no-frills approach helps keep prices down.
"The prices are phenomenal," says Preston Kelly. "They're very, very reasonable. Where else can you go to get a loaf of bread for 50 cents? You can't even go to the bakery anymore and get it for 50 cents."
Kelly, who lives in a nearby suburb, is helping his elderly uncle buy groceries. His uncle lives close to the store and Kelly says that makes it easy on his uncle and other people who live in the neighborhood.
"I think it's a good thing," he says. "I hope it pans out to be a positive thing for the community in the long run, you know."
"Yeah, it makes the neighborhood look nicer, definitely," says William Johnson. He lives about six blocks away from the new store. Johnson says he usually drives out to Brooklyn Park or Robbinsdale to get groceries. This is his first time inside the store.
"Yeah, so far so good," he says. "I mean -- makes the block look a lot different. My buddy used to own the restaurant there, before, the steak house."
Johnson is talking about the Penn Best Steakhouse, which used to be located in the building next door.
In 2005, the steakhouse was the site of a daytime double homicide. It closed shortly thereafter.
Even before the shooting, the block showed signs of deterioration.
In the early 90s a fire damaged a series of storefront buildings near the corner. The then-city council member of the ward, Alice Rainville, tried to get the reluctant owner to do something with his property.
The city bought the land and tore down the boarded-up buildings in the late 90s leaving an empty lot.
Rainville has retired from public office but her daughter, city council president Barb Johnson has taken up the effort to revitalize the corner of Penn and Lowry.
"It's been a corner that's suffered from disinvestment from the prior property owner," says Johnson. "And it used to be, while old, something of a thriving corner with a couple restaurants, a shoe shop, a bakery."
Now the corner is the site of an $8 million, privately-funded development.
The building contains space for more than the grocery store. A second story covers part of the building. An employment agency will go in there and there's left over retail space.
The developer has also purchased the adjacent building which holds the Family Dollar store and the former steakhouse. The dollar store will be renovated and expanded.
Council president Johnson says unlike some other commercial developments that have to come to the north side, Penn-Lowry Crossings does not look like a strip mall.
She says that's because city staff members who worked behind the scenes wanted it that way.
"Our staff was very uncomprimising," she says. "That was what we had to have on that corner. A building that was a see-through building, so that people felt safe; a second story that gave a more neighborhood feel to the development and that was a more substantial development."
There are other changes coming to the area as well. Hennepin County has been rebuilding Lowry Avenue just to the east of Penn. The county has added landscaping along boulevards, widened sidewalks and added bike lanes.
- All Things Considered, 01/25/2008, 5:50 p.m.