Help us plan this year’s Art on the Avenue

Our last meeting of the minds, back in March.

Hard to believe this was a year ago already.

Join the organizers of Art on the Avenue for an artist/business/community mixer on Monday, April 21 from 6-8 p.m.

This is an informal gathering where you can share ideas and volunteer to help build on the success of last year’s event.

The mixer will be held at Highbridge Tattoo, 608 Smith Avenue. Please don’t be intimidated by the idea of hanging out at a tattoo shop – it’s a gorgeous and welcoming space.

There will probably be refreshments of some sort but we haven’t gotten that far yet. More information will be posted later, but for now, mark those calendars!

 

 

The new thrift shop in town

thrift store doorIt looks pretty official that the St. Paul Classic Cookie Company won’t be opening up at Smith and Curtice after all – a new tenant has moved into the space and opened its doors to the public.

The 3T’s Thrift Store is now open at 779 Smith. The location was previously home Affordable Coffins and Artery, which left over a year ago for a bigger space in the Midway neighborhood. The cookie shop held a lease on the space for the past year, but unfortunately never got off the ground.

I stopped by on Sunday and spoke briefly with Trinidad, one of the owners of 3T’s. He’s excited about the space and the traffic he sees going by on Smith, but is also well aware that a similar store was in the space a few years ago and went out of business in a short amount of time.

He said the store will be getting more merchandise over time, possibly even appliances at some point. Most of the items he’s currently selling were donated from friends, recovered from storage units, etc.

thrift store

If you need a blender, an overhead projector and a wicker basket to take it all home in, this is your place.

The pickings are a little thin at the moment – it’s basically garage-sale merchandise, but also at garage-sale prices. Like all good thrift stores, the selection is eclectic, functional and useful to the right person. Most smaller items were in the $1-$3 range, a kid’s bike emblazoned with Minnesota Vikings logos was for sale for $35. Trinidad says he’s willing to negotiate on prices.

It’s hard to tell based on first impressions how successful this store will be. Trinidad, who lives nearby, says he’s putting “everything he has” into the business. The hours, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, are ambitious and will mean an “open” sign during times when most other shops in the area are closed (for instance, I Dream of Heels, next door, is only open on Saturdays).

At any rate – it’s good to see some activity inside a space that’s been dormant for far too long. Stop in and say hello if you get a chance.

West St. Paul Days parade coming to Smith Avenue

(Artist’s misconception)

Because of construction on Robert Street, the West St. Paul Days parade will be moving to Smith Avenue this year (and possibly for a couple of years after that).

The new proposed route will start at Charlton and Butler, travel down Butler to Smith, then follow Smith to Annapolis, ending at Charlton and Dodd (near Gallagher’s and Taste of Love). The parade takes place Saturday, May 18 at 1 p.m.

Informational meetings will be held at the Cherokee Tavern on March 18 for businesses and March 20 for the general public.

Haven’t seen any information on bus detours, but I have an inquiry into Metro Transit. I’ll post info as soon as I find out.

For more information, call 612-710-7043 or go to www.celebrateweststpaul.org.

map route

I can see my house from here: Neighborhood history revealed in aerial photos

The University of Minnesota has recently put thousands of historical aerial photos online, and a handful of the capture the Smith Avenue neighborhood at a time of historic transition.

The Minnesota Historical Aerial Photographs Online database has more than 113,000 images taken throughout the state over the past century. While not quite the same resolution as the satellite images we’re accustomed to today, the level of detail they reveal is remarkable.

I’ve posted some low-resolution screen captures below of some of the images depicting our neighborhood. You can click on some of the images to enlarge them a bit and explore in more detail. The links to the originals are also at the end of the post.

(Disclaimer – I’m not a historian. I’ve done my best to identify buildings based on what I know about their history, but feel free to correct or add additional information in the comments)

The earliest image in the dataset from our area is from 1923, showing part of the border area between St. Paul and West St. Paul:

1923 full

(click to enlarge)

For reference, I’ve zoomed in and labeled the portion around Smith and Annapolis:

1923 smith annapolis labeledThis shows the neighborhood in its youth. If you look closely you can see the building currently housing Amore Coffee (at the time, I believe, it was a drug store). At this point much of the area south of Annapolis is still farmland and orchards. You could buy a country house and still be walking distance to the streetcar. These were the suburbs of their day.

Fast forward to 1937, and we can see housing starting to move into West St. Paul (Annapolis Street is labeled). Much of the city’s walkable northern edge is taking shape, while the rest of the city remains largely rural. On this image you can see Robert Street, Thompson Lake on the right and Somerset Country Club on the lower left:

1937 full

(click to enlarge)

Zooming back onto Smith and Annapolis we can see how much has changed:

1937 smith annapolis labeledYou can see how quickly things changed in less than 15 years – the dirt paths, fields and orchards south of Annapolis are filled with new, tidy middle-class homes, and businesses are thriving at the streetcar terminus.

This image also gives us a look further up the street, at Smith and Baker:

1937 smith baker labeledAnother 1937 image includes part of downtown, decades before a big chunk of it was leveled by freeway construction and “urban renewal,” and back when Seven Corners actually had seven corners:

1937b full

(click to enlarge)

This view gives us a better look at the gas station that is currently home to Taste of Love bakery:

1937b smith annapolis doddAnd also the top of the High Bridge. You can’t see it here, but if you look at the original you can see the shadows of the bridge’s trellis supports over the Mississippi River.

1937b top of high bridgeAnyway. This is just a snapshot (pun intended) of what’s in the archive. There are more images of West St. Paul, including some shots of Robert Street in the 1950s, still wide open and rural, with nary a chain store in sight. Bill Lindeke of Streets.mn has used the database to show the evolution of the Ayd Mill Road/I-35E interchange (which provided the inspiration for this post).

I encourage you to check out the images for yourself and explore. Here are the links:

Minnesota Historical Aerial Photographs Online (full database)

1923 image of West St. Paul and the West Side

1923 image of the West Side

1937 image of West St. Paul

1937 image of the West Side

St. Paul bike plan: What’s in store for Smith Avenue?

The City of St. Paul recently released its draft bikeways plan, which provides recommendations for new and improved facilities to accommodate increasing numbers of cyclists.

This was also a regular topic of conversation during the drafting of the Smith Avenue revitalization plan a few years ago. Because of its topography, the neighborhood is a popular training route for competitive cyclists, but there are also a fair number of everyday bike commuters (disclosure: I’m one of them) and recreational cyclists. Smith Avenue is also home to Capital Deals, the only bike shop on St. Paul’s West Side.

The neighborhood’s revitalization plan stops short of recommending specific bike routes, instead calling for “safe bike routes for all users” and recommending study of a bike boulevard parallel to Smith Avenue. We considered several possibilities for bike routes on Smith Avenue itself but it would be virtually impossible to do without disrupting the street parking that several businesses depend on.

Reuben Collins, who’s heading up St. Paul’s bike plan, said the planners looked at Smith and also determined it’s not a good candidate for bike lanes. You can see the city’s recommendations on the portion of the map below:

bike lane mapThe green line is the existing Cherokee Regional Trail. Red lines are streets recommended for bike lanes (Annapolis and the High Bridge). Blue lines are “enhanced shared lanes” which use pavement markings and signs to indicate the presence of bikes (Ohio, George). And purple lines (Delaware, Baker) are “bike boulevards,” which are streets designed to prioritize non-motorized transportation and discourage heavy car traffic.

It’s this last designation that’s liable to stir up the most confusion, because a bike boulevard can be comprised of many different designs. Bike boulevards in West Coast cities sometimes use curbs and roundabouts to calm traffic. In practice in Minnesota, the results are less dramatic (the need to plow snow keeps us from getting too fancy with the pavement). Important thing to keep in mind is that these streets don’t ban cars outright, they just discourage through traffic, much like a suburban cul-de-sac.

The bike plan does diverge from the Smith Avenue revitalization plan in one important respect, however. The proposed routes running parallel to Smith are both three blocks away, which may be too far away to funnel bike traffic toward neighborhood businesses. Wayfinding signs may solve this, but Ottawa or Manomin may be other options worth considering.

(ADDENDUM: It’s worth noting that Delaware and Charlton are identified as potential corridors in West St. Paul’s bike/pedestrian plan, so bike routes on Delaware and Ohio would provide good continuity)

This is just a draft, and if adopted will become an addendum to the city’s comprehensive plan for future development. There is no timetable for implementation at this point, no guarantee any of this will become reality anytime soon.

If you have feedback on the bike plan, there are three more public forums coming up soon, and you can also submit comments in writing. All of the maps, documents, and other information you need are right here.

Bus service changes coming this summer (sort of)

That's actually me getting on the 67 at Smith and Annapolis. (Photo by Drew Kerr / Metro Transit, used with permission)

That’s me getting on the 67 at Smith and Annapolis. (Photo by Drew Kerr / Metro Transit, used with permission)

The Route 67 bus — Metro Transit’s “Route to Relaxation” — serving Smith Avenue is among the routes that will change on June 14 when the Green Line light rail service begins between St. Paul and Minneapolis.

I’ll get to the details in a moment. But to avoid confusion, I’ll start with the main takeaway: Basically, everything will be the same, except the bus will have a 62 on it instead of a 67. I’ve created a handy photo illustration below:

62

What’s happening to the 67, you ask? Currently, when the 67 arrives downtown, it continues west along Thomas and Minnehaha and dumps you out in Midway somewhere. After June 14, that western portion of the route will continue and combine with the Route 8 bus serving Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis. You can see a map here.

The 62, which currently serves Rice Street and ends downtown, will continue from downtown to the West Side along the old 67 route. The 62 has longer hours and greater frequency on Sundays, but don’t get too excited, the portion serving Smith Avenue will still have essentially the same service hours as the 67 does now.

So if you use the 67 to get downtown, there shouldn’t be any significant changes other than a different number on the front of the bus. I wouldn’t rule out minor schedule changes though, so be sure to double-check the schedule online before the changes take place this summer.

Wedding decor company moving in near Smith and Dodd

deckci

A long-vacant property near Smith and Dodd has a new owner with some serious plans to class up the joint.

Deckci Decor, an event decor rental company, is in the process of moving into the former O’Reilly Auto Parts location at 973 / 975 Smith, next door to Smith Liquors. The building, while well maintained, has been vacant for at least five years.

Owner Kristen Cici (presumably the “ci” in “Deckci”), says they plan to open in a few weeks, with an open house planned for March 29th. Cici says she serves 250-300 weddings per year. “We rent everything from table linens to paper lanterns, pipe/drape to charger plates and we focus on providing high quality for an affordable price.”

Cici says she toured 20-25 properties throughout the metro area before choosing Smith Avenue. “We decided on the Smith property because of its convenient location, affordable price, and great building. It has good bones – just needs primarily cosmetic updates. Hence our plans to update the front the building with lighting and paint once it’s warmer out.”

Once the company is moved in, Deckci will operate out of the north half of the building (973 Smith) and lease out the other half.

With Taste of Love, one of the top bakeries in the city for custom wedding cakes, and letterpress shop Nomadic Press nearby, perhaps the neighborhood is becoming a hub for the wedding-planning industry?

At any rate, it’s great to see this classic retail building in great hands. Welcome to the neighborhood!