E-DEMOCRACY | Saving the soul of St. Paul


From: Grace Kelly (nicknamed Kelly) Date: 4:46pm, Feb 05

Let’s face it, urban communities have soul and suburban communities do not have soul. There are no distinguishing characteristics that make one suburban chain store mall different. There is no original anything in suburbia.

Walking anywhere in St Paul I feel at home. My next door neighbor painted murals on a tall tree stump. My neighbor across the street put an elf door at root of boulevard tree. I walk past the Starbucks to get to the local Cahoots coffee shop. The old woodwork of O’Garas goes well with a local specialty beer on a cold day. The old houses are artwork with a sturdiness that withstands weather. I love my neighborhood.

On Snelling, we are getting a series of chain stores now like Buffalo Wings. We are losing the local unique stores. Not only do chain stores lack soul and investment in our community, they also suck the money out of the local economy. Instead of buying locally, chain stores pre-make everything elsewhere and then also ship the profits elsewhere. Chain stores have poverty-wage jobs that dull the mind. Even the food is unhealthy. As one person found out, that if you solely eat at McDonalds, then you are in a health crisis within a month. Every chain store is a local business opportunity lost.

What is wrong with the district planning councils? Why have they embraced suburban blight? There should be a love-your-St-Paul-neighborhood test for all our decision makers!

Am I alone in this? My discussions with my neighbors indicate that there are here for the classic original old neighborhoods as well.

Indeed I found a blog article by Marit Brock that speaking about how much she cares about her West 7th Street neighborhood:


I love my neighborhood, no secret there.

The blood, sweat, tears, successes and failures of lives led here in my old house and my old neighborhood are with me every day and give me a sense that our community is firmly anchored into the bedrock of the Mississippi River bluffs. I chose to raise my family here, where the work of previous generations gives a richness and meaning to the future we create. I believe that we benefit from the foundation laid by those souls of the past. They have given us the security to create something today that future generations will be able to build on as well.

But that the successes and failures of the past means that my neighborhood has been badly mistreated off and on over the last 100 years or so. Each attempt to “modernize” sets us back a bit, but the community seems to fight its way back and stabilize. We have recovered from freeway construction, “modern” office buildings, strip clubs, oil tanks, just to name a few. We owe this success to the tireless work of urban activists over the past 50 years.


Marit Brock then goes on to make the point that caring is not enough, we have to be activists.


Is love enough?

No, love is not enough. Love, vision and a lot of hard work is what it will take to build a community that honors the past while preparing for future generations.


The whole article is here: http://mycommunitymatters.wordpress.com/2014/01/26/is-love-enough/

So I am thinking we have to set a policy that promotes local unique stores or we will lose what we love about St Paul. What do you say? Are you with me?

Grace Kelly nicknamed Kelly Loving the Merriam Park Neighborhood

From: Monica Millsap Rasmussen Date: 5:43pm, Feb 05

University Avenue is also hosting more chain stores than local stores, often replacing a local store with a chain store (think Culver’s replaces Porky’s, Noodles and Co replaces any Asian style restaurant that may have left). I don’t like policies that keep corporate and chain businesses out of a neighborhood, but I do favor a policy that makes it easier to start a business in a neighborhood.

Much of what is happening along University Avenue is a result of development and assessments that are pricing middle class business owners out of the area. As a whole, the city administration is not really concerned about what residents of the individual neighborhoods like about where they live. The development is a result, partially related to federal funds like “New Starts” that has the goal of economic development related to the Wall Street crash in 2008. And most cities like to get federal money.

What we can do is tell the city to favor policies that make it easier to do business in the city. Regulations and restrictions sometimes have unintended consequences in that only wealthier businesses (or chain/corporate businesses) choose to develop because they have the money and power to find loopholes into the neighborhood. I’d be interested in hearing from local business owners or those who have previously ran a business about why they move to a particular location. Or better yet, to the potential local business owner, what would make you choose to start up in a St Paul neighborhood?

From: Deborah McLaren Date: 7:11pm, Feb 05


Please be specific when you suggest “policies that make it easier to do business in the city.” As someone who has worked in community development for 25 years, all over the world, including St. Paul, I can provide enormous evidence shows that it’s VERY important to restrict corporate and chain businesses from displacing locally owned, independent businesses. To me, the policies we need are specifically the ones that make it easier to start a local business and keep corporate chains out. It’s very difficult to have both when a local micro-enterprise (guidelines less than 5 employees and less than $50,000 start-up) can’t get loans and other incentives yet a big box store or restaurant can come in and buy up whatever they want – often receiving tax breaks and other incentives from our local government that local businesses can’t get.

I applaud people like Grace Kelly and Marit Brock who are denouncing the sell-out of our neighborhoods. As Kelly notes:

“Not only do chain stores lack soul and investment in our community, they also suck the money out of the local economy. Instead of buying locally, chain stores pre-make everything elsewhere and then also ship the profits elsewhere. Chain stores have poverty-wage jobs that dull the mind. Even the food is unhealthy. As one person found out, that if you solely eat at McDonalds, then you are in a health crisis within a month. Every chain store is a local business opportunity lost.

What is wrong with the district planning councils? Why have they embraced suburban blight? There should be a love-your-St-Paul-neighborhood test for all our decision makers!”

Kelly and Marit, you are not alone! Buying locally and supporting guidelines that nurture and support these businesses not only help our community. Do you know where our food comes from? If we buy locally we are also supporting the family farms of Minnesota who supply us with healthy food! Our investment in our community spreads to rural communities and stays in the state – not leaking back to the pockets of shareholders in some far away place. We are all in a very well documented part of a tourism and community development cycle – the part where we sell our culture, land, environment and businesses off the the highest bidder. We will not be able to buy them back.

We saw the loss of numerous independent bookstores (which also means local publishers, local writers, etc) when Borders and Barnes & Noble came in. Now even some of those behemoths are failing because they were so greedy, grew so quickly and were unsustainable. They are not the answer. Understanding why to support LOCAL and INDEPENDENT is critical. Understanding why we need to RESTRICT corporate chains is even more critical at this point since it is apparent we need to educate ourselves about the long-term sustainability of our communities – and be absolutely sure – allowing those chains in undermines just that.

Deborah McLaren Local Flavor

From: Monica Millsap Rasmussen Date: 8:11pm, Feb 05


I’m not a business owner or a potential business owner, so I don’t know what policies would encourage small business development. I would guess, however, that helping small businesses get loans or tax incentives for small businesses would help-why do chain businesses get them and small businesses do not? Is that a policy decision at the city level? At the neighborhood level? What about zoning regulations? Parking variances? Sign variances? What about assessment fees? Ease of paperwork filing to start up in a city? What about facing neighbors who don’t want to give parking variances, sign variances, or allow additions to be developed on land the business owns? What about facing neighbors and a city who tell you that your business doesn’t fit in with the plan of TOD?

There are several ways to be open to business through incentives rather than restrictions. And if we want certain types of business development, then we should provide the incentives those businesses need. But, we should also understand what those businesses want or need. For example, I would guess Pizza Luce, Love Doctor, Twin City Tees, and Cupcake don’t care if we restrict their chain store competition so much as that the city and neighborhoods aren’t hostile to them in their needs.

From: Linda Winsor Date: 8:24pm, Feb 05

Love these postings. Local indies are the soul of our communities and not only need our help as consumers, but also need our help in passing legislation that levels the playing field for them.

As a citizen member of the Metro Independent Business Alliance, (MetroIBA) I am doing my part to support and advance local indies in our communities. Please visit our website to learn more: metroiba.org

The future is in our hands. And yes, this about the soul of our neighborhoods.

From: steve scholl Date: 9:02pm, Feb 05

Grace thinks the cities have cornered the market on soul while the burbs, with never having had anything original, are totally lacking in the soul department.

Well, I lived the ’70’s in a rural community, and everyone there thought Grace’s city was totally soul-less. Having grown up in a large city, so large that my high school graduating class had over 1100, and it was only one of twenty or thirty schools of similar size, I tended to agree with the rural community.

So, what does it take to have soul? According to Grace, it means being able to feel at home anywhere you walk. Well, you don’t do a lot of walking between homes in the rural community, but whenever you arrive, you certainly are made to feel at home, probably because it took so much effort to stop by.

However, the feeling of walking anywhere and feeling at home also has its consequences. Such as all the people who walk by your home or garage in the city and feel so much at home that they just borrow whatever they want (without telling you about it). On the other hand, those folks out in the rural area were always respectful about the difference between your property and theirs.

Then there is also the issue of just walking around. Grace ought to tell that to my wife. Last week she was doing what she always did when we lived in Highland, taking a walk. She happend to pass a couple of young men who were having trouble distinguishing the difference between someone’s snowblower and their desire to have one. In other words they were attempting to put it into their car. Naive as she is, she did not realize they were attempting to steal it. When they could not get it into their car, one decided to sneak up on her and at least get a purse. Yes, he mugged her. Right on Juno and Snelling.

Well she fought the guy, punch for punch, kick for kick, right on the corner. Did I mention it was also daylight with lots of traffic on Snelling? Did any of those soulful people stop? Too bad it was not on Ayd Mill Road, because those people from Eagan certainly would have, but not the St Paul people. Having soul means you do not get involved. Pretend you do not see anything and just keep going.

So Grace, watch those people walking around your home, because if they really feel at home at your home, you might be missing something valuable. And watch where you walk when you are feeling so much at home. You might get hurt.

Grace also considers a sign of soul to be the mural painted on the tree stump, but want about all the grafitti and gang demarcations everywhere else. I wonder if that also brings out her warm, fuzzy feelings?

I could go on and on but you get the picture. I am not buying the soul argument.

But don’t think I want to run down St Paul, I just resent the comparison between St Paul and a suburb. They both have their strengths and weaknesses. Neither is perfect, but we should appreciate the fact that they both exist and that we have the freedom to live where we prefer.

What bothers me the most is Grace’s effort to get a small, activist group to impose what they want on the majority. To me that is a clear demonstration of a lack of soul.

All the best,

Steve Scholl Eagan

From: Jim Mork Date: 9:15pm, Feb 05

Snelling has lots and lots of indie businesses. Maybe a time will come when there are none. But that’s an apocalyptic vision. Still, it does raise the question about what small proprietors encounter that the city can actually affect that would make them hardier. There has been much talk about the hardware store on West 7th. It died because the owners moved far away and got an offer they couldn’t refuse. The city can’t prevent that. Second, many small businesses are run by people with inadequate business skills. I guess the city COULD start up free business seminars where successful small business people instructor prospective business startups on where the pitfalls are that doom most small business, which I think statistics show fail. I am afraid people jump in with the notion “I want to be my own boss”. Well, if the boss is a boob, that can be devastating. It nearly bankrupted my sister who lives in Minnetonka. She could speak to others about the sheer difficulty of being the boss and why she wishes she’d done the legal angle differently. Hint: Let the LLC sign a note, NOT you where they can take whatever you have.

Swings of the economy are far beyond St Paul control. Which means your business plan has to assume swings in the economy. What is your escape plan?

Anyway, I agree that I love independent businesses. Like Shish, the Middle Eastern restaurant near Mac. They have a breakfast nobody else can match. Let’s try to keep those by going there as often as we can afford to.

From: Deborah McLaren Date: 10:21pm, Feb 05

Hi Linda,

Thanks for your note. I am also a member of the Metro Independent Business Alliance (Metro IBA) and recently helped organize a Micro-Business Forum hosted by Rep. Keith Ellison. Our goal was to provide resources to these very small, independent businesses and strengthen the discussions, relationships and coordination between our communities, community development centers, the Small Business Administration and our Minnesota representatives. Despite the below zero temps, there was a great turn-out. Our next step – Rep. Ellison has invited us to go with him to the Capital to meet with his Congressional colleagues who have expressed interest in specifically supporting local, independent Minnesota businesses. I encourage anyone who wants to know more, or support our independent businesses, to become a member of Metro IBA. We will host the national IBA conference here in May. It will be an opportunity to promote indie businesses across the country and highlight our work to create a more nurturing indie environment here in Minnesota.

Monica, I’d like to encourage you to learn more about the questions you posted in your message. Why do chains often receive more attention and incentives than independent businesses is a good place to start. Here is some practical information. You may want to check out the websites of the two national groups mentioned below.

Why shop Indie? When you shop at an independently owned business, your entire community benefits:

The Economy Spend $100 at a local and $68 of that stays in your community. Spend the same $100 at a national chain, and your community only sees $43. Local businesses create higher-paying jobs for our neighbors. More of your taxes are reinvested in your community–where they belong.

The Environment Buying local means less packaging, less transportation, and a smaller carbon footprint. Shopping in a local business district means less infrastructure, less maintenance, and more money to beautify your community.

The Community Local retailers are your friends and neighborssupport them and theyll support you. Local businesses donate to charities at more than twice the rate of national chains. More independents means more choice, more diversity, and a truly unique community. Now is the time to stand up and join your neighbors by supporting local businesses and celebrating independents.

Support Independent Business Alliances around the country. To find an alliance near you, visit AMIBA or BALLE.

Thanks for the helpful discussion.

Deborah McLaren Local Flavor

From: Charlie Quimby Date: 7:55pm

This could be a very fruitful thread if we could hear from actual business owners citing in detail the problems they face and get away from politically loaded assertions on behalf of business owners with no actual specifics.

I remember a trash hauler contributing to a discussion about various city trash schemes being very helpful in elevating our understanding of the issue. I had an experience talking to a business owner about his document-shredding business and why he couldn’t expand. He explained that to add employees, he also had to buy an additional truck for $350,000. Because the bank wouldn’t loan him the money, he’d have to finance the purchase himself. And because the tax code made him write it off over so many years, he couldn’t afford to pay that kind of downstroke himself.

WHen you have information like this, you can actually see what the business faces, and how the issues interrelate. And it’s possible to come up with a policy that would help the situation.

Diggitt McLaughlin nails one aspect of this discussion. Consumer behavior is a greater hurdle for small businesses than government, IMHO.

So are unrealistic and unskilled people starting businesses. Study after study finds small businesses fail because people don’t know how to run a business.

As for big companies getting help, there’s no question they have more power in that area, and it’s true whether the administration is Democratic or Republican. But there are plenty of small business loan programs, too. Through last May, 206 loans were made to Central Corridor small businesses ranging from $1,105 to a maximum of $20,000. Under certain conditions, these loans are refundable, i.e., won’t require repayment.

As a business founder whose company is still running under new owners after 25 years, I have to say government never impeded my success. I paid well above minimum wage, even to interns, had profit sharing and full benefits, generous leave policy and matched employee charitable contributions. I also paid lots of taxes when I made lots of money, and now that my “business” as a writer is very small, I pay hardly anything.

Let’s hear from the businesses themselves that are hurt. I’m sure it will be educational for us all.

E-Democracy forum posts are republished under license by Creative Commons with Attribution. There were 21 posts on this topic as of February 6, 2014. See entire discussion thread here.