STILLWATER, Minn. - Stories have been written about towns that lost a highway - and died.
Stillwater is not one of them.
More than a week after the closing of the Stillwater Lift Bridge, the community’s historic downtown is buzzing, just in a better way.
“We have not seen a reduction in business, actually an increase I think,” said Margene Westmoreland, manager of the Käthe Wohlfahrt of America Christmas store.
Christmas in August is one way to describe the gift to downtown Stillwater that has already been the new St. Croix River Crossing a mile downstream.
“We got our downtown back,” said Stillwater City Council member Mike Pohlena. “You can come downtown now, you can drive around, you can find a place to park.”
On Friday workers set up barricades for Saturday night’s bridge closing block party – with plenty to celebrate.
Cory Buettner, owner of Leo’s Grill & Malt Shop, says sales are up 15 percent since the closing of the bridge. “The people who want to be here are coming down,” Buettner said.
Workers spent Friday setting up tents and barricades for a Saturday block party - not to celebrate the opening of the new bridge, but the closing of the downtown-clogging lift bridge.
“We normally wouldn't be here shopping because it would be too chaotic,” said Amanda Kobs, who lives in Stillwater.
Kobs’ friend Kelsey Schwartz of Maplewood added, “It's easier to walk across the street and not worry about getting knocked over by a bunch of cars.”
As a bonus, scores of daily walkers and bikers have been taking advantage of spectacular river views from the sidewalk on the new bridge, creating its own tourist draw.
Said Buettner, “It’s like the golden gate of the Midwest, it’s a tourist attraction to some regards.”
That good traffic should increase in 2019 when the old bridge becomes a bike and pedestrian trail connected by a five-mile loop to the new bridge.
By no means is Stillwater a dying town, but town reborn.