Dinkytown changes worry long-time business owners

1:29 PM, Nov 30, 2012   |    comments
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Fans of Dinkytown say they're worried new housing and retail developments will change the nature of the eclectic retail zone east of the University of Minnesota main campus.

The area has been attracting students with a mix of shops and restaurants for almost a century, and is known for both its small scale, local character and a population that includes a lot of characters.

Skott Johnson, the president of the Dinkytown Business Association, sees the sometimes quirky as an incubator of sorts for homegrown business enterprises.

"I would like to see Dinkytown stay as a great center for small business, entrepreneurship," Johnson told KARE Thursday.

"In a lot of these buildings our rent is fairly reasonable for people to start out a business."

He said larger scale apartment buildings that have been rising around the perimeter of Dinkytown, while good news for students in need of housing, may change the identity of the area.

Johnson, a Gopher alum who has owned the Autographic print shop since 1989, conceded some of the new buildings include ground floor retail space. But he says that space isn't very affordable by traditional Dinkytown standards.

He cited Sydney Hall, the new mixed use housing and retail district on the edge of Dinkytown as an example of that trend.

"It's really too expensive for any of these small businesses to relocate. It would have to be a chain, or somebody with very deep pockets," he remarked.

Kelly Doran, the Bloomington-based developer who built Sydney Hall, told KARE there's a demand for high quality student housing near the U of M. He pointed out that the university is working to recruit students from around the US and the world, for that matter, who factor housing into their decisions about where to go to college.

Doran Companies also built the 412 Lofts down the street from Dinkytown, and is in the process of building The Knoll, a residential development on University Avenue across from campus.

The next project on the drawing board is on a vacant lot near I-35W and University, far from Dinkytown.

As to the commercial tenants in Sydney Hall, Doran said there's also a demand for the chain stores in the retail segment. He noted that the CVS Pharmacy in his Sydney Hall project is one of that company's busiest stores in Minnesota.

Kristen Eide-Tollefson, who runs the Book House, a used book store in Dinkytown, said she understands the need for housing. But, on the other hand, she's hoping the evolving area will still maintain some of its local charm.

"The core of Dinkytown has always been books, food and music. And it still is books, food and music," she said.

"And it's important for us to maintain that character of the university village. Dinkytown is a really unique part of the university community."

On Thursday Eide-Tollefson was busy getting thousands of books boxed up in the basement of the old Marshall High School building.  That local landmark will soon be razed to make way for a housing development.

"It's going to be torn down, and replaced by condos," she explained.

The school opened in 1924 and merged with University High in 1968 to form Marshall-University, or Marshall-U, as some people called it.  The school closed in 1982 and large building has since become known as the University Technology Center, an incubator facility.

Eide-Tollefson rented space in the basement to store 12,000 archived books.  But she couldn't find comparable storage space near the university campus, so she had to get rid of the collection.

"There's really no place to keep them, and this is a collection that's really uniquely suited to the university area," she said.

This week she held a book give-away event, which drew good crowds of students, faculty and collectors. She planned to donate the remaining books are being donated to the Good Will, which will market them online.

Her retail store, the Book House, will remain open for business.

"Our old archived collection is going away, but we're still here in Dinkytown!"

By the way, there are several theories for how the area ended up with the name of Dinkytown.   One is that the horse-drawn trolley cars in the late 1800's were known as dinkys, and there was a large staging area for the cars near the U of M.

In Ames, Iowa the small steam-driven trolley trains used by the Ames and College Railway were known as "dinkeys" or "dinkys."

Another theory is the small service carts used by rail repair crews were nicknamed dinkys, and that many were housed in the part of Minneapolis that became Dinkytown.

(Copyright 2012 by KARE. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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