How do businesses orient themselves? Exploring the Twin Cities’ ‘psychocommercial geography’

Business Name Geography of the Twin CitiesMinnPost illustration by Andy Sturdevant

It rained all weekend, as you probably know, and as much as I wanted to stroll through Whittier and see the tour of the Artists in Storefronts project, or report on the May Day Parade, it just couldn’t be done.

I like listening to rain, like any dreamy, impractical romantic, but I don’t like walking around in it wearing canvas shoes and carrying a camera and being drenched. (Which is odd, because I love stomping through a snowstorm taking photos, but rain seems somehow more fundamentally unpleasant.) Many people in town generally seem to be in agreement with me, as both of the aforementioned events were postponed until next weekend. So this past weekend, during optimal strolling times, I mostly stayed inside. I’ll report to you on the storefronts and the parade in the next couple of weeks. 

Instead, I took a walk through my neighborhood, down Chicago Avenue, after the rain let up on Sunday. I’d always noticed the many storefront signs for businesses with the word “southside” in the name. I’m interested in how neighborhoods think of themselves in relation to geography, especially when they’re identifying with a part of town that doesn’t have an official, city-sanctioned designation like “Uptown” or “Northeast.” After seeing some of the signage in the southside, I thought it might be enjoyable to work my way out from there, identifying other businesses that are named for cardinal directions. The finished result would be an Illustrated Map of the Psychocommercial Geography of the Twin Cities. And, for perusal now or on an upcoming rainy day, here it is!

City neighborhoods usually orient themselves as “ends” or “sides” or “towns”; the preferred nomenclature in Minneapolis seems to be “side.” Minneapolis is a tall, narrow city, running primarily north to south. From the westernmost point on Lake Calhoun, down Lake Street to the start of Marshall Avenue Bridge, it’s only about 5 miles across. Therefore, there’s really no such thing as a “west side of Minneapolis” or “east end of Minneapolis,” because if there were, those areas would be, at their longest, only 2½ miles wide. If someone tells you they hail from “east Minneapolis,” you know it’s a mistruth on par with being born and raised in South Detroit.

There are a few exceptions, of course: near Lowry Avenue and Central Avenue, you will find the East Side Food Co-op, which is, as far as I can tell, the only business in Minneapolis self-identifying as eastern. (This is perhaps a callback to the days in which the milling district on the east bank of the falls was known as “East Minneapolis,” but that designation is as long-gone as the old Minneapolis East High School, which once sat on the site of that large blue Byerly’s on University.)

On the other side, there are parts of the first-ring western suburbs that seem comfortable self-identifying as western, in relation to the city: in St. Louis Park, you can find Westside Volkswagen and Westside Redi-Mix, and of course The Shops at West End. On Main Street in Hopkins, you can buy vitamins and fruit juices at Westside Natural Health Clinic, which is somewhat fitting, as Hopkins was originally known as “West Minneapolis.”

Southside Farm StoreMinnPost photo by Andy SturdevantSouthside Farm Store

The other two cardinal directions, however, are full of claimants. In the southern part of the city, there don’t seem to be any “south end” businesses (and of course, “Southtown” is a mall). But there are dozens and dozens of “Southside” businesses: just a sampling might include Southside Farm Store, Café Southside, Southside Food and Deli, and Southside Auto. Southside’s nomenclatural influence stretches almost as far as the airport: The two southernmost points are perhaps Southside Chiropractic at 55th and Chicago, and Southside Hair and Barbershop at 60th and Portland, though there’s a smattering of australian (small “a”) businesses throughout Bloomington as far south as the Minnesota River. But for the purposes of our map, the businesses of Minneapolis are generally in agreement that the Southside is bounded by Lake Street at the top, 35W and Hiawatha Avenue on either side, with the Crosstown at the bottom.

Southside Food & DeliMinnPost photo by Andy SturdevantMore Southside pride at Southside Food & Deli

The Northside is similarly well defined. Most of the businesses self-identifying as “Northside” would go on our map somewhere inside the rectangle created by Penn Avenue, Plymouth Avenue, 44th Avenue North, and Lyndale Avenue North. Those would include but are not limited to the Northside Garage, Northside Food, Northside Printing, Northside Auto, and Northside Chiropractic Clinic. There is only one exception to the “side” naming convention: near Penn and Lowry you will find North End Hardware. (In the north as in the south, “Northtown” is another mall.) There are some outliers, of course: Northside Oriental Market is on Hubbard Avenue in Robbinsdale, and there are a few others in Brooklyn Park and Fridley.

St. Paul is its sibling’s geographic opposite: a long, squat rectangle, running east to west and only a little taller than Minneapolis is wide. St. Paul’s geographic eccentricities as they relate to the cardinal directions are well-documented: suburbs called West St. Paul (south of the city) and West St. Paul (east of South St. Paul). Each of those has their own like-named businesses, of course.

But in St. Paul proper, we find few businesses named for a northerly or southerly orientation. There is no apparent “Northside” in St. Paul, save one lonely outlier, New Brighton’s North Side Electric, which is right between the northern parts of both cities, and could really refer to either. The North End, on the other hand, is a recognized neighborhood, with its own businesses, such as North End Self-Storage. Southern-themed business names are sparse: a few “Southside” businesses scattered outside the city limits in Inver Grove Heights and South St. Paul. In addition, there is a mysteriously named Southside Crane Services in Shoreview, nearly twenty miles north of the city. Maybe they mean the Southside of Arden Hills.

However, our map for the east and west sides of the city are both well populated. The eastside of St. Paul is rife with commercial activity: Eastside Thai, Eastside Liquor Store, Eastside Floral, Eastside Towing, Eastside Pizzeria, all located generally in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood between Maryland Avenue and Phalen Boulevard.

The same is true in the occident as well, though the Westside of St. Paul is located, of course, south of downtown. There’s Westside Dental, Westside Haircare, and, further down, West Side Lanes, all generally located south of the river around Cesar Chavez Street and Highway 52.

For our next Psychocommercial Geography, perhaps we’ll look at the region as a whole and focus on the signage of businesses that identify themselves with the “Northwest” vs. those that identify with the “Midwest.” That would probably make for a good rainy day activity, too. 

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Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Alex Bauman on 05/09/2012 - 10:14 am.

    Territories are contested territory

    I think you’ll still find some old codgers who still refer to what we would call Northeast & Southeast as the East Side – note that East Side Neighborhood Services, founded in 1915, describes itself as “a nonprofit human services agency that provides basic needs resources and social services to individuals, families and neighborhoods primarily located in Northeast and Southeast Minneapolis.”

    Regarding sectors of the city, it seems clear that the South Side (or Southside as it’s traditionally misspelled in Minneapolis) has a companion in Southwest, but I wonder based on your map if it also has an eastern neighbor in Longfellow. There doesn’t seem to be many businesses who call themselves that, so I wonder how strong that identification is in the public mind, despite a good century of history (Longfellow School, Longfellow Gardens).

  2. Submitted by Andy Sturdevant on 05/09/2012 - 10:48 am.

    Longfellow, neither southern nor eastern.

    Yeah, based on the names of businesses, Longfellow doesn’t really have a southerly orientation — the “southside” seems to stop dead in its tracks right at Hiawatha — nor are there many examples of businesses named for the neighborhood (there’s the Longfellow Grill and Longfellow Family Dentistry). I suppose one could make the argument that it’s really “Southeast Minneapolis,” but we all know Southeast Minneapolis is that stretch of neighborhoods between Northeast and the University.

    In the public mind, that part of town is more likely to be associated with Minnehaha, I think, perhaps because of the street and the falls — Minnehaha Liquor, Minnehaha Coffee, Minnehaha Auto, Minnehaha Free Space, etc., etc.

  3. Submitted by craig furguson on 05/09/2012 - 02:37 pm.

    Where’s Northeast?

    Just asking.

    • Submitted by David Greene on 05/10/2012 - 11:36 am.

      Northeast is the part of Minneapolis east of the river and north of Hennepin Ave. It includes the wonderful Kramarczuk’s deli but NOT Nye’s as that is technically in Southeast. Northeast has a fantastic arts district centered around the Northrup King building. It’s also home to some fabulous architectural salvage shops for those of us with older homes.

  4. Submitted by David Greene on 05/09/2012 - 03:18 pm.

    Directional Naming

    Of course the reason the West Side of St. Paul is south of downtown and Southeast Minneapolis is northeast of downtown is the river. These areas were named in orientation to their location on either the west or east side of the river because that was the primary transportation corridor of the day. Northeast Minneapolis is east of the river and north of Hennepin Ave. Southeast is of course south of Hennepin Ave. Both make up old St. Anthony. St. Paul’s West Side is the only part of the city on the west (according to the river’s general course) side of the river.

    St. Paul has a West End, which is the cardinal west part of the city. My guess is that name along with the East Side of St. Paul came about because these areas were developed relatively recently and by that time the orientation of the cities had changed from being centered on the river to being defined relative to the land (i.e. cardinal directions).

    I have heard St. Paul natives speak of North St. Paul (not the suburb) though I don’t have a good feel for its borders.

    People I know in Longfellow seem to identify pretty strongly with that brand, though that is not true of Seward — they march to their own drummer there. “Minnehaha” is also a very strong identity in Longfellow, with lots of shops named Minnehaha . There are also a lot of “Falls” there (Falls Hardware, etc.).

    I love this history behind community naming like this. Street names are another fascinating study. One can pretty clearly see that different areas in Minneapolis developed at very different times and with different notions of wayfinding.

    • Submitted by Andy Sturdevant on 05/09/2012 - 05:09 pm.

      West End

      Ah, right you are, David! There’s a West End Kitchen Company (http://www.westendkitchen.com) on West 7th around Kellogg that’s apparently been there since the late ’50s or early ’60s. I can’t believe I missed that one. You rarely hear that part of town referred to as anything other than “West 7th.” Thanks for pointing that out!

  5. Submitted by David Greene on 05/09/2012 - 03:24 pm.

    Additions

    I wonder if any businesses or other landmarks identify with neighborhood additions in Minneapolis (Calder’s 1st, etc.). Probably not but it would be very interesting if such a thing exists. I recently did a historical analysis of my property and it was quite interesting. I always wondered why the property was described as “the north 39 feet” of a particular lot and block in an addition. It turns out that as the addition was developed, the developer on the lot immediately south needed one extra foot to build the house (or built it in the wrong place and had to acquire the land post-haste!).

    • Submitted by Andy Sturdevant on 05/09/2012 - 05:19 pm.

      Names for bars

      I’ve never seen anything named for the additions, I don’t think. But whenever I look through the plat books, I always think it’s a treasure trove of names for bars. “Hey, I’ll meet you at Calder’s First later for a nightcap.” Sounds good to me.

  6. Submitted by Rachel Southcott on 09/10/2012 - 01:41 am.

    How much do you spent with those storefront signs? It seems to be very excellent and enticing.

  7. Submitted by Max Hailperin on 02/02/2019 - 02:18 pm.

    Northside Oriental Grocery was formerly located on the northwest corner of Penn and Lowry Aves. N., so just outside your rectangle by being on the wrong side of Penn Avenue—much closer than the Robbinsdale location.

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