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Exit of North Face, Columbia Sportswear highlights Uptown retail challenges

Courtesy of Twin Cities Business/Burl Gilyard
The Columbia Sportswear and North Face stores were neighbors on Hennepin Avenue in Uptown.

Two high-profile national apparel retailers are leaving the Uptown area of south Minneapolis. The North Face and Columbia Sportswear are both closing store locations this month on the western side of Hennepin Avenue, across the street from the Calhoun Square mall. The North Face and Columbia stores are directly adjacent to each other.

Victoria’s Secret, another store on the same block, closed its Uptown store in January 2018 after a 10-year run on the corner of Lake Street and Hennepin Avenue; the space remains empty.

“In reviewing our portfolio of stores, we determined that the Uptown [Minneapolis] location no longer fits with our strategic direction. The Columbia brand remains very strong in Minnesota, and we will continue to invest in our omnichannel businesses there,” said David Lawner, Columbia’s senior vice president of its North America direct-to-consumer division, in a statement. Columbia still has locations at the Mall of America and Albertville Premium Outlets.

“Omnichannel” has become a buzzword to refer to retailers who are trying to reach customers wherever they are: in a store, online, on their phone, et cetera.

A representative of North Face said that the company isn’t commenting on reasons for its store closure. North Face’s Uptown location opened about 10 years ago and will close this month. North Face still has other metro stores at the Galleria in Edina, the Mall of America in Bloomington, and on Grand Avenue in St. Paul.

Commercial real estate retail broker Jeffrey Herman knows the Uptown market well. He brokered the deals that brought North Face, Columbia Sportswear, and Victoria’s Secret to the neighborhood. Herman said that leases were expiring for both North Face and Columbia Sportswear, a standard juncture for companies to reassess business locations and strategies.

“Right now what you’re seeing with many retailers that have brick and mortar locations is right-sizing,” said Herman, president of Minneapolis-based Urban Anthology.

Herman now has the job of trying to lease out both the Columbia Sportswear and Victoria’s Secret retail spaces and said he’s optimistic about the prospects for both.

But one veteran retail broker sees ongoing challenges for stores in Uptown.

“I want it to do well, but it’s been a challenge for retailers,” said John Johannson, senior vice president with the local office of Toronto-based Colliers International. “We want to be an urban market. We want to be New York or Chicago, but Minnesota consumers constantly remind us that they travel by car.”

Johannson said that parking in Uptown can be challenging and frustrating for shoppers. He noted that the Lunds & Byerlys grocery store, a long-standing neighborhood anchor, has the advantage of having its own parking lot where shoppers can park for free.

On paper, it looks like Uptown should be a great retail market.

“People love the demographics: the income, the density,” said Johannson.

But he adds that retailers considering the market often want to know from the businesses that are already there: how are you doing?

“My gut is that recently they would say they’re not doing very well,” said Johannson of Uptown retailers.

There are other holes in the Uptown market: apparel retailer Heartbreaker closed in 2017 on the Hennepin Avenue block between Lake Street and Lagoon Avenue. The space remains empty.

The most common concern for Uptown retailers of late? The fallout from the city of Minneapolis’ recent reconstruction of Hennepin Avenue. On the key retail block between Lake Street and 31st Street — home to both The North Face and Columbia Sportswear stores — the city eliminated street parking for cars on both sides of the block. While the total amount of parking spaces there was not huge, retailers say that they’re seeing an impact. “That has really, really been challenging for all the retail tenants on both sides of the street. I think that’s a factor that’s going to continue to be significantly harmful to the retailers in general,” said Stuart Ackerberg, CEO of the Minneapolis-based Ackerberg Group. “I think the parking was kind of the final nail in the coffin for some of these retailers. Everybody is complaining that their sales are off.”

twin cities business magazine logoJohannson and Herman both echo Ackerberg’s concerns about the project’s effect on Uptown retailers.

Ackerberg is seeing many of the same challenges at Calhoun Square, which the Ackerberg Group acquired in 2014. He said that retailers with storefronts on the street have fared much better than tenants in the mall’s interior.

“In general, the street tenants have done pretty well,” said Ackerberg.

National beauty retailer Sephora opened a Calhoun Square location in 2018, a sign of confidence in the market. But interior mall tenants that have left Calhoun Square include Visionworks, Bremer Bank and Sox Appeal.

“It’s slow on the inside,” said Ackerberg. “There just isn’t a lot of traffic.”

This article is reprinted in partnership with Twin Cities Business.

Comments (11)

  1. Submitted by Pat Terry on 01/09/2019 - 11:00 am.

    Maybe it was a bad idea to have two fancy coat stores next to each other.

    • Submitted by Adam Miller on 01/09/2019 - 02:40 pm.

      A third one, Arc’teryx, joined them not all that long ago (and there’s actually economic theory that attempts to explain why it’s actually good for similar retailers to be grouped together).

      • Submitted by Pat Terry on 01/09/2019 - 05:24 pm.

        Interesting. I suppose similar stores make it a fancy coat shopping (or whatever product) destination. Makes sense.

  2. Submitted by N. Coleman on 01/09/2019 - 11:34 am.

    Parking is always blamed for each era of Uptown’s retail woes but the truth is neither of these brands holds as much cachet as they once did. Nobody goes out of their way to buy Columbia outerwear.

  3. Submitted by Adam Miller on 01/09/2019 - 02:38 pm.

    Is the intended implication that the loss of street parking has harmed in interior retailers? Because that does not make much sense.

    Or maybe retail is cyclical, the popular brands change over time, and the ongoing challenge of operating a mall at Lake and Hennepin over the last several decades implies that shoppers don’t want to drive to a mall (with an attached parking garage) after all.

    • Submitted by Tom Melchior on 01/09/2019 - 04:34 pm.

      I think his point was that retailers on the street benefited from the street parking. Too early to tell what the impact will be now that street parking is lost but likely not good. With bricks and mortar retailers having more problems due to on-line purchasing, seems like it would make sense for the City to help these retailers or at least “do no harm” – making parking more difficult likely does harm.

      • Submitted by Ed Day on 01/10/2019 - 10:59 am.

        The retailers probably benefited from on-street parking, which I assume was likely less expensive than a parking garage, because people have been accustomed to free to fairly inexpensive parking options when shopping.
        Doing no harm is next to impossible, but the jury is still out whether this is a good move by the city. “Fancy coat stores” are not day-to-day destinations for neighborhood residents (though I can see how grouping them together creates some sort of synergy), so this could be a positive if they are replaced by retailers that attract more repeat customers.

      • Submitted by Adam Miller on 01/10/2019 - 12:29 pm.

        With construction over, it’s hard to see how these changes, which make it much easier for all the customers who are on the mall side of the street because they parked in the ramp to cross to the businesses on the other side of the street. It’s not hard to see how that could be a lot more people than a handful of parking spots that only have to turn over every couple hours.

        Also, the street is going to be a much more pleasant place to actually spend time.

        Anyway, we won’t have to rely on the assumptions if real estate brokers for long.

  4. Submitted by Elsa Mack on 01/10/2019 - 11:47 am.

    It seems like people want Uptown to be a mall. They bring in the same stores you can find at Southdale, Rosedale, etc. and then complain that Uptown doesn’t have free parking like those places do. But Uptown isn’t a mall—it’s a neighborhood. What it needs are more interesting and unique shops and restaurants that serve the many people who live in the area.

  5. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 01/11/2019 - 05:47 pm.

    I’m delighted to see parking removed between Lake Street and 31st. I have to travel down Hennepin Avenue and back three times a week, and many was the time a person who insisted on sashaying into a tiny parking space on that block prevented the cars behind him/her from getting through, even while traffic in the opposite direction was making it impossible to pass. Gridlock resulted.

    The attitude was “I MUST park here and nowhere else, no matter who is inconvenienced.”

    The removal of parking does make the street look more pleasant.

    Now my wish list for Uptown is as follows:

    1. More locally owned stores and eateries that you wouldn’t find at a suburban mall

    2. Replacing the traffic light that used to exist at 31st and Hennepin and eliminating the Alphonse and Gaston routine that occurs at the four-way stop when traffic is heavy

    3. The bank at 31st and Hennepin giving up its hard-nosed attitude against people parking there after hours and on weekends.

  6. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 01/14/2019 - 12:32 pm.

    I love going to Uptown. I park for free but won’t tell you where. I don’t waant to screw up aa good thing. But if you go there in the evening for maybe dinner and a movie you will pay a heavy premium for parking. Parking is expensive and complicated in Uptown. Since I don’t use those ramps anymore I can only guess what it costs to park there long enough for dinner and a movie. Ten Bucks? More? Way more than I want to spend. Those national chain stores may be available elsewhere with free parking. Who is going to drive to Uptown and pay for parking to buy a piece of clothing they could get somewhere else? A destination like Uptown wants food and entertainment and the kinds of shops that appeal to browsers. I think free parking would be a good thing. Meanwhile I’ll keep using my secret plae for free.

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