Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.

This coverage is made possible by a grant from The Saint Paul Foundation.

Minneapolis may consider allowing outdoor displays of merchandise

“Having things outside, as long as they aren’t blocking the right of way on the sidewalk, adds excitement,” says Council Member Elizabeth Glidden.

In Minneapolis, where you can get a ticket for setting up a flea market, there is the possibility that merchants might one day be allowed to display their merchandise outside, in front of their stores, where it can be seen.

Section 548.180 of the ordinance code outlines the “enclosed building requirement” that now mandates that the “production, processing, storage, sales, display or other business activity” be conducted within a completely enclosed building.

It was not always so. There was the store in Northeast that displayed mattresses on the sidewalk. And there was the business on Washington Avenue that surrounded itself with a sidewalk display of toilets, bathtubs and radiators. Perhaps it was not so charming, but you knew what they sold in those stores.

Then we got fancy and the sidewalk toilet display disappeared, and the mattresses moved inside.

Article continues after advertisement

And then we discovered how much fun it was to sit outside and eat a burger. Maybe it’s time to move other stuff outside.  Maybe we could go shopping without actually going inside of a store.

“I think having things outside, as long as they aren’t blocking the right of way on the sidewalk, adds excitement, adds activity,” said Council Member Elizabeth Glidden, who is starting work on a plan to move merchandise outside where it can be seen.  Glidden chairs the Regulatory, Energy and Environment Committee, which makes sure that city rules get followed.

If she thinks it might be time to change the rules, then the rules just might change.

You may have noticed that hardware stores display stuff outside and grocery stores sometimes display plants and flowers by the store entrance. Those are allowed under a “lawn and garden” section of the enclosed building requirement.

The other exceptions to the rule are the sale of automobiles and the direct refueling of motor vehicles. Drive-through facilities are allowed to hand you your burger through a window, which is sort of outside. Folks selling trucks, recreational vehicles and boats also are allowed to display merchandise outside.

“The debate will be which businesses will be allowed to display what outside,” said Steve Poor, manager of Zoning Administration and Enforcement for Minneapolis. He also said it would depend on the size of the sidewalk and the need to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Outdoor dining, for example, must be no closer than 20 feet from a residence or office building. Restaurants that offer outdoor dining also are subject to noise ordinances and all of the rules and regulations involving the sale of food and alcohol.

“We are recognizing in our city that people want to be outside when they can be outside,” said Glidden, who thinks outdoor displays will encourage residents to walk more and shop more at local businesses.

There is no timetable for any new rules. Officials might be thinking about changing the rules, but that doesn’t mean it will happen quickly.