DtStP Storefronts

DtStP Storefronts

There are hundreds of storefronts along the streets and skyways of Downtown Saint Paul (DtStP), home to around 200 small businesses. Is there a way through thoughtful planning and collaboration to help these businesses (and DtStP), encourage more businesses, decrease vacancy, and increase safety, wayfinding, and over all DtStP experience all at the same time?!


February 2021 – Slowly but surely. Have met with owners and managers of a handful of spaces and accumulated numerous variations of quotes from print shops. Have done a considerable amount of graphic design prep work, nothing is totally finalized yet but it exciting to see it starting to come together. I’m creating some supplemental pages of updates, but not quite ready to publish them yet. It should all come together before the end of the winter. Stay tuned.

September 2020 – This project has attracted funding from two organizations, The Knight Foundation & Saint Paul Downtown Alliance. I’m excited to be working alongside the SPDA to execute some very fun pieces of this project. Check back for more updates as the project takes shape.

The Idea

My idea is to catalogue and support the Downtown Saint Paul Storefronts. I have been creating a database that includes building owners, leasing agents, small business contact info and social media accounts. I would like to use this information to support collaboration between existing businesses and help fill vacant spaces by making downtown a more attractive place to visit, shop, live, and do business. 

Many businesses don’t have accurate hours listed on their front doors, some don’t even have signs with the name of the business. Many are missing basic information on google maps and social media that consumers have become accustomed to using as the modern phone book. I would help businesses establish consistent physical signage as well as updated digital and social media pages. This will help people understand what’s available should they choose to make the trip downtown to dine/shop. I would make efforts to improve wayfinding by strategically beautifying vacant storefronts and public spaces between shopping destinations.

What we’ve got now…The Good

What we’ve got now…The Needs Improvement

Sometimes you don’t need to buy a new sign or wrap a vacant window…you just need to hang the other chain back up.
The Lowry Building tenant sign has four blank spaces and info for a business that recently closed down.
While the sign still looks alright, Rivertown Market actually closed years ago, they have three sections of windows blocked with construction paper and graffiti.

Eclipse Records is in the Grace building on the well-trafficked Wabasha St. They have a sign on the front door, but imagine how much more visible they would be with a sign in the space above.

Walgreens moved across the street in 2017. Stains from their sign and blank windows remain in their prominent former location.
Faces Mears Park closed in 2016. Its beautiful frontage along Mears Park is large enough to have three signs that have held up relatively great compared to the business they were designed to promote.

How long ago did these blinds collapse for anyone walking by to see? I don’t know. I wonder, does anyone know?
Many new businesses are arguably optimistic with their business hours when they open. The result, as you see, is numbers frequently get scratched out as they reel in their hours. Then a year later nobody knows what the hours really are. Sometimes the eight is upside down, too.

Subtext Books is one of my favorite businesses downtown. If you look hard enough at this picture you can find a sign identifying their store…
Unfortunately, located on a one-way street, this is the view of Subtext passing cars are more likely to see.
Here are two unmarked storefronts. One is vacant, the other just doesn’t have a visible sign.

Idea Examples

Vinyl window treatments could be a cost-effective way of placemaking
Businesses and building owners may be interested in matching funds on improvements to a neighboring vacant storefront
Businesses and building owners may be interested in matching funds on improvements to a neighboring vacant storefront
In some cases, a quick power-washing could make a huge difference
Some businesses may have too thin of margins for signs, others may have city code or Historical Preservation obstacles they simply don’t have time to navigate
Sometimes you just have to find the right canvas
Many places along the Green Line are ripe for sprucing up
Some of these ideas are already there…but maybe we can do better.
We gotta do this.

Immediate Action Items:

  • Gather contact info for buildings and storefronts
  • Create Google Form to…
    • Gauge interest in collaboration
    • Gather issues/needs data
  • Chart obvious digital deficiencies
  • Chart storefront signage deficiencies (hours, branding, etc)
  • Get pricing estimates on vinyl window signage.
  • Familiarize myself more with city codes and art.

Long-Term Action Items:

  • Form coalition group of Storefront businesses?
  • Develop an agreed-upon basic digital presence and physical signage guideline.
  • Boost digital strategy and physical presence of small businesses. Whether it’s creating storefront websites, or just filling in all the boxes on Google map profiles and social media accounts. 
  • Unified front for lobbying about universally agreed-upon problems like wayfinding, vacant blocks between open shops, and unwelcoming public spaces
  • Communal investment in branding, marketing, or even something like a parking garage
  • Create a cohesive downtown boutique shopping experience for downtown visitors that includes standard hours, with extended hours for special events.
  • Developing downtown business guides to include in special event materials, such as a map insert for the Winter Carnival to show which shops are open nearby.
  • Court a late-night coffee shop into a vacant space.

Potential Related Projects?

7th Place
DtStP Database
DtStP Neighborhoods
DtStP Bike Racks – Same general area