Happy spring! Don't put away your shovels, there's a big 2-day snowstorm coming this way starting Thursday night. Yippee.

Now, let's talk about big box retail a little. As I assume most of you already know or have read on the circulars in the mail and paper, national retail giant Total Wine & More has opened a big store in Roseville. It offers thousands of wines and beers and, as they promise in their name - More - as in liquor, and related supplies I assume. TW&M tried to open their first store in Bloomington, but there was some intense opposition and so it's on hold while the community sifts through the store's previous history and potential impact. Roseville debated those same issues and determined there was no legal justification for denying them their license, so they okayed it.

This isn't the first big box competitor for our small independent businesses and it certainly won't be the last. Speedy has to deal with not only big grocery but also Target, Walmart and other "Super" stores, Ned has to compete with the big car shops and Holiday stations of the world, Peapods faces competition from the Toys/Babies 'R Us franchise and Emil Gustafson Jewelers from the "You've got a friend in the diamond business!" mall chains. Micawber's has had to duke it out with Barnes & Noble and now the little wine shoppe is rightly worried about the impact of a chain that can buy in such quantity they can offer lower prices, not to mention the age-old strategy of keeping your profits razor-thin until you get rid of the competition and then bumping them up. But hey, it doesn't always work, anyone remember Borders? And even the big boxes are threatened by an even bigger cyber box - Amazon.

I have mixed emotions on this. Obviously, anything that threatens our local business neighbors bothers me. I know they also are working with tight margins and even one bad season can spell trouble for their future. I'd like to think that there's room for both types of stores but I know some small retailers will go out of business, especially near the new store. I also know that the examples I have given show that you can compete with the big guys if you offer quality service, products and form personal relationships with your customers. Even if your prices are higher. 

Let's face it, in America we have choice. We can choose to do things that provide us with long term savings or short term savings (depending on the price of gas and I mean the full price, including environmental costs.) Most of us do a little of both but it is important to figure out how to what those savings actually are. I love our small independent retailers and I still shop at big boxes so I'm certainly not going to condemn other people's choices or demonize all the big boxes. Here in Minnesota, we're proud of Target (mostly) and Best Buy (mostly) and others. They provide jobs and a significant boost to our economy. You can always wish and work for better business practices, but larger stores are an important piece of the economic mosaic in many communities.

What I've always appreciated about St. Anthony Park is our understanding of the sometimes delicate balance in all this. Size, in and of itself, does not make a business bad, or good. Our successful retailers prove that you can compete with large volume/lower price options and mostly make a living doing it. We consistently list walkable retail as one of the top assets in our neighborhood, but we have to support them. If we don't use them we lose them.

So, visit the Total Wine store to measure the experience. Do they know you? Do they know your kids' names? Do they know what you like? Do they respond to your requests? Are they knowledgable about their products? Are they easy to drive to? Do their employees seem happy? Does all that matter to you? If it does even some of the time, thank your local retailer next time you stop in. Thank Bryan, Pam, Tom, Ken, Sandra, Dawn, Roxy, Suzanne, Dan&Millie, Tim&Tom, John&Elizabeth, Dave, Marsha, Ned, Mahmoud, Steve, Jim and Tim. Shopping local doesn't always have to mean next door, but I want to make sure next door shopping is always open. That's my choice.

D12

Vandalia Tower
The old Mattress factory building across from Rock-Tenn on Vandalia & 94 has a new name and design that orients it towards the east. I was at a meeting this afternoon hosted by First & First, the building's owner, to talk about how the building can be developed. Many of the current residents - woodworkers make up a big part of it - showed up to ask questions, share needs and brainstorm ways to make the building work better. It was a good discussion and well-attended, probably 40-50 people, and it included the new owners of the Fisher Nut building near our new breweries and the Silgen complex on Prior north of Menards. They are in the very early stages of figuring out what to do with those properties but it will be interesting - the Silgen complex alone is four big buildings with a water tower.

Accessory Dwelling Units
D12's Land Use Committee meets tomorrow (Thursday) night at 7pm to hold a public conversation about the idea of allowing property owners to build a second house on their lot. The council has waved off a vote after the meeting on recommending it to the full board so the topic can be fully discussed and understood. Everyone's invited, but looking at the weather forecast, you should probably bring a shovel.

Schools - Spring Break!

New Standards Celebrate Old Standards
Don't forget to get your orders in for the big Mother's Day May 11 concerts celebrating Music in the Park Series and The Saint Anthony Park Community Foundation - featuring the New Standards. Call The Schubert Club's ticket office at 651-292-3268

That's all for now. Take care of yourself and be a good neighbor.