by Sarah Boden
It's a sunny afternoon on Hennepin Avenue. People enjoy the mid-June weather and downtown atmosphere while sitting at tables outside the new Lunds grocery, snacking on sandwiches and other treats purchased from the store.
Although new grocery stores open all the time, this Lunds, which opened last week, is a big deal for downtown Minneapolis. For the first time in decades, downtown residents have access to a full service grocery store without getting in the car or hopping on Metro Transit.
Next year, however, Lunds is going to get some competition. The Ryan Companies' new mixed-use residential development is being built less than a mile away from Lunds at 222 Hennepin Ave., and a Whole Foods will occupy the ground floor of the complex.
The main reason that not one, but two grocery stores are setting up shop in the area is that the population of downtown Minneapolis has skyrocketed in recent decades. Downtown is defined as the neighborhoods of Downtown East, Downtown West, Elliot Park, Loring Park and the North Loop. According to U.S. Census data, there were 16,725 downtown residents in 1990. In 2010 the downtown population jumped to 25,892 people - and that number is expected to grow.
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President and CEO of the Downtown Council Mark Stenglein projects downtown's population to "double in the next 10 to 15 years." Stenglein points out there are currently 11 new downtown residential projects in various stages of development.
Considering the large residential presence downtown, the previous lack of grocery stores may seem baffling. Stenglein says this is partly because downtown real estate is expensive, and therefore vendors can be reluctant to take the gamble.
It's a gamble that will likely pay off, considering the growing population as well as how downtown residents move about. Stenglein says people who live downtown prefer walking and biking.
Stenglein believes Lunds' and the future Whole Foods' convenient locations will serve the community well. "I think it makes it easier and more exciting to live downtown," Stenglein said.
Lunds Byerly's spokesperson Aaron Sorenson says the new Lunds was designed specifically to cater to an urban population. The Twelfth Street and Hennepin Avenue store has a number of features that differ from the company's 10 other locations.
"There is still a significant amount of space devoted to prepared foods," Sorenson says. He expects that the prepared foods will catch the attention of some of the 160,000 people who commute to downtown for work during the lunch hour. There are also bicycle stalls and showers in the basement to accommodate employees who bike to work.
With a Lunds today and a Whole Foods tomorrow, retail in downtown Minneapolis is transitioning to accommodate changing demographics. It will be interesting to watch what happens next.
(MPR photo/Sarah Boden)