Jun 25, 2007
Minnesota 36 North St. Paul / Businesses feel lost amid the roadworkBy Matt PeikenTwinCities.com

Roseann Kermes started an e-mail Friday morning by typing, “Look at the depths I’ve stooped to for business.”

The owner of Rosebud’s Cottage, in North St. Paul, then laid out the details of her “Free Paris” sale – ostensibly commemorating the release of Paris Hilton. Kermes plans to offer percentage discounts connected to the number of days the celebutant spends incarcerated, with the sale beginning the day she’s freed. Shoppers receive additional discounts for coming into the store wearing black and white stripes or carrying a handbag with a dog inside.

Kermes’ e-mail went to Kent Barnard, a public affairs official with the Minnesota Department of Transportation, and it symbolized the double-edged sentiments – the hope with a headache – many in North St. Paul are expressing about highway reconstruction.

MnDOT crews closed Minnesota 36 between White Bear and Century avenues at the beginning of May, but it took several weeks for MnDOT to post roadside signs redirecting motorists to area businesses. To this day, some merchants said, there aren’t enough signs, and existing ones are confusing. And while some detoured motorists have a hard time finding merchants, they’ve found their way into North St. Paul’s residential streets.

“We’ve become the new 36,” says Katie Zupan, who lives on 17th Avenue – otherwise known as County Road C – where it connects with McKnight Road.

People on all sides of the equation are trying to embrace the concept of positive thinking long enough to see the completed construction. Minnesota 36 is scheduled to reopen to some traffic in September and completely by Thanksgiving, Barnard said.

“We don’t want to see any business go out, and we’ve done a lot to help business,” Barnard said. “But this can’t be a passive thing where you can expect people to come find you. You have to be innovative, creative and proactive.”

Merchants seem to both agree and bristle at that notion.

Their creativity began with posting and distributing maps through mailing lists about how to get around the highway closures into North St. Paul’s downtown. Then there was the Detour Days festival, in late April, and a “Follow the Snowman” advertising campaign. Merchants fought efforts, driven by fear of clogged traffic, to cancel the town’s popular Friday night car shows. As it is, the show will end three weeks earlier than usual. And Kermes and other merchants have come up with special sales to lure people in.

“North St. Paul isn’t a boomtown anyway, so you can’t say we’ve gone ‘whoom’ – completely down, but everybody’s really upset about (the signage),” said Nicole Kuczaboski, owner of One Sweet World, an antiques and gift shop.

Read complete article.

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