A stroll down St. Germain

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November 13, 2013
By: Linda Koutsky
The historic streetscape makes shopping an aesthetic experience.
Photo by Linda Koutsky
Linda Koutsky

What’s more fun than an afternoon shopping adventure? Searching out a new destination, browsing unknown stores, meandering aisles full of imaginatively chosen merchandise — it can awaken the senses and invigorate gift giving ideas. With that in mind, I headed straight northwest to St. Cloud. Just a mere one-hour drive from downtown, Minnesota’s eighth largest city is situated on the banks of the Mississippi River and is known as a hub for the area’s granite industry.

After picking up a historic walking tour brochure I learned St. Cloud was named in 1856 by town founder John L.Wilson for a village outside Paris where Napoleon had a summer palace. Wilson probably also named “St. Germain,” a street that stretches from the “left bank” of the Mississippi River through downtown. About seven blocks of St. Germain are included in the Commercial Historic District. Designated in 2002, the area includes 64 historic buildings built between 1870–1910. Decorative brickwork, carved ornament, and plenty of granite cover the facades. Many buildings are filled with one-of-a-kind shops. You can easily spend an afternoon browsing the stores. Here are a few I liked best:

Cast iron book presses, wood index card catalogs, and antique bookcases provide an aesthetic backdrop for new, used, and collectible books at BOOKS REVISITED (#607). Wood carvings, hand-dyed textiles, paintings, pottery, and jewelry pack the shelves at ARTS CO-OP (#619). MARISHKA’S SHOPPE (#811) Features antiques, repurposed furniture, jewelry, clothing, and home decor in a sunny storefront. From small delicate collectibles to valuable treasures, ANTIQUES GALLERY (#619) packs it all into their small space. Twenty dealers sell art and antiques at BUMBLEDEE’S (#711). Vinyl covered confetti collage handbags are just the beginnings of the wild and wacky store NORTHERN BRIGHTS (#707). You have to see these bags to believe them. And plenty of people around the country have — they’ve shipped their colorful purses to every state since they started making them in 1990.

Did you know HERBERGER’s department stores got their start in St. Cloud? The first one’s still here too. It opened in 1927. Though no longer a Minnesota company, the family legacy continues at the Herberger Business School at St. Cloud State University.

Just outside the department store is a massive GRANITE TRIO sculpture by Anthony Caponi. Carved on-site at a nearby quarry, this 32 ton, three-piece sculpture recently celebrated its 40th anniversary in St. Cloud!

While a couple hotels and convention center anchor the river end of St. Germain, the other end of this historic district is capped by the PARAMOUNT THEATRE. Built in 1920, the theatre opened to 50 cent showings of D.W. Griffith’s “Way Down East.” Movies, opera, vaudeville shows, music concerts, animal acts, wrestling matches, and political lectures graced the stage. In the mid 1990s, the community donated a million dollars and the city sold bonds to finance its renovation. Today the theatre, and Visual Arts Center, is the pride of Granite City. The lineup of holiday shows is dazzling — after your shopping excursion, stay for a show! 

LUNCH BREAK: In the first floor of the old Granite Exchange is the new Dolsie’s Lunch Box Grille.

For a printable copy of the tour map, write to WeekendTourist@mnpubs.com.