The rebirth of Hennepin and Lake

CARAG — Lingerie, T-shirts, cosmetics and winter gear will replace papered windows and construction equipment later this year at Hennepin Avenue and Lake Street.

Within the next several months, Uptown’s core intersection will undergo a major transformation: Victoria’s Secret will fill in the space left by the Gap at 3000 Hennepin Ave. S., American Apparel will move into the former American Eagle space at 1433 W. Lake St., The North Face will complete construction of a store at 3008 Hennepin Ave. S. where UPS and Tibet’s Corner used to be and Juut Salon Spa will expand its 2945 Henepin Ave. S. location.

The changes are the most recent evolution of the area, which has seen everything from men’s retail to bookstores, pharmacies and even a bowling alley. Through all the business changes, Uptown’s demographics have also shifted. It’s been a punk Mecca, a tourist destination and, more recently, a home for wealthy homeowners.

New developments and condo conversions are replacing many of the area’s rental units, bringing thousands of new property owners to the area, said Jeff Herman, a lifelong Southwest resident and president of brokerage Urban Anthology.

“Now Uptown needs to make that turn, to service those individuals,” Herman said. “What I do is I look at demographics. I understand where an area is going. and I try to anticipate where those needs are going to be.”

Herman, who was behind all the new Hennepin and Lake business deals except for Juut, is a real estate forecaster. He’s been doing it since 1992 and has made a name for himself in Uptown, especially during the past year.

Not everyone is pleased with the businesses he’s brought to town, but Herman won’t hesitate to explain the reasons for his decisions.

All three businesses he’s made deals with lack standalone stores in Minnesota.

Los Angeles-based trendy clothing retailer American Apparel and winter gear mogul The North Face have no other branches in the state, though some North Face products can be purchased at other retailers. Victoria’s Secret can be found in just about every mall, but Herman said there is no retailer that fits its niche in Uptown, and he’s hoping the company does something unique with the 15,600-square-foot space.

“If they’re able to focus on catering to the demographics that are coming for that unique beauty experience at all of the independent salons, then they’ll do very well,” Herman said. “If they don’t, it’s a 50/50 chance that they’re going to make it.”

Herman said Apple Computer and clothing retailer H&M were approached about the space, but a deal couldn’t be worked out.

Thatcher Imboden, an Uptown resident and member of the Uptown Association, said turnover is typical in Uptown every 10 to 15 years. He said ending leases and some businesses’ inability to work with the changing market resulted in the changes at Hennepin and Lake.

“The economics of today just allowed for a big switch at once, and everything plays off each other,” he said.

Imboden said Herman has a strong background in studying real estate across the nation, giving him a good sense of what works and what doesn’t. Finding the right mix of national and local businesses is something that Uptown has had trouble doing, Imboden said, but he guesses that the new stores will give struggling Uptown retail a boost.

“[Herman] is bringing stuff to Uptown that Uptown should benefit from,” he said.

But some residents, such as blogger Erica Mauter, aren’t so sure.

She said she lives in the area because of its eclectic mix of unique, independent businesses. Those same businesses draw others to the area, she said. She said American Apparel and the North Face make sense, but she was disturbed to hear Victoria’s Secret was moving into the former Gap space.

“I can see one inside Calhoun Square, but as an Anchor? I just can’t see it,” she said.

Jon English, owner of Jon English Salon just down the block from the Victoria’s Secret site, said that company and the other additions could go anywhere. Seeing that they are willing to invest in Uptown reaffirms his belief that he’s in the right place, he said. He said area residents and business owners should welcome the newcomers.

“Whatever comes to us, as a community, in most cases, it’s a matter of managing it and not rejecting it,” he said.

English, who said he’s excited to have another business on the block that makes people “feel sexy and good about themselves,” has some plans of his own. His Uptown salon will be remodeled, more staff will be added, and his hours and days of operation will be extended.

English said businesses need to be proactive in revitalizing Uptown, rather than placing blame elsewhere, such as on the stalled Calhoun Square project.

“We have such a good nucleus of entrepreneurship in Uptown, people know how to make the changes to get it back on its feet,” he said. “The thing is, the best way to encourage the rebirth of Calhoun Square is acting on that ourselves, the people surrounding Calhoun Square, instead of finger pointing.”

One of the businesses doing just that is Juut Salon Spa, which is expanding into the former Financial Freedom Realty sales center and Cold Stone Creamery spaces. Owner David Wagner said he looked at moving into the former Gap space, but couldn’t make it work financially.

Wagner said Juut’s existing Aveda cosmetics store fronting Hennepin Avenue will be moved to front Lake Street and the former cosmetics space will be used to provide more salon services such as hair coloring. He hopes Juut’s improved visibility on the corner combined with the addition of some new neighbors will pick up slow retail sales.

Wagner thinks the new stores and his expansion will complement each other well.

“I think it’s a renaissance for Uptown, and it’s about time,” Wagner said. “We’ve been waiting.”

Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or [email protected]