New AutoZone store prompts “Taste of Windom” to support local shops

An AutoZone store is slated to open this summer in the former Walgreens at 5415 Lyndale Ave. S.

AutoZone is strictly a parts retailer, said communications manager Tracy Houston, and there would not be a garage onsite. Products range from “wiper blades up to an engine,” she said.

“If you want to work on your car, we can help you in terms of the parts we carry,” she said.

Houston said the target opening is mid-late July.

Spokesman Ray Pohlman said the store is one of 150 that AutoZone will open across the country this year.

The news disappointed some residents who were hoping for an independent restaurant or other neighborhood gathering spot. In response, the Windom Community Council is planning “Taste of Windom” events to support local shops.

Windom resident Thomas Townsend said he’s worried that customers will borrow tools from AutoZone and work on their cars in the parking lot.

“Everybody I know kind of hoped we were transitioning that area into more of a neighborhood-friendly destination,” he said. “I think we all had visions of grandeur. I’d love to see a co-op move in there, or some kind of neat store or restaurant.”

Amanda Vallone, coordinator of the Windom Community Council, said rumors  had circulated that a Panera Bread or Chipotle would open on the corner. Those ideas also didn’t sit well with some neighbors who were hoping to avoid chain establishments altogether. Ideal candidates were local pubs or small restaurants akin to George and the Dragon, Vallone said.

“They would rather have had that than another auto [business],” she said. “There are quite a few on Lyndale and Nicollet already.”

Lehman’s Garage and Midas stand on the same block as the new AutoZone. Enterprise Rent-A-Car and Fixt Rite Auto Repair & Tire Center stand another block to the south, with Valvoline Instant Oil Change at 58th & Lyndale. Another group of auto businesses is located at 58th & Nicollet, including Wuensch Automotive Services, Bobby & Steve’s Auto World and Fifty Eight Street Services.

Some residents are now saying they must make a conscious effort to support restaurants and coffeehouses in Windom. The former Betsy’s Back Porch Coffee on Nicollet ran into financial difficulties when I-35W construction temporarily shut down the Diamond Lake Bridge. The shop later closed in 2009, citing the downturn in the economy. Caribou Coffee at 5309 Lyndale Ave. S. closed in 2013 as part of a company decision to close 80 underperforming stores.

In reaction to neighborhood concern, Vallone is planning social “Taste of Windom” events, perhaps visiting spots like Prima, Saguaro, Freestyle Yogurt, Toppers Pizza and Tailgate Sports Café.

“[Residents] don’t want to have to go out of the neighborhood to get that community feeling,” she said.

Some neighbors are pleased with AutoZone’s arrival. Boulevard Commons owner Bruce Bermel said Walgreens generated lots of traffic and parking difficulties — that’s why the store moved across the street, he said.

He said chopping the building into smaller retail spaces would be expensive for the landlord, and would ultimately drive more traffic than the site could handle. Business between the auto parts store, Enterprise and Lehman would create a natural synergy, he said.

Bermel noted that other tenants could have been less palatable to the community.

“I thought a Dollar Store was going to go in there,” he said. “From a purely real estate standpoint, I think it’s a good use for a large retail building. … This type of use will tend to be a more reasonable parking and traffic generator for 54th Street.”

Eyes are now turning to the Uncommon Gardens storefront at 58th & Lyndale, which is advertised for sale. Townsend said perhaps the reaction to AutoZone will help impact the tenant there.

Leasing is also underway for a proposed retail building at the northwest corner of 55th & Lyndale.

One new restaurant is opening in the former Cintia’s space at 6042 Nicollet Ave. S. A banner next to Tailgate announces a grand opening for Patty Wagon, serving “burgers and  bites.”