In 1980, Prince Rogers Nelson told the world about “Uptown,” a utopia where “black, white, Puerto Rican, everybody just a-freakin’” got together, got along, and celebrated the elixir of bohemia and the freedom that comes with thinking — and dressing — for yourself. At the moment, His Royal Badness needs to know that Uptown is no longer Uptown, but Updale, and its new church is Cowboy Slim’s, which Vita.mn writer Kara Nesvig recently characterized thusly:
“Don’t look now, but a disturbing class of male has infiltrated the bars and nightclubs of Minneapolis. They stalk the sidewalks of Uptown and downtown, bedecked and bedazzled in $60 T-shirts and $200 jeans. They flick Visas at bartenders in exchange for endless Vodka Red Bulls. They preen their gelled fauxhawks in bathroom mirrors, and they hit on chicks who may or may not be pleased with their brand of sleaze. Can’t put your finger on what’s wrong with that dude at the bar? Duh — the guy might be a douchebag.
“Rumor has it that the bar with the highest concentration of douchery is three-month-old Cowboy Slim’s in Uptown (‘Cowboy Slim’s has cheap drinks, horrible music and dumb girls — three things every douchebag loves,’” says nightlife blogger Nicole Fox).
Ugh. The final nail in the Uptown-as-we-knew-it coffin will reportedly come in mid-October, when a neighborhood-unconscious developer razes the Uptown Bar and puts in a mini-mall — never mind that Uncle Tupelo, Nirvana, the Jayhawks, the Jesus Lizard, the Replacements and many others tilled their early tunes there, and that other (mostly European) cities put places like it on the historical register.
Thankfully, there are some holdouts. Magers & Quinn, the Uptown and Lagoon, and a scant few others still soldier along in the face of a gentrification that will soon bring a chain health club to the top floor of Calhoun Square. Good luck to all, but it brings to mind something I heard a Harvard professor quote the other day on NPR: “Nobody ever washed a rental car.”
Meaning, of course, that when people feel ownership in a place the way they do with a place like the Uptown (where, it can’t be overstated, a whole hell of a lot of Minneapolis love, lore and drama went down), they feel righteously offended when the wrecking ball finally swings.
But god bless it, up the street on the corner of Lake Street and Bryant Avenue sits The Corner Store, where the husband-wife team of Linda and Pat McHale have been selling vintage clothing for 30 years.
“A lot of things get called ‘vintage’ these days, but to me it’s not vintage,” says Linda, who notes that she and Pat launched their first vintage store in a storefront next to the current Electric Fetus location 35 years ago. “For me vintage is nothing later than ’70s, but I just think the whole concept is [defined as] unique and not mainstream off-the-rack crap that you find right now.
“That’s where designers get all their ideas. It’s the same thing every 20 years. There’s not so much innovation in the style world, [because] there’s only so much you can do with fashion. Even look at all the boots that are out right now; they’re all 1980s boots, and to me ’80s isn’t vintage. It’s anything ’40s or older and through the ’60s: that’s the clothes I think are cool; a ’50s shirt or dress, anyone can pull that off.”
These days, business is decent at The Corner Store, which survived “18 months of insanity” (Linda), when construction ground business to a halt on much of W. Lake Street. To be sure, it might pick up a blip when word gets out that Eric Clapton has been a regular since he visited the shop for the first time in June after his concert with Steve Winwood at the Xcel Energy Center.
“He was in Japan in a shop and they told him about my shop,” says Linda. “He called one day, and asked about motorcycle jackets, then came. He said, ‘Is Pat here?,’ of her husband, an avid guitar collector. “I had no fricking fracking clue who I was talking to. He said, ‘Well, I’m gonna go get coffee.’
“After he left, it was like I got hit in the head with a sledgehammer: ‘Oh. Eric Clapton.’ … He bought six vintage motorcycle jackets, and a pair of vintage bib overalls. We shipped ‘em all. Now he and Pat e-mail each other every other day, talking about vintage stuff and guitars.”
Clapton isn’t the only artist to seek out the treasure trove that is The Corner Store. Bruce Springsteen has been in "a couple times," as have the White Stripes, Winona Ryder, Kelly Lynch, Billy Bragg and "Bob Dylan a bunch of times"
"He wants to look at clothes and furniture, and the main thing I remember about him is he bought a really cool black and white tuxedo-looking chair. That and he and Pat playing guitar together. It’s funny. One time people were in the store and I was saying, ‘Oh Bob Dylan’s in back playing guitar with Pat,’ and no one believed me."
It’s doubtful anyone will ever tell similar tales about Cowboy Slim’s or the Uptown mini-mall, this is Minneapolis, after all, not New York or St. Paul or Edinburgh, who hang on to their architecture. Here, everything goes away. Time marches on.
But Linda McHale takes a big-picture approach to what can only be seen as a) inevitable growing pains or b) flotsam from the last gasps of Bushian greed.
"Progress, you can’t stop it," she says. "In 10 years that’ll all be old hat and they’ll tear that down. It will. You watch. I can see it now."
Jim Walsh grew up and lives in East Harriet.