Can retail survive in Saint Paul?

If you ever have an urge to get away from the crowd in downtown St. Paul, there are fewer places with more solitude than Macy’s. Since it’s days as a stripped-down Dayton’s, to Marshall Field’s, to Macy’s, it’s always been a little bit sad to stroll through downtown’s last department store.

The Pioneer Press reports today that store executives say the store is making money, which is hard to believe given how few people seem to shop there. Still, it’s hard to find people who think the store will remain open after its obligation to do so expires at the end of next year.

“I think the handwriting is pretty much on the wall for the St. Paul store,” David Brennan, co-director of the Institute for Retailing Excellence at the University of St. Thomas, told the newspaper.

Macy’s has to stay open until next December in order to satisfy the terms of a city subsidy in 2001 to revamp what was then Dayton’s. Many people think it’s the only reason the store is still open at all. Light-rail construction has made it impossible to drive near the area, even if people wanted to, which they clearly don’t.

Other plans for retail downtown have stalled badly. The plan for the Penfield, a large condo project around the old police station, were downsized and nothing has happened on the site. In 2008, Lund’s announced it would open a grocery store at the project with construction scheduled to start in 2009. It never happened. The site looks pretty much like what it looked like three years ago. I took this picture three years ago Thursday.


The Lowertown section of the city was just getting vibrant — and to a degree, still is — when light-rail construction started last year.

But even so, downtown Saint Paul remains the Bermuda Triangle of retail.