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A Comeback on West Broadway Avenue
By Brandt Williams
January 2, 2001
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West Broadway Avenue used to be one of the main destinations in North Minneapolis for shopping, entertainment and commerce. Many of the major retailers left the area decades ago, leaving boarded storefronts and unemployment. Now, plans are in the works to change all that. Neighborhood groups and local politicians are working together to give a face-lift to businesses and buildings along the avenue. The goal is to restore some of the vibrancy that long-time north side residents say made West Broadway the place to be.

See West Broadway Avenue the way it used to be, and hear the comments of a W. Broadway Ave. historian.
Between 12,000 and 14,000 cars travel on West Broadway Avenue in Minneapolis every day. However, West Broadway Area Coalition Director George Garnett says most of the traffic is just passing through.

"They're not really coming to West Broadway, they're coming through it; that's part of what we need to change," says Garnett.

The coalition is a collaboration of four neighborhood associations which come in contact with West Broadway. Garnett says West Broadway has always served as a main artery for travel through Minneapolis.

"I've had people who've really looked at the history tell me that this is where the settlers used to come through with their ox carts. This has always been a thoroughfare," Garnett says.

With the help of an architectural firm, the coalition is planning to improve the facades of businesses and buildings along the avenue. Another goal is to make the avenue more friendly toward pedestrians. Three months ago, 10 surveillance cameras were installed along the avenue to deter crime. Garnett says store owners have told him the cameras have already helped.

However, the image of West Broadway still suffers. Drug sales occur openly between Irving and Logan avenues. Last year a shop owner was shot and killed in his store. And there are stretches of the avenue that are full of boarded storefronts.

Some of North Minneapolis' senior citizens remember a very different West Broadway.

Dr. David Kaliher, a retired optometrist, is something of a West Broadway Avenue historian. His office was located at 917 W. Broadway Ave. for more than 40 years. Many West Broadway businesses have come and gone. Kaliher doesn't know all their names, but he says he has a good idea of why many of them left.

"With the advent of Brookdale, which was one of the very first malls, we began to see a migration of businesses to the suburbs. We lost Weinberg's Department Store, we lost Fanny Farmer, we lost Brown Photo. There was kind of a corporate exodus," Kaliher says.

Not all of the businesses left.

David Friedman owns the store on the corner of Fourth Street and Broadway Avenue that has borne his family's name for 100 years. Every inch of the store is filled with sneakers and sports apparel from companies like Nike and Phat Farm, popular brands with urban teens. Friedman says he's worked in the store since he was a little kid - beginning some 40 years ago. He's been running the store since 1981.

"As long as we can continue selling what customers want, I think we can survive," says Friedman.

In fact, a handful of longtime West Broadway businesses and residents have remained. Brix Grocery store was founded in 1893. The store was sold to new owners in 1993 but it is still located between Bryant and Colfax avenues. Ed Gearty's law office has been on the corner of Emerson and West Broadway since 1958. Gearty has lived in North Minneapolis for nearly all his 77 years. He has fond memories of growing up on West Broadway, but he is not overly nostalgic.

"I think it's better now than when I was young. The Irish group that I was raised in was a troublesome group, fighting and drinking," Gearty says.

When he was young, Gearty participated in sports programs such as boxing, which allowed him to meet kids from other ethnic groups - Italians, Poles, Jews, and blacks. One of the young African-American boys he met was Harry Davis. Davis, 77, says most African-Americans lived south of West Broadway near Old Sixth Avenue, which is now Olson Memorial Highway.

"When you were moving up near Broadway, you could work up in that area, but it wasn't too easy to rent or own in that area if you were black," says Davis.

Davis says African-Americans did more business along nearby Plymouth Avenue, where most of the stores were owned by Jews. However, that changed in the 1960s after several Jewish stores were destroyed in civil rights riots. Davis says the events during the turbulent '60s also had an impact on West Broadway.

"Much of that decline came because of the moving of Jewish businesses after the riot. Broadway kind of followed suit. The businesses started to move," says Davis.

Davis says the downfall of West Broadway is also due, in part, to the decommissioning of the street cars which ran up and down the avenue. Once the businesses and their owners pulled up stakes, the housing fell into the hands of absentee landlords who either couldn't or wouldn't take good care of the properties. The lack of jobs led other residents to either leave the area to find work, or forced them into poverty.

Like his fellow old-school north siders, Davis believes the damage to West Broadway can be repaired. He says the efforts of many African American entrepreneurs and community organizations are already making a positive change. But Davis doesn't believe the avenue will ever be the same as it was 40 years ago.

The West Broadway Area Coalition expects facade renovations to begin in the spring. The repaving of West Broadway will begin in 2002.

Brandt Williams covers urban issues for Minnesota Public Radio. Reach him via e-mail at