If you’ve been to Costco in St. Louis Park lately, you know something dusty and disruptive is going on at the intersection of 394 and 100. I’d heard about the plans for a multiplex and maybe a Whole Foods (Not true – but there will be a new gourmet grocery concept), but it wasn’t until I met the developers recently that I learned the scope of the retail plans. This isn’t going to be another boring strip mall. If the developers pull off what they’ve got planned, the Shops at West End could become a major Twin Cities destination, with upscale shopping and restaurants to rival any of the malls or tony districts like 50th and France. Of course, the timing seems tough for such a major project, but apparently, the Twin Cities is considered “under retailed” and several national retailers have already signed on. Rather than going after the same old chain stores you see everywhere, West End is focusing on hot brands that would be new to the Twin Cities (bless them) and also looking to incorporate local boutique concepts. Retailers – or potential retailers – who want to know more should attend a “boutique happy hour” the West End group is putting on at the Doubletree Hotel from 6 to 8 p.m. Oct. 6. Click here for event details. 

Started talking about downtown Minneapolis shopping on the radio Saturday, but had to cut the conversation short. Ruth emailed because she wanted to add this to the discussion:
"Just heard you talking about what stops people from shopping downtown
and wanted to pass along my experience this week. My mom and 98 yr old
grandma LOVE to shop so we go out every Thursday somewhere. Last week
it was raining so my mom wanted to hit a mall but I suggested downtown
Mpls. We parked in a ramp and never went outside. Did all the big
stores and they both loved it. My mom said "I forget how nice it is
down here," As Minnesotans we get into a routine and its hard to get
out of our comfort zone. Malls are easy. Downtown is not as easy until
you learn your way around a little."
So is it skyways, or just some sort of general intimidation – rather than parking – that is the problem? Love to hear your thoughts.

Independent local retailers gathered at Gaviidae Common Monday as part of Boutique Week to discuss the state of shopping in downtown Minneapolis. The whole objective of Boutique Week is to emphasize the unique stores in Gaviidae, and I have to say, the management of that center really deserves credit for turning things around: going after interesting, unique stores and doing a lot to promote them. While more is needed, there are finally enough shops between Off Fifth and Neiman Marcus to make a trip to Gaviidae worthwhile: Drama keeps improving, there’s Len Druskin Man, StyledLife, Pacifier, FinnStyle, JV & Company and the list goes on. So what prevents people from visiting? Is it simply that they don’t realize there is shopping on Nicollet Mall, even after Crate & Barrel, Marshall Field’s and Ralph Lauren? Perhaps. But the bi issue that came up again and again in an hour long panel discussion that I moderated: parking. Minnesotans don’t want to pay to park – at least not for shopping. Or so it seems. To find out once and for all, Gaviidae plans to offer free parking during the holiday season – yes, that’s a scoop and no, there won’t be any strings attached. By doing so, they hope to determine if free parking is what it will take to bring shoppers back downtown, or if it’s going to take more (Barney’s?! A/X Armani Exchange?!) than that.

You don’t have to wait for Macy’s Fall Fashionista Shopping party at Southdale on Thursday, Sept. 18 to grab the deals. Shop ahead – while the store is not advertising it, sales associates in the contemporary department will hold items until the night of the party so you can score a 20 percent discount on labels that rarely go on sale.

While it would be lovely to think good, unique stores would attract shoppers to downtown Minneapolis, the reality in this town is something (depressingly) different. There are a whole lotta people with money to spend who simply don’t go downtown. And so, Kevin Quinn has decided to bring his successful Gaviidae Common accessories boutique StyledLife to them. It’s a decision I know he’s been contemplating for quite a long time and now that he’s made the commitment, he’s having some fun with it. We have to guess where he’s going. A new clue will be revealed each Friday for the next five weeks leading up to the store opening in October. If you want to play along, go to www.ImpossiblyChic.com. Guesses, anyone?

My son’s toes are about to bust through the one pair of shoes that survived the summer (is my little guy the only one who tore the ankle band off not one, but two pairs of Croc-like Polywog sandals?). I happened to be in Uptown the other day, so I stopped in Shoe Zoo and found myself mystified, as I do every time I walk in there, that a shop selling $80 baby shoes can look like such a mess. I always get excited at first, thinking they must be in the midst of a major clearance event because the boxes are strewn everywhere. But no. Everything was full price. Not that I could find the prices, once I identified the toddler boy shoes, which were behind the salesperson who didn’t acknowledge me until I specifically asked for a price. $75 for sneakers that won’t last more than months? Can’t do it. I went home and ordered dress and play shoes from Oldnavy.com – $24.50 for both and free shipping with my Banana Republic Luxe card.
If you’re into designer kiddie shoes, but prefer not to have to step over piles of boxes to shop for them, try Red Rover Kids, Uber Baby, Bebe Babble and of course, Nordstrom.

Lisarinna
Don’t Republicans watch "Dancing with the Stars?"
Plump lipped dancer and reinvigorated TV personality Lisa Rinna hosted a fashion show for Republican women at Mall of America today (Rinna is no Elizabeth Hasselbeck – it was simply a paid gig), but few showed up and those who did saw average women wearing average clothes from chain stores like Banana Republic and Chico’s. (The elderly woman seated next to me, who had read about the free show in the newspaper, came expecting to see fashions inspired by First Ladies Nancy Regan and Laura Bush. The closest was floral print number from White House/Black Market, where Michelle Obama likes to shop.) A good natured Rinna did her best to keep the show going, but comments like "You can’t go wrong with a cute little wrap dress. I will thank Diane von Furstenberg for that" fell flat. More words of wisdom from Rinna, who now hosts red carpet pre-shows on the TV Guide channel and owns two L.A. stores called Belle Gray:
"I love me some leopard print. You have to have fun with fashion."
"Purple is the color of the season. I never think to wear purple, but I think we’re going to have to now."
"I never heard of a soy cardigan." (the organic fabric is used by MOA retailer Martin + Osa) "I like it. Just don’t eat it."
I had a nice chat with Rinna before the show. She’s quick to credit "Dancing with the Stars" for her career revival and says she urges every washed up celeb to go on the show. She’s coached at least a dozen, but the only one who listened: Kim Kardashian’s mom, Kris Jenner. Who should have taken her advice? Rinna said: "It wouldn’t hurt Denise Richards, would it?"
Read more of my conversation with Rinna in the St. Paul Pioneer Press on Wednesday, Sept. 3 or online at www.twincities.com.

It’s been a roller coaster ride for Sarah Jessica Parker’s retail partner, Steve & Barry’s, which rose to fame recently selling fashion for as little as $9.99, only to find that it’s hard to make a buck at that rate and fall into bankruptcy. The chain has been purchased and will remain open, but downsized. Just got word about what that means in locally: stores at  Burnsville Center, Knollwood Mall and Northtown Mall will remain open and two other locations, at Brookdale Center and Westgate Mall in Brainerd will close. A closing sales is now underway with deals even better than usual.