Anoka County History: Changes in shopping trends over the years

One day back in the ‘70s, when we were new to Blaine, my neighbor told me he was going downtown.

“How can he do that?” I wondered.  “Blaine doesn’t have a downtown.” (As it turned out, he was headed to Northtown Mall.)

Coon Rapids didn’t have a downtown, either. During the ‘50s there was an attempt to get one started at the Coon Rapids Shopping Center, on Coon Rapids Boulevard near the dam. By the time my family arrived in Anoka County, that location had given up trying to pretend it was a retail center, and instead was a cluster containing a medical clinic, a post office, and a few blocks of miscellaneous businesses.

The real commercial hub, the closest thing Coon Rapids had to a downtown, was a few miles north where Coon Rapids Boulevard intersected Crooked Lake Boulevard.  There, a recently built Target store presided over a collection of smaller establishments. From its opening in 1971 until the ‘90s, that Target was the primo discount shopping experience in its section of Anoka County, drawing customers from Coon Rapids, Anoka, and Blaine.

There are a few pictures of that Target store floating about today on the Internet, and they look quaint and dated, but by the standards of the time the store was clean, bright, and gleaming. Back then no discount store dared to look overly spiffy, as customers tended to think that an appearance too classy was a sign of higher prices. Still, Target was a cut above some of the competition in its attractiveness.  Like many stores at the time, Dayton/Target only accepted its own credit card, so you had to use a Dayton’s card if you wanted to charge. Lots of us had a walletful of plastic from Dayton’s, Sears, Wards, Donaldsons, and other stores, before those businesses changed with the times and allowed us to use our Visa card everywhere.

A credit card wasn’t a necessity, though, because back then we Minnesotans could write a check just about anywhere, as long as we’d had the foresight to ask the bank to start us out with a high check number.

The Target store and its parking lot were surrounded by a number of satellite stores. Next to Coon Rapids Boulevard was the Ground Round, a restaurant where you were encouraged to throw peanut shells on the floor, and which later caught fire and burned.  There was a small Rainbow grocery store and a United outdoor supplies store. Across the boulevard the Family Center housed a large fabric store and a pet shop.  The Target sphere of commercial influence extended south on Coon Rapids Boulevard and included a car detail shop and a muffler shop.

Nothing stays the same, especially in retail. People demand bigger and brighter and more fully stocked venues, and in places with lots of other stores nearby.  Discount stores were upscaled, the old Target stores were superceded by SuperTargets, and huge shopping meccas opened at Riverdale, along Highway 65, and in other Anoka County locales.  Shoppers grew tired of the old and the relatively plain and turned their dollars toward the new.

The Coon Rapids Boulevard Target store closed in 1998 and many of the attendant stores soon followed. There are still a few businesses out by the boulevard, but the Target site was purchased by the city of Coon Rapids in 2008 and demolished shortly thereafter. Now there’s an ice center, and people can skate not too far from where they used to push shopping carts, buy vinyl records, and eat McGlynn pastries.

The city has a revitalization plan for Coon Rapids Boulevard in which four hubs, or “ports,” will be established in key spots along that roadway. One is at the old Target site and another is at the location of the aforementioned Coon Rapids Shopping Center.

It’s hard to know what the future holds for these areas, but it’s unlikely there will be large shopping destinations.  Those have moved on to the big shopping centers that currently enjoy the fickle favor of shoppers.

John Evans is a volunteer with the Anoka County Historical Society.

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