City to consider outdoor merchandise displays

Featured, Policy — By on December 26, 2012 3:09 pm

According to MinnPost, Council Member Elizabeth Glidden is likely to start a process that would in the end allow more merchandise to be displayed outside. Under current ordinance, all display and sales are to take place within “an enclosed building,” though there are some exemptions for garden mmaterials, cars, gas-stations, and a few others.

Outdoor Merchandise - Los Angeles

In the Fashion District of Los Angeles, many stores display their goods outdoors. This 2007 photo shows a fabric store making it abundantly clear what they sell and likely creates impromptu sales from those walking by and “discovering” a fabric they just have to have.

Glidden was quoted as saying that if the sidewalk isn’t blocked, that expansion would allow for more activity and excitement, as well as stronger local commerce.

The article concludes with a kicker, which is that the discussion of changing the law will come down to which businesses can display what. And that quite frankly is one of the biggest questions that will be discussed.

Outdoor merchandise - San Francisco

A fruit display at a grocery store in San Francisco. Photo from 2009.


The “What’ in “What can be displayed where” debate
The article references how there used to be mattresses, radiators, or toilets displayed on the sidewalks, which some may have seen as unsightly. Currently, hardware stores legally display shovels, firewood, grills, rakes, and more on the sidewalk. Books, shoes, and kitchenwares may not trigger much discussion but “glassware” from tobacco stores, sexy lingerie from “adult boutiques”, or car tires from an auto repair shop may elicit concern from some in the community.

Would certain types of stores, say adult boutiques, be restricted to any outdoor displays or would a Smitten Kitten or Hustler be allowed to display items that are not age-restricted or facilitate sex?

How does a fair ordinance look like and how would these restrictions ease without picking and choosing industries that should receive a benefit? Perhaps it will come down the community discussion on what is unacceptable rather than what is acceptable.

Outdoor merchandise - San Francisco

These storage bins are displayed outside a store in San Francisco’s Inner Richmond District in 2009. Would storage bins or other households be eligible to be displayed outdoors should a revision to the Minneapolis ordinance take place?


The “where” in “What can be displayed where” debate
The issue of mobility will be a part of the discussion, surely, as the ADA will require a certain distance (4′) of clear space on the sidewalk. But as we’ve seen in Uptown in the past near Chino Latino or the old Figlio, the minimum clearance may not be sufficient due to the high volume of pedestrians.

In busier areas, should this mean that should be a larger minimum width requirement, or should it depend on the existing width of the sidewalk?

Outdoor Merchandise - Portland, OR

Those walking by this grocery store in Portland, OR, can stop and smell the roses or stop and buy the roses. The store uses both edges of the sidewalk, which will likely be one topic of discussion when discussing mobility.


So what do you think? What opportunities or concerns do you see, along with what safeguards should be put into place?


Thatcher Imboden

How cities work and change, how they are the product of their inhabitants and outside forces, and the resulting livability keep me thinking and dreaming about the future. I work in transit oriented development and have a background in urban real estate development. I am Past President of an Uptown business organization, grew up in Uptown, was on an Uptown neighborhood association Board, and am an Uptown and Lyn-Lake historian.

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  1. M says:

    I have a lot of mixed feelings about this. On one hand I can totally see the business benefit of having your merch on the outside and getting more “spontaneous” sales. However on a much larger and more biased hand, I fear the “mess” or the “clutter” I’ve lived in a few different cities (warm climate towns and cold climate towns) and honestly it tends to feel a little out of place in “cold culture” cities like Minneapolis/St. Paul.

    The tricky part is what is appropriate. Some items work. I.E. Look at the Ace Hardware store on Henn.. they have flower pots and other small items on the side walk. Or sometimes small book stores will put a clearance cart out. Those things work, but if every store along one road did that, the visual clutter would be overwhelming.

    I guess i’m thinking with my eye only. It could work in the summer months and with certain products..

    • Thatcher Imboden says:

      I somewhat agree. I think there is something to be said about visual clutter as degrading to the community. But at the same time, I want to have amenities nearby like many businesses (albeit, not degrading businesses).

      That is where, like you said, it will depend on the details. For a clothing store, as an example, would a rack of clothing along the window edge be appropriate but walking in between a sidewalk crammed with clothes except a 4′ path between them be reasonable?

      I like predictability and equitable application of the rules, so whatever is crafted should be easy to understand, equally enforced, and not unreasonably detract from other businesses or the community. I think it is certainly possible to find a solution that makes it possible for businesses to thrive while ensuring we don’t open up a huge can of worms.

  2. David St. Michael says:

    From my experience, outside displays are usually enticing to look at and often times encourages me to actually enter a store. I say it’s a good thing.

  3. I have no problem with “visual clutter” on urban streets. I figure it’s just part of the overall scenery. There needs to be room to get by on the sidewalk, but if that provision can be met then I say let the stores go at it. Then again, I should also mention that I have shopped at all of the San Francisco stores pictured above, and my old neighborhood even had a place with mattresses outside. I like busy, bustling business districts and enjoy overwhelming — I consider it stimulating! I think much of that will sort itself out naturally, though. In San Francisco, Clement Street in the Inner Richmond can, perhaps, be called a bit “overwhelming” (some of the photos above show Clement Street stores). It is busy, has lots of outdoor merchandise displayed, and while not the most aesthetically pleasing street in SF, you can’t deny that it has energy — and useful amenities for those who live or work in the neighborhood. I think these things develop in that larger context, and how the stores decide to display things will, for the most part, fit the aesthetics and preferences of the people who live and shop there.

    • Thatcher Imboden says:

      I wouldn’t personally see the displays in the photos as “visual clutter” and I look fondly at the antiques at 50th and Xerxes that sit outside.

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