Lake Street’s Kmart soon to fall

Lake Street
Photo by Henry Pan

Now at issue is what will take its place

The Kmart erected in the middle of Nicollet Ave. in the late 1970s to solve Minneapolis’ tax woes will soon be no more. 

The city of Minneapolis in September will begin demolishing parts of the building to the west of the Kmart that formerly housed a Supervalu grocery store. The part that actually housed the Kmart will remain for another year. The City plans to raze the entire building, reconnect Nicollet between Eat Street and Lake Street, and perhaps allow developers to build up to 15 stories in its place.

Ivan N., who has a pop-up shoe shop at the southeast corner of the Kmart lot on weekends, never thought Kmart would close. “[Kmart has] been saying they were gonna close the property—they will have blowout sale after blowout sale, or clearance, like final day, and that went on for years. And it finally happened,” said Ivan.

Nicollet could be reconnected as soon as 2026. But until that happens, the City needs the public’s help to figure out what to do with the land until and after the Kmart comes tumbling down. 

According to MinnPost, the Kmart was built as part of the City’s redevelopment efforts in the 1970s. The City did not plan to close down Nicollet Ave.; instead, they planned to build an indoor mall. They even demolished much of the buildings in the 10 acres surrounding Lake and Nicollet in an effort to remove “blight” in the early 1970s and sold it to a private developer. 

But no retailers—except Kmart—were interested in leasing, and Kmart would only move in if they were allowed to build a suburban big-box store. The City relented, and Kmart began to stand in the way of Nicollet for the coming decades. They held a lease until 2053.

Then Kmart—and its parent company, Sears—fell on hard times. It began to close stores across the nation. It kept the South Minneapolis location open because company officials said it was a “high-performing store.” Then the parent company, Transformco, went bankrupt in 2018. 

The City paid $5.25 million to buy the land underneath the grocery store in 2015, $8 million to buy the land underneath the Kmart in 2017, and ultimately, $9.1 million to buy out Kmart’s lease in 2020, just before the pandemic began. Kmart was due to close by June 30 that year, but people looting the store days after George Floyd’s murder forced it to shutter a month early. 

The City decided to take a phased approach to demolishing Kmart because it would be cheaper in the long run, said City Project Manager Rebecca Parrell. Keeping the vacant part of the building up means the City would have to continue maintaining the fire suppression system, which does not make financial sense. They also cannot demolish the building that housed the actual Kmart because it will continue to house a Post Office for the next year. 

The Lake Street Postal Station will reopen in its original location at E. 31st St. and S. 1st Ave. in late fall, according to a postal service spokesperson. And the Minnehaha Station, located at E. 31st St. and S. 27th Ave., broke ground on July 27 at its original location after it completed an engagement effort as to where it should be located. 

“Spring or summer next year is the target completion and reopening time frame,” said postal spokesperson Desai Abdul-Razzaaq. “In the meantime, the Minnehaha Post Office will temporarily remain in the old Kmart building.”

(l-r) Shorty and Ivan N.
Photo by Henry Pan

Even though the Kmart is closed, the site remains an informal commercial hub in South Minneapolis. A Taqueria food truck is parked daily at the southwest corner of the lot. On some Saturdays, Source Ministries distributes free groceries in the morning, while later in the day, a pop-up Hispanic produce market appears near the truck. That’s in addition to Ivan’s Shoe Truck. 

“We decided we [wanted to] continue to pass great value on to customers in South Minneapolis,” said Ivan. “So we decided to start doing the pop-ups, which also put us in direct contact with citizens in South Minneapolis.”

Closer to the north, day laborers, people who perform manual tasks for cash pay, gathered where the grocery store entrance was. Despite boulders placed in front of the entrance, which the city obtained free of charge from Public Works, day laborers continue to congregate there, although some gather in front of the Post Office. Some said in a brief interview on July 20 that they plan to be there for as long as they can, with no plans for where they’ll go if completely displaced from the Kmart site. 

Aside from that, the City isn’t too sure how the Kmart site should be redeveloped. Aside from knowing they want the 10-acre site to be walkable, mixed-use, and high density—the City’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan, which is currently being tried in court, calls for buildings to be as high as 15 stories—they want to figure out how people shop, where people go, and what kind of housing people need. 

Starting in September, City officials will work with local neighborhood organizations, as well as NEOO Partners, Lake Street Council, and Fortune Relief and Youth Empowerment Organization, to assist with obtaining input from community members. Ivan hopes any redevelopment will include space for their pop-up, which employs people who are “hard-to-hire.” 

“We would probably love to be somewhere right facing Lake Street. That [would] be really important, facing Lake St, not hidden inside some sort of plaza or anything like that,” said Ivan. 

Mama Future, who lives near the Kmart site, said she would like to see grocery stores and some low-income apartment complexes built on the site. “[They need to build] low income [apartments]; we got a lot of people homeless, and they’re still building all these complexes people can’t afford,” said Future. “[We used to go to the] Kmart for clothing and food, and we miss that. We need that back.”

Ivan also wants to see a coffee shop or gathering space in any new redevelopment on the Kmart site, citing the lack of options to gather in the area, although Muhim’s Cafe, which serves Somali baked goods and drinks, opened down the street in January.

“There’s a real bustling recovery community [of 30 to 35 groups] here in South Minneapolis,” said Ivan, who is in long-term recovery, but there’s “no universal social spot for folks to get together. Like, we don’t drink or anything like that, but somewhere to go and play some foosball, video games, hang out, have some meetings, social events, speaker jams, something like that.” 

Nicollet, which appeared to be a two-lane road according to historic satellite imagery, may be rebuilt differently to better accommodate people biking, walking, or taking transit. The City plans to determine this after it accesses the community’s needs for the former Kmart site.

Part of the City’s decision on how Nicollet will be designed will be influenced by the soundness of the bridge connecting Nicollet from Eat Street to Lake Street, which still exists behind the old Kmart. Engineers this summer are evaluating it to determine what repairs it needs before it’s capable of handling all expected traffic.