The great thing about hidden-gem cities is that you can usually form a pretty objective opinion, because there are absolutely zero expectations. Having no pre-conceived notions means that you can take a little time to see a place for what it truly is, rather than what you hoped it might be.
Minneapolis is one of those hidden-gems. Being smack-dab in the middle of the midwest, with little associations besides a lot of lakes and a reputation for terrible weather, it’s hard to get your hopes up about a visit to half of the twin cities. If you’re wrinkling your nose a little bit, or getting ready to close this tab on your browser because come on, it’s Minneapolis we’re talking about, take a minute and give it a chance.
1st Impression: Where’s the Starbucks?
Given that the city is the birthplace of major department stores like Dayton’s (which became Marshall Field’s in 2001 and was then purchased by Macy’s in 2006) and Target and home to many Fortune 500 companies, there is a surprising lack of corporate stores in the downtown area. In place of Starbucks* we found an abundance of independently owned hybrid coffee shops like Espresso Royale (also a bookshop) and One on One (also a bike repair/sale shop) that oozed personality and had some seriously delicious brews. Think—the baristas knew customers’ names, dogs were allowed and most people didn’t just come for the coffee.
As a matter of fact, beyond a Whole Foods in the trendy North Loop neighborhood and the Target Headquarters downtown, you’d be hard-pressed to find any other “household names.” Instead, we discovered local gems like Roe Wolfe and Statement, two boutiques with fantastic style and distinct personalities, with the former being owned by a professional makeup artist/trained hairdresser and the latter with its own in-house jewelry line.
Then there is Martin Patrick 3, a men’s store so vast, so impeccably decorated and curated we wanted to move in right then and there. All of the local businesses that we visited were housed in historic buildings, renovated just enough to make them convenient, without taking away from the unique character of the space. *Editor’s Note: There are, in fact, 3 Starbucks located in Minneapolis. We just never saw them.
2nd Impression: It’s Surprisingly Roomy in Here
If you bring the right shoes and have plenty of time to kill, Minneapolis is very walkable. Of course, you have to like to walk. We covered the majority of central Minneapolis in about two days, entirely on foot, with plenty of stops along the way (there is a rail system, a bike rental system and parking is pretty abundant, if you’d rather save your soles). A lot of local businesses have neighborhood maps available that list out other local shops and are a fantastic way to get to know a specific area. We tend to go mostly based on native recommendations and never has that been as easy as it was in Minneapolis. The people of Minne are incredibly kind and chatty, we’ll get more into that in a bit.
The funny thing about this city is it feels a bit…transitional. The old is mixed with the new and the renovated and there are large gaps between neighborhoods that have been “redone” and ones that have not. Much like any other major metropolis, you’ll find areas that have a younger vibe and each neighborhood definitely has it’s own personality. Let us not forget that Minneapolis is also a music mecca (Prince still calls the area home. Prince!*), which you can certainly tell is an influence across the city as a whole. *Editor’s Note: We never saw Prince either.
3rd Impression: The Men. Good God, the Men!
About midway through Day 1, we came to the realization that there is something different about the men of Minneapolis. To be more specific, they all looked like they walked straight out of a catalog. It’s not just that they wore nice clothes, they were just so put-together. The color palettes were in sync, the accessories on point, details like french rolls and hats slightly askew were noticeable. Their backpacks weren’t even typical backpacks. They had the ultra-hip canvas and leather strap kind that made us realize that the one gentleman we spotted stepping off the bus with the impeccable man bun, unstructured blazer, cuffed-pant and plaid button-down just got it. As a matter of fact, they all just got it. Without it seeming forced. Either men here are just born with an innate sense of style (maybe it comes with the cold weather survival instinct??) or there are some incredible fashion and hairstylists at work. After our tour of a few boutiques and hair salons, we decided it’s probably a mix of those two theories.
4th Impression: The Smarts
The people we met in Minneapolis were smart, not just school smart, or rattling off facts smart, or smartly dressed (although, they were all of those things too). The people that we met were an incredible assortment of creative minds. These people had passion, drive, imaginative ideas and the knowledge and research to back it all up. They got the beauty and the substance of their business.
Take Brian Graham, for example. We visited Brian’s salon completely unannounced and unexpected and you could tell that this beautiful, luxurious, impeccable space is expertly run and managed. Brian does beautiful work on his clients and runs a tight ship, which is what makes him so successful.
Or Veronica from D.Nolo, the unique co-op of boutiques that referred us to Brian’s salon. Veronica is brilliant, open, and the idea to start a co-op of high-end boutiques is incredibly creative. The space could have leapt out of the pages of Wallpaper* magazine, and you can tell from talking to her that this lady knows her stuff. She can probably recite every vendor’s numbers backwards and forwards from the day the doors opened.
Or Anna at The Foundry, an amazingly talented visual merchandiser who cut her teeth in ultra-luxury furniture sales in Manhattan (think sofas that cost more than the average American home). Creativity radiates off of Anna, and with her laid-back persona, you’d first think that she’s more artsy-fartsy than business woman. You’d be wrong, dead wrong.
We won’t even start on the Dayton Brothers and their growing empire of eclectic and expertly designed businesses.
In short, the people in Minneapolis are the kinds that make you want to be like them when you grow up, regardless of how old you are.
Minneapolis was a bit of a sleeper trip. We went expecting nothing more than to learn all about the latest offerings from Aveda, via their annual Congress event, and instead left with a completely new perspective on life. Minneapolis didn’t hit us over the head with it’s larger-than-life personality and epically exciting pace. Instead, it quietly walked beside us, held our hand and showed us that a life lived with passion is possible. It may not be glamorous, it may not be flashy, but it’s out there if you are smart, passionate and know your way around a pair of expertly cuffed trousers.