BY DEBRA KEEFER RAMAGE
Identity housing scandal
This fall, as students flock to Dinkytown to inhabit the new high rises, low rises and co-ops that have been built in the last few years, a scandal is unfolding. (I’m the only one calling it that, so I had to drop the term “scandal” to find sources online.)
“Identity” is the name of a new student-oriented apartment building on the site of the old Dinkytown McDonalds. Students were promised a move-in date of Aug. 27, but on Aug. 2, just after collecting scores of upfront rent payments, the leasing office informed them that it would not actually be ready at that time. No refunds were given but they were offered daily compensation and alternate accommodation until the move-in, for which no date was given.
A lawsuit was filed, alleging a bait-and-switch scheme against the owner-managers, an out-of-state conglomerate of absentee investors. The latest news item was from WCCO on Sept. 13. Two Minnesota Senate committees, higher education and housing and homelessness, held a hearing on the matter in early September where numerous students, parents and university officials testified as to the incredible disruption to the lives of incoming freshmen, left with only compensation for temporary housing and a lease with an unknown move-in date and no way to cancel it. The management company was invited to testify at the senate committee hearings but declined.
A July 6 article by Kelly Rogers in the Minnesota Daily exposes the fact that high-priced “luxury” accommodations all over Dinkytown and Southeast are actually luxury in name only. After several horror stories, Rogers urges students to “break up” with corporate landlords. One alternative that exists in Dinkytown, with better press, is a variety of student housing cooperatives. Maybe they need more of those.
Dinkytown is changing
Even before the pandemic upended everything, Dinkytown was being transformed by developers and corporate chains in a process that transcends mere gentrification. Now some, including the university’s Board of Regents, seem to think the solution is more surveillance and law enforcement. Rogers wrote another piece in August, “A battle for the soul of Stinkytown,” arguing for holding the line against corporate incomers and preserving or bringing back “third spaces” – places to hang out without needing a ton of money. “Dinkytown should be a late-night soft place to land after running from house to house through Marcy-Holmes, not a food court excavated from a weird mall,“ Rogers opined.
Services for students – health and beauty
Dinkytown has two affordable hair salons – Hop’s Salon, a longtime independent stylist, at 1316 4th St. SE, and Great Clips, a popular affordable chain, at 1312 5th St. SE. For a nail salon, you have to go to Washington Avenue just north of the West Bank, or eastward to Prospect Park. Surprisingly, I don’t see any gyms, which are often associated with the new luxury lifestyle. But maybe that’s not surprising; many of the apartments have workout facilities, and the U, from my hazy memory, has a pretty good health club for students and staff. There is a Dinkytown location of Erik’s Bikes and Boards, for equipment relating to certain DIY fitness modes.
You can get a spray tan or a tattoo in Dinkytown. (I wonder if the Venn diagram of such customers even overlaps at all?) You can get your pharmaceuticals at either Walgreens or Target, and there is also the Boynton Health Service for U students. Dinkytown Optical, known for both style and affordability, has been a presence there for over 50 years. After getting your eye exam done by optometrist Dr. Laura Asplund, you can choose from a wide selection of frames for your new glasses or sunglasses (contacts
available too!), and have your lenses made right there in the on-site lab. It’s a convenient one-stop shop for all the eyecare needs of U of M students, staff, and the surrounding community. And Dinkytown Optical accepts most insurance plans, including U of M Student Insurance for eye exams.
Healthy grocery options are available but not prevalent in Dinkytown. In the summer, the U runs a student-led farmers’ market on campus, selling produce from a one-acre student farm in St. Paul. All year round, the U’s health service runs a free food shelf also on campus. If you want to buy healthy groceries, probably the closest options are either the Seward Co-op Franklin store or the Fresh Thyme on University Avenue in the Prospect Park neighborhood.
Services for students – vices and virtues
Vices are catered to in Dinkytown; that part of the tradition is changed but not gone. Tobacco stores, a large liquor outlet, a cannabis dispensary, and Insomnia Cookies all exist in Dinkytown. Insomnia Cookies may be a food vice with its over-the-top (and not cheap) concoctions but it’s completely legal. So are the THC edibles, bottles of booze, and tobacco in various forms – IF you are 21 or older. (Southside Pride urges you to consume responsibly.)
For virtues, there are philosophy, volunteer work, and churches or other established religions. A stalwart in Dinkytown is University Baptist Church. Although not as regular or frequent as in former times, the church does still host occasional Roots Cellar Music events. Six were held last year, and three are on the calendar so far for 2023-24. See ubcmn.org/roots-cellar-music for details.
Food options in Dinkytown and beyond
So many small independent restaurants, pubs, and even fast-food places (like McDonald’s) have disappeared. I just read the sad news that Lands End Pasty Company, which a year ago I mentioned as having potential to become a long-time stayer in Dinkytown, just closed permanently this past summer.
Asian styles of food really dominate Dinkytown, with one long-time favorite, Shuang Cheng, and numerous newer ventures reflecting the changing tastes of both Asian Americans and other ethnic groups. Excluding the “weird mall food court” places, you can choose from KBOP Korean Bistro, Banh Appetit, CrunCheese Korean Hotdog, ChuRyce, The Cove, Tasty Pot, LePot Chinese Hotpot, and Pho Mai Dinkytown. Going into the neighboring areas of Stadium Village and Prospect Park approximately triples your options.
Another ethnic food style found in Dinkytown is the Middle Eastern/West Asian/African style represented by such eateries as Wally’s Falafel, Afro Deli, and Maxwell’s Cafe. In addition there are loads of other good places to eat and drink. Check out Al’s Breakfast for an iconic Dinkytown experience that’s been around since the 1960s at least. Also give Tony’s Diner, Potbelly, Mesa Pizza, Burrito Loco, the Blarney Pub, Frank from Philly & Andrea Pizza, or the Kollege Klub a try. If you have a craving for sweets, but not as sweet as Insomnia cookies, check out Mango Mango Dessert for healthier fruit, rice and tea-based smoothies, cakes and hot desserts.