St. Paul Retail Initiative Gives Shops a Shot

Rammy Mohamed has never had her own storefront—or even a work studio outside her own home. But thanks to a new initiative from the St. Paul Downtown Alliance, the clothing and accessories that make up her line, Ramadhan Designs, are on display for the city to see. In fact, so is her entire creative process.

Mohamed, along with a handful of other rising local brands and business, is testing out brick-and-mortar through St. Paul’s Let’s Grow campaign. As part of the city’s larger Welcome Back St. Paul initiative, downtown property owners with vacant storefronts donate their empty spaces for six-month leases, so new and burgeoning brands can test out a brick-and-mortar location without paying potentially crippling rent for a downtown space.

“Our job, as the Downtown Alliance, is to really improve the experience of people moving through the city,” says Downtown Alliance president Joe Spencer. “One of the things that’s a real drag for pedestrians is when you walk past a bunch of vacancies. It struck me that there could be potentially temporary users—who might turn into permanent users—but at the very least could activate a vacancy until something more permanent comes along.”

The first businesses—including Mohamed, in the Wells Fargo Place—moved in in late this summer. And she certainly had a vision for her first-ever storefront.

“I didn’t want this to just be your regular boutique,” Mohamed says. “I wanted it to be a studio, where you can shop and also see me work. I pattern in front of everyone, I drape and sew, and eventually it goes to the rack.”

Half of the glass-enclosed space is dedicated to her clothes, but the other half is Mohamed’s current studio. Her giant sewing machine is set up, her sketches line a wall, and when she’s not working with customers, she’s designing and sewing. “I feel a little like a zoo animal,” she laughs.

Downtown workers on their lunch hour—or just needing a break for retail therapy—can wander into the studio, meet Mohamed, and shop the designs she’s already finished. Her racks are filled with sparkly holiday- or vacation-ready separates and dresses, chic trousers perfect for the office or weekend, and cozy fleece long-sleeves adorned with cutouts and beadwork. She says her trademark sweater dresses and wool sweaters have been especially popular lately, and is looking forward to selling holiday party looks and gifts through the season.

“There was a piece I had to remake for Fashionopolis [Mpls.St.Paul Magazine’s annual fashion show] because a woman saw it in my window and said, “I’m going to Vegas and I need this outfit,’” Mohamed says. “It fit her like a glove, and then I had to make another one.”

And thanks to Let’s Grow, Mohamed’s corner of the Wells Fargo Place skyway continues to brighten. Just recently, Indigenous shop Blue Hummingbird Woman opened right next door. There, Tara Perron sells books by Native authors, traditional Indigenous medicine and salves, and gifts.

Spencer assures more businesses will continue to pop up in St. Paul retail spaces as part of the program for as long as property managers are willing to participate. Currently, in the Hamm Building, Petek Trading Co., a new shop is selling Turkish household goods and textiles as part of the program, and economic development firm 2043 SBC now offices in Treasure Island Center. More will pop up through the winter.

“We did this not really knowing what we were doing—we thought we’d give it a try and see what happens,” Spencer says. “And based on early results, I think many of the businesses here are going to succeed and stick around. I’ll try to run this program as long as we’re having success like this.”

November 10, 2022

11:53 PM

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