Mission of the Grand Avenue Business Association
“The Grand Avenue Business Association provides marketing, advocacy, and education to help member businesses prosper and enhance the quality of life along the Avenue and surrounding community.”
History of the Grand Avenue Business Association
The Grand Avenue Business Association was born the morning Wendell Fritz, a retired cookie salesman, walked onto Wally Peter’s paint and wallpaper store at 796 Grand Avenue and asked for a donation to buy flowers for a new restaurant that was opening down the street.
Peters contributed to the flower fund but expressed the opinion that welcoming the newcomers to the street was, more properly, a job for an association. Fritz agreed and a week later the two men called the first meeting of the Grand Avenue Business Association. Fifteen business owners met at Port’s Tea Room.
The timing of this early 1960’s meeting was auspicious. Grand Avenue, once the fashionable commercial street of Saint Paul where F. Scott Fitzgerald attended dancing classes and Ramaley’s catered the weddings and Christmas dinners of Saint Paul’s elite, had fallen on harder times. Crime was rampant. Shop owners kept their doors locked. Business owners were moving out and vacant buildings lined the Avenue.
The street that, in the nineteenth century, had been the home of the first electronic trolley line in the Twin Cities was now, in the twentieth century, succumbing to urban blight and decay.
The Association changed all of that. Though it had no money, was not incorporated and had only a few members, the Association boldly selected three goals for the street. Members pledged to fight crime, get better streetlights and convince the city to repair the street. Grand had so many potholes that local auto dealers joked that if you could drive down Grand Avenue and come back in one piece, it was a good car!
The Association was the deciding factor in “saving” Grand Avenue. Crime declined dramatically, new streetlights were installed and the street was repaved. Grand Old Day and Grand Meander were organized. Thanks to the Association’s efforts, B-2 zoning, which allows businesses to open in houses, was instituted on Grand, the only street in the city to have that designation.
A group of volunteers—shop owners, lawyers, bankers, a dentist—working together in the Association created what many consider to be the metropolitan area’s most beloved commercial street. Though Grand is now a success, the future of the street is still in the hands of volunteers, busy people who join the Association and work together to preserve the character of this remarkable urban neighborhood.
Grand Avenue: Renaissance of an Urban Street - Billie Young, Co-Author