Like St. Paul? Buy It

IN SAN FRANCISCO, you can get a Haight/Ashbury street sign for $19.95 in a shop at the city's tourist mecca, Pier 39. In Boston's Fanueil Hall market, you can pick up an old fire hydrant for around $300. And by the end of July in St. Paul, you might be able to buy your very own piece of the old Wabasha bridge in a store nestled next to downtown's Norwest building.

At its April 24 meeting, the St. Paul City Council joined at least a dozen other cities and approved a move to open the Twin Cities' first City Store. Floated as a one-year test program, the store will sell the likes of surplus parking meters, fire hydrants, and manhole covers, in addition to the Wabasha detritus. If the store finds its niche, the Council hopes the store will "contribute to the revitalization of downtown St. Paul" and "generate new revenue for city operations," according to a project overview that accompanied the resolution.

"It's going to have the feel of the past," says Sean Kershaw, the small-business liaison in the city's Office of Planning and Economic Development. "We haven't really fleshed all that out yet, though." The store also plans to offer paintings and photographs of the city, as well as used library books and items culled from the Ramsey County and Minnesota Historical Societies.

Initially the city will manage the store, with those duties gradually assumed by Project for Pride in Living, a local nonprofit that provides housing and jobs programs. PPL already has a chain of businesses in Minneapolis, including the PPL Tool Library and Home Improvement Center on East Franklin and PPL Industries in downtown Minneapolis.

If market research is accurate, the effort may pay off. San Francisco's City Store, which opened in late October, hauled down nearly $35,000 in its first month of operation, and on some months the gross has topped $50,000. A nonprofit called Golden Gate Community Inc., which works with homeless and low-income people, operates the San Francisco City Store and splits the profit with the city. While the Golden Gate corporation launched the venture with a $150,000 grant from the Roberts Foundation, the St. Paul Council hopes to open up with an initial civic investment of $50,000 and generate the remainder of the start-up costs--about $100,000--through sales.

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