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Hey, what’s the deal with those strange symbols in the sidewalks outside Bad Weather Brewing?

Hey, who put these outside Bad Weather Brewing and Grand 7 Saloon? And what are they?

Hey, who put these outside Bad Weather Brewing and Grand 7 Saloon? And what are they? Matthew Lawton

Matthew wrote:

What’s the deal with these markings on West Seventh sidewalks in downtown St. Paul? They’re near Bad Weather Brewing as well as Scout men’s clothing store and Grand 7 Saloon. Are they anywhere else? Are they just on sidewalks?

Cheaters would Reverse Google Image Search this and our robot overlords would tell you it’s… concrete. (Not that I did this. No. Never.) 

Interested in the marking, not its material, we faced two courses of action: Either call the department in St. Paul tasked with embossing hard surfaces (like these designs, or poems) or visit the establishments mentioned in person, to find out if the folks working there are even aware of this, let alone have answers. 

Given the choice? Alice will leave her drawing room in favor of falling down a rabbit hole any day. 

***

Starting from the top of Matthew’s question and working my way down, I paced back and forth outside Bad Weather Brewing, looking wackadoodle, searching West Seventh Street’s sidewalks for these markings of indeterminate scale and placement. Using the original photo’s pinkish-red swath of spray paint as my guide, I finally found my first series of them northeast of the taproom, spaced about 10 feet apart. I snapped a photo of one with my feet for scale and took it inside to start asking questions.

Shoes for scale, sidewalk deterioration courtesy of age and Old Man Winter

Shoes for scale, sidewalk deterioration courtesy of age and Old Man Winter Sarah Brumble

While sipping a goze, I showed it to a bartender and asked if he knew anything. This lad, by my estimate in his late 20s, had never noticed them 100 yards out his front door. 

“It kinda looks like an ethnic symbol?” His best suggestion was to hang out til “Phil, from Summit, a real St. Paul guy” came in. 

Before I’d finished my beer, a pair of men nearing or at retirement age sat down to my left. One wore a Saints baseball tee with hops in its glove, and said “That’s different!” in a way only true Minnesotans can. The other had spread before him a spiral-coiled map of St. Paul’s streets, meticulously highlighted. My hopes were high for these guys, so I struck up a conversation.

Ed, the beer connoisseur (“more of a seur, not a full connoisseur”) had joined David for light refreshment after the latter had traversed part of Frogtown on foot. It’s David's mission to walk all 2,000 miles of St. Paul’s streets before year’s end. 

“I don’t think I’m going to make it,” he said. 

Together the men examined the sidewalk photo, perplexed. “It looks Irish, maybe Chinese,” suggested David.

After exchanging well wishes and beer rec’s, I headed to Scout, the men’s store Matthew had mentioned in his question. Jake, the store’s proprietor, knew the symbols well. His storefront sidewalk is littered with them right outside. “I’ve only been open a year. I don’t know how old they are, but they kind of look like ‘fr’s to me?” 

Continuing next door to the historic Grand 7 Saloon, the bartender laughed before saying she’d been working there 15 years and only noticed those markings in the past two months. Then she shouted at a man behind me. 

“Hey Tommy, do you know?” 

“Ohhh yaaah – the Fort Road Business Association,” he answered without breaking stride. 

When he returned from the bathroom, he finished his sentence, grinning beneath a black visor tipped with Guy Fieri-esque flames. “I’m kind of an inquisitive person, so when they first showed up, I put a picture on Facebook asking about it… Nothing. So I posted it in the West 7th neighborhood group.”

Note to self: Tommy is the OG Hey, what’s the deal with…

“It was part of a beautification campaign when they were redoing the sidewalks.” His eyes nearly rolled out of his head at the words beautification campaign. The sidewalk is horribly uneven, mercilessly cracked, but it’s decorated. “They’re spaced pretty evenly, if you noticed. Run all the way down to Mancini’s every few blocks.” 

Tommy and I were mutually glowing as we shook hands. I called him the key to my quest, while his buddies continued giving him endless shit for carrying a murse.

The most, erm, concrete, answer to your question, Matthew is that the symbols belong to the West 7th Street/Fort Road Federation (which translates in Tommy-talk to "Fort Road Business Association"). Mutliple attempts to contact the FRF via phone and email to ascertain precisely when their logo was printed into the sidewalks, and where else they might appear in the wild, went unanswered.

Rest assured that the symbol will only crop up in St. Paul's 9th District. It's a tiding of the organization's goal of providing "physical, social, and economic opportunities for the people who live and work in the West 7th/Fort Road Community."

***

In Hey, What’s the Deal With... we’re tackling everyday oddities, random curiosities, and what-the-actual-fuck mysteries about life in the Twin Cities. Got a pressing but somewhat trivial Q about something you saw, heard, or thought about while stuck in traffic? Email [email protected], and our crack investigative team just might try to figure it out.

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