Ask anyone what they love about Lake Street, and they will immediately mention the vibrant immigrant businesses that create a rich tapestry of diverse cultures and ethnic foods and wares. Lake Street is a commercial corridor that spans the City east to west, and is loaded with new, energetic, business owners pursuing their dreams. And while these businesses open nearly every month on Lake Street, it is not a new story. You can find establishments on Lake that claim a history of continuous operation stretching back to the street’s heyday of bustling streetcar traffic. One such fixture is Ingebretsen’s Scandinavian Food & Gifts, which has presided over the corner of 16th & Lake Street for over 80 years.
Ingebretsen’s began as The Model Meat Market in 1921, and expanded to include gifts and other imported Scandinavian items in 1974. The store prides itself on offering imported Scandinavian foods, needlework supplies, and beautifully-crafted gifts, as well as items made locally by Scandinavian artisans. According to current owner Julie Ingebretsen—the third generation of Ingebretsens to operate her family’s business at the corner—the interior of the building looks much the same as it did in 1930. She attributes the store’s success to its many loyal, committed customers from both within and outside the neighborhood.
Organizing for positive change
Its deep roots in the community and its connection to Old World traditions notwithstanding, the store very much exists in the present, and Julie Ingebretsen has taken an active role in meeting the challenges of operating a business along Lake Street. In addition to serving as president of the Lake Street Council, she is co-chair of the Bloomington-Cedar-Lake Commercial Association. “Bloomington-Lake’s worst period probably followed First Bank’s departure about 10 years ago,” she says. “But as bad as the situation seemed at the time, it had the positive effect of galvanizing the local business community to organize itself.
“ Our commercial association was born of those organizing efforts, and we have had good success in implementing positive changes at our commercial node. We convinced another bank to move in to the First Bank site; we supported the establishment of the Mercado; and we have helped several new businesses make a go of things at the northeast corner, a location once occupied by a menacing, fortress-like gun shop.”
Investing in street improvements
Despite the positive changes at the Cedar-Bloomington-Lake commercial node, room for improvement remains. “Although we are seeing more and more traffic along Lake Street in the last few years, access continues to be a problem,” she notes. “We are really overdue for repaving, and that detracts from the efforts to revitalize Lake Street as a vibrant commercial corridor.” Ingebretsen’s desire to help foster Lake Street’s revitalization prompted her participation in the Project Advisory Committee for the Lake Street repaving project. The PAC will serve an important advisory role as plans proceed for the repavement and streetscaping to be undertaken along Lake Street by Hennepin County in 2004.
“ Our commercial association has learned to actively engage in the issues that affect Bloomington and Lake,” explains Ingebretsen. “With the streetscaping project, we are eager to take part in the planning so that we can help ensure that the improvements along Lake Street retain the distinctive flavor of the individual commercial nodes. For instance, we have many artists living in the Bloomington-Lake area, so we would love to see a strong public art focus at the intersection.”
“ Of course, no business owner enjoys the disruption of street re-paving,” says Ingebretsen. “It is a challenge. But if we focus on the long term, creating a new streetscape for Lake Street can be a huge asset for the businesses, their customers, and neighboring residents."