By Madison Bloomquist
Most people would rather go to the dentist than hit the mall, family in tow, on a perfectly good Saturday. The high schoolers working retail are cranky, the lighting is harsh, and couldn’t you just order the same things online, but from the comfort of your own couch?
Enter 50th and France, a quaint little corner on the edge of Edina and Minneapolis where local shopping dreams come true. You easily park your car, step out onto cobblestone streets, breathe in the crisp Minnesota air, and smile and wave at shop owners who greet you by name. Family-owned boutiques glisten with locally-made goods for every season. They didn’t even have to lure you in with coupons (in-store only! 25 percent off this weekend!). No, it’s a place where you would actually want to come spend the day at the mall with your whole family.
50th and France became, well, 50th and France, about 75 years ago. The founding fathers–Robert Sykes, Clair Peterson, and Hosmer Brown–were huddled around a table at Pearson’s, sipping coffee (as they were known to do, naturally). They started talking about ways to get real projects done around town making the community even better. One thing led to another, and the 50th and France Business Association was born. It’s still around today, and it’s centered around the same ideals it was built on 75 years ago: improving our town and making the 50th and France area a wonderful place to live and visit.
Rachel Thelemann, Executive Director of 50th and France, may know this better than anyone. She’s been dedicating her life to improving the Edina community for the past 10 years, and she’s grateful for every challenge she’s faced along the way.
“The job is different every day, which I like,” she said.
Ten years ago, the community needed a leader. They needed someone to pull them back together as they drifted apart. You know how it goes–life
gets in the way, you start running on autopilot, and all of a sudden you haven’t had dinner with your best friend in months. It’s not that you don’t want to, but your kids have soccer practice and work runs late and somehow you’re still trying to train for a half marathon. Life happens. That’s what happened to 50th and France. Thelemann stepped in to bring everyone back together. With her background in communications and nonprofit work, she was able to knit this 50th and France group back together and make them stronger than ever–and she keeps working on it every day.
Fashion Meets Family
In 2017, it’s rare to walk into a store and be warmly greeted by name. It’s even rarer to be asked how your youngest is enjoying third grade, or if you got the new job you were interviewing for, or if you ever did sign up for a half marathon. But that’s what you’ll get at the stores on 50th and France. Mall of America can keep promoting the hottest trends, and the Rosedale Macy’s can litter your mailbox with coupons, but 50th and France is about a unique experience and personal customer service. It’s about making everyone feel like home.
That said, the area is home to some of the Twin Cities’ most fashion-forward boutiques. Clothes from Bumbershute and Bluebird were recently featured in a fashion show during Fashion Week Minnesota. Family-run Grethen House takes several trips each year to New York to hand-pick items not available anywhere else in Minnesota. The stores here may be serious about community, but they’re also phenomenal at what they do.
“It’s charming and beautiful,” Thelemann said of the shopping area. “It feels like you’re taken into quaint European boutiques.”
Of course, just a collection of boutiques can’t make a community. It’s not like the kids care about fringe jackets or Lush body scrubs–but they’re still excited to call 50th and France home. It’s because the 50th and France Business Association is into a little thing called making memories happen. Giving families the traditions they’ll cherish, year after year. It’s about bringing the people you love to an annual tree-lighting ceremony, where they mayor counts down to that moment the Christmas tree lights up for the very first time of the year. Or heading to the famous fountain with your girlfriends for an hour of outdoor yoga, giving you all a tiny chance to both catch your breath and catch up with each other.
Or, of course, spending a day at the world-famous art fair.
The Edina Art Fair has been taking over 50th and France for more than 50 years, and it’s gotten bigger and better each time. Every June, a few streets close down to vehicle traffic and artists come from all over to set up shop, display their work, and meet the community. Some of them will even come into your home (if you want, of course) and help you decide which piece would look best. Really. It’s that gloriously small-town. It’s easy to get lost in the art festival for a whole day–apart from all the amazing goods, there are food trucks, craft beer tents, kids’ activities, live music, and a little something different each and every year. It’s the area’s number one attraction, hosting 250 artists and more than 250,000 visitors from all over the world.
“The community is the nucleus, but the reach is big,” Thelemann said.
Thelemann and her team are pros at giving the small town a big reach. She’s helped initiate a stronger social media presence, so business owners don’t have to worry about single-handedly running shops while also keeping up with Facebook and Instagram. She’s happy to post updates on new retailers, give the details for upcoming events, show some pictures of boutiques’ recent collections, and–of course–make sure everyone knows how great 50th and France is. She knows using social media to their advantage is a way for everyone to get a little slice of 50th and France, wherever they may be.
Yes, 50th and France is growing to the point of becoming a tourist attraction. It’s hard to believe little old Edina is getting people from Chicago to come shop, or visitors from Canada for the art fair. Or is it? It’s a truly special place–like Thelemann and the whole community already know. It changes a little bit all the time, with new shops and services and (recently, thanks to Thelemann) more quaint and charming lighting, but its heart will always be the same: The community comes first. You come first. When you’re here, you matter. It’s more than a coupon, it’s more than a hurried trip to the mall. It’s an experience. It’s a memory… they don’t ever want you to ever forget it.
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