Knock, knock? Anyone there?

Hi guys. Yeah, it’s me, your DumpyStripMalls blogger. I’m *thinking* about giving this blog another go. Key word…THINKING.

What happened? Well…life. I was laid off from my job in 2010 and did not find another job for an entire YEAR. Yeah, laid off for a year and couldn’t find time to update this blog — dumb excuse! Truth is, I needed to make money on my writing now that I did not have a job and that involved writing mind-numbing articles for sites like eHow and Livestrong, and selling SEO-optimizted articles for clients. YAWN AND YAWN. I got burnt out on writing that I did not want to update the blog.

I eventually got a real job again at one of the giant companies here last May. Yay! I’m very happy there and I’ve been there an entire year now. At the time, this blog had not been updated in almost a year, so I figured I’d lost all my readers and let the web hosting expire. Plus, after being unemployed for 11 months, I turned into a tightwad w/ money. The web hosting expired in July and though I had been employed for a few months at the time, I couldn’t fathom spending money renewing my hosting service.

Which is why I am here on the old WordPress site. 🙂

So why do I want to revive it? I miss it. It was fun. Oh yeah, I actually bought a grown-up camera too. I bought it with my bonus from my job at the end of 2011 (!!! JOB! I have a JOBBBBBB! Seriously…I previously took having a job for granted – and I’ve been in the workforce for 11 years now).

And with my grown-up camera (a Nikon D5100!), I find myself…taking pictures of dead malls/stores/buildings again. OLD HABITS DIE HARD.

Also? I took some photography classes, so although I am no expert photographer, I love my new hobby, and have been reading books, visiting online forums, etc, learning everything I can. I take it with me everywhere. I looked like a total jackass when brought it into the (now closed) New Hope Kmart and took pictures in there (which I will share with you on an upcoming post, should that happen). My old photos make me cringe.

That doesn’t mean you’ll get award-winning photography here either. Just that it’ll be better – now that I know a little bit about the basics of photography.

Anyhow, this blog won’t stay on WordPress — I’ll likely move it to Blogger. I also will be changing this blog’s name to something else. I don’t know what. I don’t like the name “Dumpy Strip Malls” anymore.

The “newer” posts (from…July ’09-Aug ’10??) that were on are long gone, but I’ll move these posts over to the new blog.

That’s all for now!

Joe’s Crab Shack: Roseville, MN

Eat at Joe's!

Joe's Crab Shack is a sensory experience, to say the least

Installment #2 on Dumpy Strip Malls’ Roseville Restaurant Trilogy – the closed Joe’s Crab Shack off of Snelling Avenue.

So yep, another abandoned building/former restaurant post with complementing photo essay. These places look so sad and creepy when they’re all boarded up & lifeless like this. But, hey, I like this kind of stuff and that’s why I have this blog. I’m the weirdo pulling off the side of the road, taking pictures of run-down buildings & weedy parking lots.

The Joe’s Crab Shack chain arrived in Minnesota in 1999 with two locations — Roseville and Maple Grove. Minnesota suburbanites love their chain restaurants (me included — I don’t mind a chain restaurant, as long as it’s GOOD), but poor Joe couldn’t make it work in this town.  Maybe because of the abundance of Red Lobsters around, there wasn’t room in this town for another french-fried seafood chain? Or perhaps people just wanted to go to dinner to RELAX and EAT (what a concept!) & not have their server bully them into joining their conga line every 15 minutes? Whatever the reason might’ve been, the Roseville location closed in March 2007 and the Maple Grove location shut down in early 2008.

Joe's Crab Shack

The beach-themed Joe's Crab Shack. No, they don't take sand dollars as a form of payment, but it would add a touch of authenticity if they did

The Roseville location is still standing in development limbo, with nearly every fixture still intact, making this former non-stop summer beach bash locale look exceptionally creepy.

The Maple Grove location is now a Broadway Pizza, which is located along the northwest area of Elm Creek Blvd. There’s been a fair amount of restaurant turnover in this particular area.  Former food eateries in this area include Green Mill, Krispy Kreme (which has been completely remodeled and is now a bank), Hops Restaurant & Brewery, and Baker’s Square (being torn to pieces to make way for a strip mall addition).

Unfortunately (…probably not the best choice of wording), I never ate at the Minnesota locations. My only experience with Joe’s Crab Shack was in 2000 in Gurnee, IL after a long day at Six Flags Great America (apparently, at the time, none of us knew that Joe’s Crab Shack had already infiltrated the Twin Cities area). I have pictures of this “event” but hell if I’m posting them. I would if it had been at one of the Minnesota locations, but it’s a Joe’s in the Chicago area, so no dice.

Unlike the lovely Fridley Crab House, this dining establishment is a chain, so location usually doesn’t matter, and most of this could apply to one of the MN locations. Whether it’s Chicago or Minnesota, you’re still in a landlocked state thousands of miles from the sea, leaving few choices for authentic and fresh-off-the-liner ocean seafood. Unless you want to fork over some big bucks for a meal at Oceanaire (which, by the way, isn’t doing so hot), places like Joe’s or Red Lobster will have to do. The people in my group thought

Joe's Crab Shack had a kiddie playground. What, is this McDonalds?

Joe's Crab Shack had a kiddie playground. What, is this McDonalds?

it would be way cool to eat here based solely on the building’s semblance of a weathered seaside frathouse that takes a yearly beating during hurricane season (Well, we were college kids).   With the tiki posts, the Christmas lights strung from the deck beams, and the sheer amount of ear-numbing NOISE coming from this restaurant, it seemed like a potential hotspot for some crazy drunken shit to go down! We were all for it. (Evidently, we didn’t notice the huge outdoor KIDS play pit smack dab in front of the restaurant. Quite a perceptive group!)

I’m not crazy about seafood, but I didn’t complain — it looked like a fun place to eat. If anything, I can just grub on the popcorn shrimp and get a lil’ tipsy. Hey, it’s better than getting smashed in a depressing hotel bar.

Even though the atmosphere has that “forced-fun-designed-in-a-corporate-boardroom” feel to it, they do an okay job making you feel like you’re at the beach. The beach = throngs of people smelling like dogs & dirt from getting wet and sweating all day…which is exactly what you’d find when dining at a restaurant right next to a major amusement park. It was packed wall-to-wall in here with the same people who were at the amusement park, sporting the putrid clothes they wore all day, still damp from riding the Roaring Rapids. (same thing as Valleyfair’s Thunder Canyon).  Pretty gross — but this could be said about any restaurant located near a Six Flags. I’m sure this wasn’t the case at the Minnesota locations.

We were seated at a booth that looked like a picnic table. The utensils and napkins were stored in some sort of metal bucket. I remember looking at the menu and I couldn’t find anything I wanted to eat. Everything on the menu looked like the type of food that leaves me running for the toilet. If the seafood isn’t battered, I don’t want anything to do with it. This only escalates the digestive troubles.  With enough breading and tartar sauce dollops, the fishy taste can be kept to a minimum. (That’s what she said!) .  I ended up ordering some sort of fried seafood basket for which I paid dearly.

The dead Joe's Crab Shack

Such a festive setting

Their specialty drinks here are more like DRANKS. High calorie, complicated, recipe-required alcoholic beverages that look like a work of art. I thought I remember them having quite an extensive drink menu, but looking at the menu online, it pales in comparison to TGIF’s selection. Maybe it varies by location? I don’t normally like spending $10 on one drink, but hey, I can live a little. I’m at JOE’S for crying out load. The waiters are wearing hula skirts and doin’ The Butt (Owww! Sexy, Sexy). I think I ordered some blue drink (just because it was blue. Damn gimmick every.freakin’.time) — pretty sure it was the Shark Bite, and I was tipsy-doodle-do after a few sips. That’s not saying much on the drink strength though. I’m a lightweight and beer battered walleye would get me feelin’ loose.   When my drink arrived, everyone in my party thought it looked wicked cool, so more Shark Bites were ordered by our crew. Gotta live every week like it’s Shark Week, I guess.

Despite this seaside shanty’s appearance of a party house for drunken beach bums, it was crawling with little kids. The outdoor playground, cheeseball decorations, and a menu made up of mostly kid-friendly seafood should’ve tipped us off, but we were pretty surprised at all the little rugrats swimming around in here. Definitely not a place for a romantic dinner.

I can’t write about Joe’s Crab Shack without mentioning the singing staff. Every 15-20 minutes, all the servers here break into a silly song and dance routine that no one pays attention to, except the kids. It’s kind of cute the first time they do it, but beyond that, it just gets annoying. Sometimes, they try to guilt-trip you into joining them. The first act, they do the Macarena. Second act is the Sprinkler. Third act, they do the Hustle. Enough already, just let me eat my soggy seafood and limp french fries!!  By the way, NEVER mention that it’s your birthday. Unless you like wearing a coconut bra and dancing in the aisles to a Jimmy Buffet song…all while a pulsating strobe light illuminates the room, making you dizzy. The free scoop of vanilla ice cream just isn’t worth it.

They also had a gift shop here, kind of like what you’d find at the Hard Rock Cafe or Margaritaville, except Joe’s totally capitalizes on the “crabs” theme. Obviously. Nothing like a little STD innuendo to whet your appetite. You can buy all kinds of shit with clever puns — like shotglasses inscribed with “Peace, Love, and Crabs” or a t-shirt that reads, “Check out my mussels.” You go Joe! I surely didn’t see those jokes coming!

The abandoned Joe's Crab Shack Playland.

The abandoned Joe's Crab Shack Playland.

The food eventually came, with our server hastily dropping our grub off at our table to go do another dance. Between the Shark Bite drinks, my fried platter, and the sand pails of crab, by the end of the night, our table looked like Jaws threw up. No one complained about the food, but no one raved about it either. Or maybe they did. I don’t know — it was so damn loud up in hurrr that I don’t think anyone in our party held a conversation beyond, “WHAT?? CAN YOU REPEAT THAT?” “OH FUCK IT, TELL ME LATER.”  We left this place with our ears ringing and our bellies full of grease. Joe’s Crab Shack was one big fishy pile of MEH…but I bet my cat would love to eat the leftovers.

That said, I can’t say I’m sad that this chain uprooted itself from Minnesota. I remember one time in 2001, when my sister came into town — we had just finished up a marathon shopping session over at Rosedale and we were looking for a place to eat. She saw Joe’s and noted the boisterous vibe, but I just couldn’t bring myself to go here again. We settled on Olive Garden. Free salad and breadsticks, yo!

If I had a choice, give me Red Lobster. At least they have the cheesy biscuits. Or just give me that filet-o-fish. Give me that fish.

Any memories of Joe’s Crab Shack? Feel free to share in the comments!

Photos taken June 2009.

Eat at Joe's

Eat at Joe's

Another view of the Roseville Joe's Crab Shack

Another view of the Roseville Joe's Crab Shack

Stuart Anderson’s Cattle Company: Roseville, MN

Stuar Anderson's Cattle Company

The labelscar is actually more fitting than its original lettering -- it gives it that very appropriate 'branded cow' look.

I have 3 Roseville restaurant posts coming up — I was going to put them all into one blog entry, but this Cattle Company entry got long, so I’m splitting them up. Look for a Joe’s Crab Shack and KFAN/Grumpy’s entries coming shortly. No, this blog is not turning into a restaurant review blog. These places are either closed (Cattle Company & Joe’s) or just plain cursed (Grumpy’s location). That’s why they end up on Dumpy Strip Malls, with the unflattering snapshots, and not here with the yummy food pics.

You could say this stretch of land off of Snelling Avenue is a mini Roseville Restaurant Death Row. The Cattle Company closed up shop, and Joe’s Crab Shack wasn’t far behind. But the Olive Garden and Fuddruckers are still here…so I guess my stupid joke doesn’t really work.

I chose to photograph the Roseville spots but these upcoming restaurant posts can probably be applied to any location of these restaurants. They’re chains, for crying out loud. They’re pretty much the same wherever you go. Unfortunately, with these two restaurants, you can’t eat at them in Minnesota anymore.


Stuart Anderson’s Cattle Company closed all of its Minnesota locations in September 2004. I guess this chain wasn’t doing so hot here, so they bid our state happy trails and left a smattering of empty buildings that look like barns in its wake. Seems to be difficult fill these former Cattle Company locations — 5 years later, and many are still standing today. But don’t have a cow, man — Stuart Anderson’s is still operating in many states today, but under the name Black Angus Restaurant.

Cattle Company

The satellite dish is still on the roof

When you pull up to this place, it just makes you want to start humming “Oh I’ve got spurs that jingle, jangle, jingle…as they go ridin’ merrily along!” in a sing-song voice. The outside of this joint looks like a cowboy outpost and screams spittoons, spurs, and achy breaky boots. You almost feel like you should tie your horse up outside, walk bow-legged into the restaurant wearing a neckerchief, and light up a Marlboro. The logo even had a silhouette of Stuart Anderson himself panning for gold. (Yeah, I know. He’s cooking some concoction over a campfire, but in this economy, it’s the first thing that comes to mind — Mr. Anderson is obviously searching for a nice-sized bounty to bring into The Gold Guys).

When ‘ya get inside, you realize Stuart Anderson was just fuckin’ with ‘ya. This place was actually fairly trendy, almost a “business-romantic” atmosphere, as Michael Scott would say. Mood lighting, tabletop candles, a hostess in a little black dress, and piped-in Adult Contemporary music. What the hell is going on? Where’s the Minnesota’s Most Wanted posters on the wall? The Tim McGraw music? The howdy-do greeting by the hostess?

I can’t remember if they even had cowboy crap on the walls. I mean, they might’ve. I’m sure there was at least one wagon wheel nailed to the wall. How could they resist? You’d think I’d remember this a little better, being that I did eat here a fair share of times. All I know is that I didn’t feel like I was on the set of The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.

This was a reasonably-priced suburban steakhouse with decent food.  You could always find coupons in your weekly

Oh no!

A cow figure is branded on the side of the building.

junkmail bundle, usually enticing you with a 3-course meal for two, for about $45. It faced competition from other mid-level steak chain places in town, namely Timberlodge with its rustic hunting cabin theme, and the Outback Steakhouse. As far as the Outback Steakhouse goes, I think I’m too dense to understand what the fuck the Australian Outback has to do with steak. When I think of the Land Down Under, I don’t think of beef. I think crocodiles, kangaroos, and the Men at Work. Not bovines. Whatever. And of course, there’s Manny’s and Murray’s — the downtown, high-end/Daddy Warbucks-genre of steakhouses with a la carte pricing that give off that traditional “old boy’s club” ambiance, if you want to shell out some dough and rub elbows with Sid Hartman.

Cattle Company was in the Twin Cities for as long as I can remember. I remember my parents getting a babysitter for us kids and going here sans offspring for a nice dinner out. Most kids really don’t like steakhouses anyway. Sirloin steak topped with shoestring onions? Warm bread and whipped butter? Loaded baked potato? Sounds good now as an adult, but most kids would prefer to eat soggy pizza at Circus Circus, doggy-paddle their way through the ball crawl, and come home with the Chicken Pox.

One of my favorite things about this place is that had HUGE, comfy, private booths in little alcoves around the restaurant. The downside to these alcoves was that booths were so high, your server would often forgot someone was sitting in the booth, resulting in very slow service. It was also really dimly lit, like an underground lair or a nightclub. Lots of steakhouses do this for some reason — I’m going here to eat my steak, not to pick up a guy.  This is the Cattle Company, not Redstone!

This place looks like barn

This is a place you'd want to go when you didn't want to shell out the dough to eat at Murray's.

They did have a bar area, where that sort of shit went down. I remember a friend and I coming here to sit at the bar in 2001 to watch the World Series and two different dudes bought us a round of drinks. It seems a little odd that people would come to Cattle Company to hook up with a mate. Maybe it’s all those women with cowboy fetishes, thinking they might find a Kenny Chesney look-a-like here? I feel ‘ya — I went through that cowboy thing myself…when was when I was 16. My obsession was nipped in the bud when I saw Garth Brooks without his hat on. The closest you might get to a cowboy in here is perhaps finding a deputy sitting at the bar, enjoying a cold one after a long day of rounding up some stray cows on the county road. So, girl, if you really want that cowboy, either move to Montana or just go to the Disney store and get yourself a Woody doll.

We went to the Fridley location) for my pre-Junior prom dinner back in 1996. It was either this or the Sunshine Factory because that’s just what everyone did at my high school for prom. In the north suburbs, we really didn’t have much choice back then for nearby, high-faulting dining establishments.  I remember walking in here (decked out in my prom dress, flower corsage, and high heels) and making a spectacle of myself by tripping over some extension cord taped down on the floor. Fuck, it’s no wonder that after the prom, my date just wanted to “be friends.” Technically, we are still friends. On Facebook, anyway.

Cattle Company had a really good Moltan Lava Chocolate Fudge Cake!

Cattle Company had a really good Molten Lava Chocolate Fudge Cake!

I never ate at the Roseville Cattle Company — I went to the Brooklyn Park and Fridley locations. I can’t recall where BP location was (might’ve been in Brooklyn Center?), but I’m sure the building is long gone. The Fridley location (off of University Avenue, in the Cub Foods parking lot) was razed a few years ago to make way for a CVS.

This disowned parcel in Roseville was supposed to be redeveloped into a grocery store in 2007. Not sure what happened to those plans, but here we are, 2 years later, with the Cattle Company eyesore still standing proud. The Minnetonka location is still unleased as well — let the cow fun live on!

Hate the Cattle Company? Miss the Cattle Company? Did you also have your prom dinner at the Cattle Company? Leave a note in the comments!

Photos taken June 2009.

The outside of this place says, "Home on the range where the deer and the antelope play" but the inside tells a different story

The outside of this place says, "Home on the range where the deer and the antelope play" but the inside tells a different story

The Roseville, MN Cattle Company

The Roseville, MN Cattle Company

Maplewood Mall: Maplewood, MN

The indoor carosaul is Maplewood Mall's most memorable feature

The indoor carousal is Maplewood Mall's most memorable feature

Welcome to the Maplewood Mall – the main enclosed traditional mall serving the East Metro area. If you haven’t been here, you’re not missing out on anything. It’s just…a mall. In a suburb in Minnesota.  It’s not as if Maplewood is headed down the road to ruin, but it just isn’t anything special. This isn’t even a ‘Dale, even though it holds its own. Then again, the “dales” just don’t give off that highfalutin’ shopping mecca vibe that they used to. Twenty years ago, shopping at the ‘dales used to MEAN something, but today, the ‘dales name is pretty much meaningless with some of the company they keep….ahem — Brookdale, I’m looking at you…and Southdale, you are next!

Maplewood Mall opened in 1974 and was renovated and expanded in 1988 . I can’t say I have any warm fuzzies about this mall.  My parents never took us here as kids, probably because it was too far away and there really isn’t anything at this mall that we couldn’t find at Brookdale.

The first time I visited this mall was in the summer of 1996. My only reason for going to this mall was simply to check it out. Wanting a reprieve from Brookdale, I drove all the way out here by myself (back then, it seemed so far away!), looking for a trendy outfit to wear for my senior pictures. I ended up buying a jean skort at the County Seat and a logo tee from The Gap. Make no mistake about it, I was a paragon of ’90s vogue. These days, I usually only go here if I have a Forever 21 jones. It’s the only location I know of, other than the Mall of America location. Being that I am 30 years old, I’m probably far out of their demographic now (*sheds tear*) but sometimes a girl just needs a cheap, ‘steppin’ out on the town’ top or a Nanette Lepore knock-off. Still, I hate going in here. It’s so damn messy, chaotic and the OONTZ OONTZ OONTZ music gives me a headache. *starts waving cane again* Not to mention, their shitty return policy.

The stores here are your typical mall standbys — Victoria’s Secret, Aeropostale, Bath & Body Works, Yankee Candle, Lidz, Gap, Hallmark, Maurices, and so on. You won’t find any of the more upscale mall chains, like the Apple store,
White House/Black Market, Coach, Banana Republic, J Crew, and the like here. You’ll have to travel further down

Maplewood Mall has a sweet fleet of rentable mall cruisers

Maplewood Mall has a sweet fleet of rentable kiddie mall cruisers. Denny Hecker's next business venture?

Highway 36 and shop at Rosedale for that.

So what’s the history behind this mediocre mall? Well, I can’t offer up much, other than regurgitating what information Wikipedia has on the history of the mall anchors —

Macy’s: This originally was Powers Dry Goods 1974,  Donaldson’s in 1985, Carson Pirie Scott in 1987, Dayton’s in 1996, Marshall Fields in 2001.

Kohls: The Kohls anchor was part of the addition in 1988. It originally was a MainStreet, but all MainStreet locations turned into Kohls in ’88-89-ish, so it didn’t stay a MainStreet for long.

Sears: I believe this has always been a Sears.

JC Penny’s: The current JC Penny’s space was a Mervyn’s that opened in 1996, and at some point, turned into JCPenny.

As far as former non-anchor stores, all I know of are Ann Taylor and County Seat. See, what did I tell you? I’m not writin’ The Chronicles of Maplewood here. If you know somethin’, post in the comments!

Simon Properties purchased this mall in 2002 and talked about another renovation (it needs one — this mall is very darkly lit) and adding a megaplex cinema. Seven years later, there is no sign of either in sight. Simon Properties — why must you tease us so? *giggles*

Your average mall has your average issues, and Maplewood is no different. First off, the escaltor near the Victoria’s Secret always seems to be broken. Strike One.  Strike two — I find that this mall has a lot more miscreant teens loitering around than some of the other Twin Cities malls — usually blocking certain entrances doing tricks on their skateboards or hanging out near the Aladdin’s Castle arcade.

Maplewood is also home to some of the peskiest, pushiest mall market researchers known to man. Strike THREE. These survey hustlers patrol the corridor near the Payless Shoes/Orange Julius/Dairy Queen, hold their cute lil’ clipboards and hound you for a ‘minute of your time, sir.’   What exactly are they trying to learn from people shopping at the mall? People like booze, sex, and money. Voila! I just saved your company billions of dollars. No need for a market research budget.

Also, this mall has an abundance of cell phone stores & kiosks. Out of all the malls in the Twin Cities, Maplewood has the most pesky, pushy cell phone dealers EVER.  Especially The Mobile Phone Co. store, which was featured on an expose on of the local newsstation’s broadcast a few years ago, about their slimy sales tactics. When you walk by this store


Maplewood Mall -- The home of the hard-sell cell phone sales tactics

(located between Hollister and The Gap), there’s usually 2 or 3 slick-looking sales guys standing outside the store, holla-ing at everyone who walks by. These fuckers are worse than the Dead Sea Salt hawkers. No thanks, I don’t want a fucking Razr. I swear, these guys look like Jersey mobsters. I wonder if they play Mafia Wars on Facebook?  JOIN MY MAFIA?

The mix of stores here really caters to the teen shoppers. A bunch of stores here that sell cheap polyester thug-in-tha-club clothes  — Forever 21, Charlotte Russe, TwinsTown, DEB, Ragstock, Vanity, Wet Seal, Hot Topic, PacSun, Zumiez, The Edge — how many stores selling throwaway “BUY-ME-A-DRANK” skimpy party clothing does one mall need?

This could have something to do with all of the nightclubs located within walking distance from the mall.  (I know…weird, right? Get the crew all together and go tear up a club….in Maplewood ???? Hey, it must be working because there’s like three nightclubs in this area). Those hunnies at The Myth are buying their pink glitter bras and ass-cheek grazing neon orange mini skirts somewhere. And Twins Town is a great resource for the club hoppin’ fellaz — great place to get a knock-off Gucci bandanna just like Soulja Boy’s or a pair of stunna shades.

In case you’re wondering, the nightclubs in this area are —

The Myth: Supposed to be pretty “dope”.  I’m not into the club scene so I haven’t been here and probably never will. KDWB has the hots for this place — or at least they used to. It seemed like every event sponsored by this local top-40 radion station was held here.  Star Parties, Jingle Balls, that really trashy Halloween party with the human petting zoo, that Valentine’s Day lingerie costume contest…hell, at some point, they probably hosted a Booty Cruise here. It’s on a boat, I know, but they probably somehow figured out a way to do this! 🙂

Maplewood Mall offers a great selection of scene clothes for tonight's mixer at The Myth

Maplewood Mall offers a great selection of scene clothes for tonight's mixer at The Myth

Dive Bar: Formerly The Bird nightclub. I remember going here a few times (when it was The Bird) when KDWB hosted their Saturday Night Party Zone here. My friend Deb and I would only come here when Michael Knight was hosting because I had a mad crush on him. (good god, why am I admitting this? He wasn’t even that good looking and the dude was probably twice my age. Thinking back, Ton E Fly was probably cuter, but I had to have the hots for Michael freakin’ Knight?!) Those were the days though… 🙂 Anyway, this isn’t even a real dive bar. Real dive bars don’t name themselves “Dive Bar.” Dive bars = dirty bathrooms, flies on the food, beer served out of an Igloo cooler, blood stains on the walls from the nightly fights, cracked vinyl booths with the foam poking out, and a slobbery dog behind the counter.  I’ve never been in here since the late ’90s, but I’m guessing this is not a real “dive bar.”

I think there’s another nightclub across White Bear Avenue, near that strip mall with the Old Country Buffet, but I can’t remember its name.

With all that said, Maplewood Mall does have one big redeeming factor — it has a giant carousal in the middle of the mall. You might be thinking, “Who the fuck cares? The Mall of America has Camp Snoopy-The Park at MOA-SpongebobLand feat. Dora the Explorer-Nick At Night Universe, or whatever the fuck it’s called these days — it’s a full-blown amusement park! And Maplewood has one carousal?”

But the Maplewood carousal isn’t just a place to get some cheap $2 thrills. This ride is an original Venetian double-


The Maplewood Best Buy up and left this location and moved down the road. My fond memory of this place? In 2001, a coworker set me up on a blind date. The dude took me to this Best Buy for our first date. We looked at car stereo equipment. No joke. Obviously, that first date was our last.

decker carousal from the 1800’s, with beautiful hand-painted murals. Definitely not something you’d find in your average suburban mall, or let alone any ol’ amusement park, for that matter. It’s worth checking out, if you find yourself shopping at this mall.

And this mall still has fountains. I like mall fountains. You don’t see them all that much these days.

If you have any memories to share or any information about former tenants/etc, feel free to post in the comments!

All photos taken June 2009. (I’m trying out the photo gallery feature on WordPress…so this looks a little funky. I’ll try to get it right on my next post! Sorry for the sloppiness!)

Baker’s Square: Maple Grove, MN

Like Grandma always said, “Keep your fork, there’s pie!”

Okay, so that’s not the official slogan of Baker’s Square — it’s “Come for the food, stay for the pie”. Close enough though. Personally, I’d rather just come for that 3,000-calorie slice of pie & scoop of ice cream that will surely lead me down the path of bedridden obesity, and pass on the food, but that’s just me.

Keep your fork, there's pie!

Keep your fork, there's pie!

Welcome to Baker’s Square, a restaurant chain serving all-day breakfast entrees, inoffensive continental cuisine, burnt coffee, and sweets that go straight to your ass. And lots and lots of French Silk Pie.

The Baker’s Square restaurant chain is still alive ‘n kickin’ in Minnesota, but only a handful of locations remain. Many locations, including Maple Grove, were wiped out in the Great Bakers Square-icide of April 2008.  (Those locations were Plymouth, St. Anthony, Maplewood,  Minnetonka,  Burnsville, one in Minneapolis, and one in St. Paul).

Bakers Square closed early, probably keeping a lot of riff-raff out of the restaurant

Bakers Square closed early, probably keeping a lot of riff-raff out of the restaurant

Okay, so a random chain restaurant closes in the suburbs — big whoop, right? Yeah, I know…not very interesting.  But by golly, I just like taking pictures of abandoned buildings and writing blog posts about said abandoned building.  I’m no photographer (as evidenced by the shitty photos on this blog), so I’m not going with an artsy angle here.  Just a post about a ho-hum suburban chain restaurant that I haven’t eaten at in years. I can’t really say I’m shedding tears over this one.

I’m sure Grandma is though!

Baker’s Square is the local elderly hangout. Whether it’s a gathering place to shoot the shit before hitting up the Kohls Early Bird specials, or the spot of a Grand Casino after-party, Midwestern old fogies love this place,  my grandma included. When my parents would take us to Grandma’s house, Grandma would always want to come here. She’d gather up her pie tins (grandma always saved the pie tins. She’d get a whole quarter every time we’d go here), and squeal,  “POPPIN’ FRESH!!! POPPIN’ FRESH!!! POPPIN’ FRESH!!” (even though this place dropped the Poppin’ Fresh name years ago) and would practically wet herself on the drive over, just thinking of the pies.

Bakers Square

Bakers Square

Prior to 1983, Baker’s Square was known as Poppin’ Fresh. You’d think that after all this time, people would call this place by its correct name, but no. The elderly crowd this place caters to keeps the Poppin’ Fresh name alive.  Oh fiddlesticks, I shouldn’t talk — I’m sure in 30 years, some young whippersnapper will poke fun at me for calling US Bank “First Bank” and referring to Macy’s as Daytons and saying stuff like, “Back in my day, Wells Fargo was Norwest Bank!!! Their logo was a giant green “N”!!!” *waves cane*

Most of the Baker’s Square locations are or were in need of a major renovation. It looked like you were dining at Grandma’s house, with the fluffy window valances, stain-concealing carpet, country floral wallpaper and matching border, all in the Baker’s Square-signature cranberry red and seagrass green color accents. Ho-hum.

You can still see the decor through the window

You can still see the decor through the window

The food wasn’t anything to write home about either, but your Grandma probably raves about it. Lackluster comfort food and an anytime-breakfast menu is how Baker’s Square rolls — it’s the stuff you crave when it’s 2 below and you want to eat something that requires elastic waist pants (luckily, most of their regulars are people who already rock the elastic waist pants, so no wardrobe change is necessary for most patrons). The elderly-friendly menu consists of breaded chicken patties, BLTs, meatloaf, onion rings, chicken fried steak, rice pudding, pot pies– all assuring that critical bowel movement later on in the day.

So yeah — starchy, simple meals that can be gummed easily by Grandpa. And pie. Can’t forgot that pie. But really, when do you ever eat a meal at Baker’s Square? I honestly can’t remember the last time I ate here.  My friends and I used to rock Perkins or Denny’s HARRRDD when we were in high school. But Bakers Square closed at like 10 or 11PM — far too early for our 1AM dinner parties, so they lost out on the teen demographic and just went after Grandma.   Too bad — we’d eat ourselves sick at these places, running up a huge tab chowing down high fat trucker-style breakfast food and greasy appetizer samplers right before going to bed.  How I escaped my teenage years without blowing up like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon is beyond me.

Free Wi Pie!

The free WiFi (Wi-Pie. I stand corrected) gives Grandma another opportunity to check her email and clog your inbox with more chain-letter email forwards.

I used to come here to pick up a pie to bring up to my parents’ house for Christmas dinner. Baker’s Square took holidays seriously. On any major pie holiday (Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas), they’d have a pie hostess sitting at a card table in the lobby, taking orders and giving you a slip of paper to claim your pie. She’d pass on your order to some hotshot manager wearing a headset and he’d fetch your pie from the fridge, and update the inventory tally. It was quite the production! With the Maple Grove Baker’s Square location closed, our Christmas dinner will forever be without a Baker’s Square pie but really, with a little effort, you could probably make a better pie at home. Especially the French Silk — probably Baker’s Square’s most popular pie.

French Silk Pie is not that difficult to make. Buy a pie crust at Cub, whip up some instant Jell-O chocolate pudding, pour into the crust, and cover in Redi-Whip. Done and DONE. If you’re feeling really adventurous, toss a Hershey’s bar in the SlapChop and sprinkle the shavings on top. Want to make the Candy Cane Christmas pie? Follow the same steps for the French Silk pie, and cut up some candy canes. BINGO – Christmas Pie!

Closed Bakers Square
Ye Ole Blue Haired Eatery

I do miss the Fresh Strawberry pie (seasonal). That fucker was a pie I’d die for.

And I’m willing to bet the Baker’s Square pies were not made fresh, on-site. Probably trucked in from Jersey or something.

I’m not sure if Baker’s Square will last in Minnesota — with all the recent closings, it doesn’t look good. All of these breakfast places pretty much offer the same thing, but I think Perkins does it best. They’re open 24/7 AND they have a wishing well. (just don’t go there on the “Kids Eat Free Tuesdays” — the entire restaurant turns into one loud juice box-flingin’ family section). Denny’s had the silly-named menu items but other than that, it doesn’t do much for me.

And Bakers Square has the pie.

So keep your fork.

Photos taken June 2009

Abandoned Target Store: Coon Rapids, MN

I love Target way more than anyone should. I’m 100% Minnesotan and Target is in my blood. I do all my grocery shopping at Super T and I’m probably there twice a week. I even loved Target as a kid. Going to Target was much more special to me than going to Kmart, even though they sold the same thing. I much preferred getting my Barbie dolls, My Little Ponies, and coloring books from Target than Kmart. We didn’t have a Target store in Brooklyn Park/Center until 1986, so prior to that, we always had to shop at the Crystal Target. When I grew up, I got a job my senior year in high school as a Target cashier and worked my way into HQ & ended up working for the company for 7 years.


The solution is easy. Buy this Target store and bulldoze it. Hold on to the land until they decide to build a Cheesecake Factory next door (hope you're patient, it might be a while). Then, sell the property for millions! It's simple, really.

So, back in 1998, I heard it through the company grapevine that the Coon Rapids Blvd (store T-42) was closing, and I got a little teary-eyed. I didn’t frequent this store, but I did shop here once in a while. Prior to this, I had never heard of a Target store in Minnesota closing!

They didn’t arbitrarily chose to close this store to meet numbers or whatever. There was a rhyme to the reason they were shuttin’ this store down. And that reason was Riverdale, the latest and greatest North Suburban retail hotspot for the new millennium.

Riverdale is the reason why, 11 years later, the entire northern corridor of Coon Rapids Blvd looks like Chernobyl. This empty Target store is just one of many abandoned retail establishments along the Coon Rapids Boulevard of broken dreams.

The Coon Rapids store closed in the fall of 1998. At the time, Riverdale was newborn retail center, only consisting of a Rainbow Foods, a Green Mill, a Hollywood Video, a Panera Bread,  and of course, a Target store. They area was very underdeveloped at the time, but big plans were in place for this new area dubbed “Riverdale.” It was going to be the next big thing for North Suburban retail and rather than give this store a makeover, they threw up a Target Greatland in the nearby Riverdale area and eventually closed old T-42. This also happened to the Rainbow Foods (where the Big Lots is now). Can’t say I miss that Rainbow store. It was one of the most incredibly disgusting grocery stores I’ve ever been in, ranking right up there with that Columbia Heights Rainbow Foods pigsty. I remember going in there, looking for O’Boises chips and walking out empty-handed (so disgusted I couldn’t purchase a sealed bag of potato chips) and feeling like I needed to take a shower.

Old Target stores all had a distinct architectural look. Without me telling you this was a Target, you could probably figure that out on your own, you smart cookie, you!

This was a pretty rough-looking Target store anyway.  This was store # T-42, and judging by its low store number, it likely opened in the late 1960’s or early 70’s and never had a remodel. This particular store was a good example of a Tar-GHETTO, not a Tar-jay. The former Target store (T-180) off of West Broadway in North Minneapolis was an even better example…that was a Target experience like no other!

The Coon Rapids Blvd/Crooked Lake store is from a lost era of Target. Even in ’98, this store felt decrepit and passe.  This store was from the pre-hipster days of Target. It’s from a time when Target sold only Cherokee, Chic Jeans, ProSpirit, and Honors. The popcorn smell from Food Avenue hit you the minute you walked in and wafted throughout the store.  They had paper gift certificates.  McGlynn’s bakeries were inside the stores instead of Starbucks & you could watch the bakers decorate cakes and cookies. They placed individual price stickers on all of their items. You could buy computers, cigarettes, and the StarTribune. They had an intercom up at the service desk and parents would request help from employees to round up their missing kids.   SuperTargets were just being introduced (in 1995) and still very much a rarity and only found in Utah and Iowa. Target still put out a garden center every spring. You could get cash for returning things without a receipt.  The checkout  lanes had aluminum hand railings, and as kids, my brother and I would treat them as a jungle gym and climb all over the bars while Mom checked out, until the cashier yelled at us to stop monkeying around.

An old Target price tag

An old Target price tag

These things, for the most part, are all gone from today’s Target.   McGlynn’s is plum out of business. Food Avenue (Food Express in some stores) has been replaced by a Pizza Hut/Taco Bell Express fusion. They don’t use the intercom system anymore. You can’t go five miles without finding a SuperTarget, and come hell or highwater, you will NOT be getting cash back if you don’t cough up your receipt.

Target was always considered more upscale than other discount mass merchandisers, but it pushed itself to a new level of chic with the introduction of the Michael Graves housewares collection, Caphalon cookware, and Mossimo clothing in 1999ish. Today’s Target sells Xhilaration, Converse, Menora, Mossimo, up-and-coming designer clothes made specifically for the store, and $80 100% cashmere sweaters. Sure, you can still find Cherokee and Honors clothing (ProSpirit is gone and Chic Jeans can be found at Fleet Farm if you really want them), but it’s not as prevalent as it once was.

Big Lots

Big Lots used to be Rainbow Foods.

Back in the day, Target selling food was a weird thing. Nowadays, every Target store — SuperTarget or not — has a mini grocery store inside of it. But back then, the only food you could buy at Target was candy, soda, and crackers.

Today, there’s a Goodwill store taking up part of the Target store’s old space — this is the new location of the Goodwill that was in the Springbrook Mall. There’s also a Big Lots. Oh joy.

The Firestone tire place is still kickin’ and the Arby’s is still here. The White Castle is boarded up and I believe there also was a Ground Round restaurant near the Target premises that burned down many, many years ago.

When I was up in this area to take pictures, I was quite surprised that the Target store was still standing. It’s been 11 years since it closed – you’d think the city would’ve razed it by now. The likelihood of retail redevelopment plans for this spot are pretty slim, since Riverdale gets all the shopping traffic.And what retailer in their right mind would want to be situated across from the fucking Coon Rapids Family Center Mall??

This entire area of Coon Rapids is absolutely depressing and miserable. It’s dirty, unkempt, empty buildings everywhere…and come nightfall, it’s very spooky. It’s like a mini Detroit, minus the automobile plants and Eminem. But go a few files up to Round Lake Blvd and everything changes into a bright, overdeveloped, sprawling shopping mecca. I’m not sure what the plans are for this area – if there are any. It’s been a hole for quite sometime, even pre-Riverdale days.



All pictures of the outside were taken May 2009.

But I also have interior pics! YAY.

The interior pics are all screenshots taken from clips of the 1991 movie Career Opportunities. I picked out the best screencaps of the store from the movie, so you don’t have to comb through a bunch of video clips from this shitty movie. These pics are not from the Coon Rapids store, however, the CR Target floorplan CR was the exact same style as in the movie, so it probably didn’t vary much from these pictures. If you shopped at Target in the ’80s and ’90s, these screenshots will bring you back! It’s interesting to see what it used to look like – it almost looks like how Kmart looks today.

Enjoy all of the photos!

A typical interior of a Target store in the 80's and 90's

A typical interior of a Target store in the 80's and 90's

Another view of an old skool Target

Another view of an old skool Target

The tape cassette display at Target. Holy FLASHBACK! I remember searching through these, looking for New Kids on the Block's Funky Funky Christmas!

The cassette display at Target. Holy FLASHBACK! I remember searching through these, looking for New Kids on the Block's Funky Funky Christmas at the Brooklyn Center store

This is how Target used to display CDs. (Yes, that's Jennifer Connelly)

This is how Target used to display CDs. (Yes, boys, that's Jennifer Connelly)

Old style Target checkout lanes

Old style Target checkout lanes

Target Food Avenue looks like a hospital cafeteria

Target Food Avenue looked like a stark hospital cafeteria

How the housewares section looked in the '80s and '90s. Those lamps are so fugly

How the housewares section looked in the '80s and '90s. Those lamps are so fugly

Vintage Target service desk!

Vintage Target service desk!

Looking out from the Target parking lot, you can see Firestone

The bright lights of a Target parking lot spotlight.


All boarded up


I'm guessing this fenced off area was for the garden center.


I think it would be kind of creepy living across the street from an abandoned Target store.


The Goodwill is tacked on to the Target store. What used to be here, if anything? You'd think the GW would just take over the Target store, unless there was something here I don't remember


Target Store #42: Staying spooky since '98


For being abandoned for 11 years, this place has held up pretty well.

White Castle

The nearby abandoned White Castle - just another Riverdale casuality.

Fridley Crabhouse (Shorewood Restaurant): Fridley, MN

Welcome to the Fridley Crab House Music Cafe — Fridley’s mistake by the lake.

Crab House

A weedy, reedy swamp and a rusty highway rail complete the picturesque view of the Fridley Crab House

First off, being that it’s a shabby-looking CRAB house,  I suppose you’re waiting for me to roll off a bunch of STD jokes about creepy-crawly creatures feasting on someone’s diseased groin. Aww, c’mon, that’s just too easy and cliched.  STD jokes about a crabhouse are very “…what’s the deal with airline food? And Grape Nuts? There are no grapes or nuts…what gives?”, ya know?

Anyway, this joint opened in 1968 as the Shorewood Restaurant. It stayed as the Shorewood Restaurant until sometime in the early ’00s.  It was bought out by (I’m assuming…) the same people who own the St. Croix Crab House Music Cafe. Damn, that’s a mouthful.

Crab House

The Crabby House

Even when this place was in business, the outside always looked like Red Lobster’s sad sack cousin. (And if you’re like me and not a fan of Ol’ Red, that’s not saying much). It had the same type of cliched seafood restaurant outdoor decor – nautical ropes, sawed-off wooden stumps, and a counterfeit dock for a walkway.

It did have one thing going for it that most Red Lobsters don’t: It was next to a body of water, almost giving the impression that the fish they serve is caught fresh near the premises. Thank goodness it’s not – no way in hell I’d want to eat anything caught out of Moore Lake.  I do see people fishing here, quite often actually. What the heck are they catching, carp? Bullheads? Geese droppings? It can’t be anything worth frying up; I don’t think Moore Lake is stocked with walleye.

Someone left the door open

Door's open

Anyway, this joint tries to pass as some seaside boardwalk cafe in a lazy beach town serving today’s catch. In reality it’s a smokey dive bar with a shitty live band, serving processed seafood & low-grade crab meat trucked in from 2000+ miles away, surrounded by a parking lot filled with cigarette butts, all while overlooking a swamp in an inner-ring Minneapolis suburb.

Now, to be fair, I only ate here once a few years ago (when it was the Fridley Crab House) and never returned. Once was ENOUGH. I heard that it was better when it was the Shorewood Restaurant, but I never had the chance to visit. I went with a friend who had a craving for seafood, and since she lived close by, we decided to give this place a shot. After all, how bad could it be?

Yetch. If you think the outside looks shoddy, the inside was just as lovely.   It had a dark and smokey (this was pre-smoking ban days) atmosphere, wobbly tables, cracked vinyl booths, a scratched-up dance floor, and had all the town drunks lined up at the bar crying in their beer — the Oceanaire, this ain’t.

Fridley Crabhouse

A SIGN that the Shorewood restaurant was once here. Unfortunatly, some careless driver rammed it into the tree.

Now, I’m not a huge seafood fan. I’ll eat it, but I don’t seek it out on a regular basis. So I can’t speak to the crab, but I’m guessing they didn’t serve the stuff they net on The Deadliest Catch.  And the fresh salmon they advertised was probably not wrestled from the paws of baby grizzlies. I’m sure it was all trucked in, Sysco-style.

I remember the hostess seemed to have an attitude and our server looked like she just rolled out of bed. We should’ve left right there, but we pressed on and ordered cheap happy hour well drinks and appetizers. I think I had the walleye fingers or something.  I wasn’t impressed because all I could taste was the breading. We also ordered onion rings that were dripping in grease. The drinks were served in spotty glasses and were very weak – not that I was looking to get twisted up in that bitch (though it would’ve taken the edge off dining in this hellhole) – but if I wanted a glass of melting ice cubes with a splash of soda, I would’ve ordered a diet coke, not a Cap’n Diet.

Moore Lake "beach"
With Moore Lake “beach” right next door, you can prove how much you really do like”long walks on the beach” to the tramp you picked up at the Fridley Crab House. Just watch out for goose droppings.

They did have live music here, but we ate here too early in the evening to experience this. I can only imagine that once the band starts up, the shit starts goin’ down. The alcohol gets flowin’, the men start mackin’ on the hussies, and next thing you know it, you’re either walking out with a black eye or the girl. This hole-in-the-wall looked like it could get pretty damn wild. It’s one of those places that by closing time, a dozen chairs have been thrown, a few tables tipped over, and every once in a while, the fuzz shows up to break up a  brawl.

As expected, the bathrooms were gross. The walls looked like they had 30 coats of paint and the locks on the majority of the stalls were broken. They also had an outdoor patio — you know, so you could enjoy the scenic view of the marsh, watch horseflies crawl all over your popcorn shrimp, puff on a Winston, and get eaten alive by blood-thirsty mosquitoes.

Something FISHY is going on at the Crab House…

The crabby house closed sometime in the fall of 2008. I believe it was because the owner was/is facing tax evasion charges, not because of the shitty service and food. As of today, something’s up at the Crab House. It looks like someone bought this place, though this cannot be confirmed at press time. If this is so, I do hope the new owners gut the inside (looks like they’ve already begun), give the exterior a new coat of paint, and re-pave the parking lot. This place probably could be a fun hangout spot, if done right.

Photos taken May 2009.

This city has a MAJOR geese problem

See what I mean? This city has a MAJOR geese problem

Gasoline Alley: Blaine, MN

Let’s face it, when you’re 12 years old, you have a lot of stress in your life. Your report on “The Voyage of the Mimi” is due on Wednesday. On Thursday, they’re separating the boys and girls to teach us about public hair and penises – OMG how embarrassing! You still have to hit up a few houses in the neighborhood to sell pricey gift wrap for the school FUNdraiser (vinyl duffel bag, you will be mine!). And on top of all that, during computer lab time, your classmate Jessica died of dysentery in Oregon Trail. …Meh, she was a bitch. More food for the rest of us! *presses space bar to continue”

Gasoline Alley!

Gasoline Alley!

‘Ya gotta have a way to blow off that steam and during trying times like these, swinging from the monkey bars and playing tag just won’t cut it. Going for a long drive to clear your head would be ideal but you’re still three years away from your learner’s permit. What else could you do to ease your troubles? Badger your parents to take you to Gasoline Alley!

This place just looks creepy now

Located in Blaine off of Highway 65 next to a trailer park community, Gasoline Alley was one of those mini amusement parks with go-karts, mini golf, bumper boats, and an arcade. It’s the kind of place where a kid could be a kid (the same could be said about Vegas, but I digress). These types of mini family fun rec areas were pretty popular in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but you really don’t see these places around much anymore. Lilliputt is still in business, but whenever I drive by the place, it’s empty. What, kids these days would rather play Mario Kart or mini golf on the WII? The WII is great and all but nothing can beat planning your perfect hole-in-one shot by aiming your dirty neon orange golf ball at a fiberglass rhino’s tusk…have it ricochet off the wall and go through the windmill tunnel and into the hole…only to have your whole strategy foiled by a ruptured seam in the Astroturf. Seams don’t happen on a WII.

I don’t know when this place closed. Looking at it now, the place just looks spooky but back in its glory days, Gasoline Alley (much like Skateland) was a big elementary/middle school birthday party and field trip destination in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

We didn’t get to go to Gasoline Alley as much as we went to LilliPutt. It was either because LilliPutt was closer and/or Gasoline Alley was too expensive. Both amusement centers offered the same attractions, but Gasoline Alley was bigger and known for its go-kart track (though calling itself an “international raceway” is a bit of a stretch). Looking at it through adult eyes, it looks awfully lame. I couldn’t tell where the bumper boats used to be, the go kart track looks tiny, and the either they removed all the giant mini golf statues (except the windmill) or Gasoline Alley took a minimalist approach to mini golf and didn’t have any fiberglass animals. What’s the point of playing mini golf without a plastic yellow hippo giving you the stinkeye as you putt for par on hole #14?

The chain-link fence keeps the trash out. Literally.

Usually when my brother would pester Mom to bring him here, she would usually tell him no and to go ride his Big Wheel or play with his Micro Machines instead. On those rare occasions (i.e. his birthday) when my parents actually would bring my brother here (and a bunch of his friends), I would always tag along. I didn’t care much for go-karts, but like any kid, I did enjoy a game of mini golf (it really helped my short game!) or bumper boats to pass the time.

Gasoline Alley provided golden opportunities to bring out the wild child in any well-behaved kid. On the track, my brother would always try to side-swipe his buddy’s car to thwart him from winning the race. Out on the high seas of the bumper boat lagoon, I’d always try to ram my watercraft (which looked like an inflatable inner tube with a steering wheel & a cheap trolling motor) into some random unsuspecting stranger’s vessel and give them whiplash.

No need to sneer at me, you crybaby! Tough shit. This is bumper boats, not the fucking lazy river. Pushing and shoving with a side of whiplash is to be expected.

Trouble didn’t take a holiday on the links either. Kids have a short attention span, and after about 12 holes of putt-putt, let’s face it, you get bored and all the holes start looking the same (that’s what she said?) One hole has a slight hill and a giant spider. The next has a giant rocks that are supposed to resemble landmines and a water hazard to the right.  Rinse and repeat. There’s only so many times you can get your ball stuck in a tube that’s filled with dead leaves and candy wrappers before you get frustrated. So it was around this point in the course where hitting the fiberglass tiger square in the eye with your golf ball was much more entertaining than actually trying to make par on the hole and pencil in a decent score.

The windmill was the only mini golf statue left behind

The windmill was the only mini golf statue left behind

But even that got boring after a while. Sure, the loud “ping” the ball made when it hit the statue was a riot, but sometimes, you need to cause a little more mischief.  If you wanted to add insult to injury to the helpless synthetic beast, you could reach in your pocket and pull out anything with a sharp edge (utility knife, an well-worn slap bracelet, a fork) and carve an “I love Brian!” tattoo on the unfortunate tiger’s cheek.  So many of the fiberglass monuments had innocent teenage graffiti on their plastic bodies and unfortunately, I admit to doing this once (sorry, I don’t know if it was at Gasoline Alley or at Lilli Putt).

Whatever. The fucker was looking at me funny. He deserved it. Besides, he looked like a kill-azz muthafucka with my wicked ink job.


Back in the day, this place was infested with kids

So, what about the go-kart track? Well, looking at it now, it doesn’t look like anything special. Calling itself an “International Raceway” is a bit misleading – this isn’t the Indy 500. It’s just another loud and annoying go-kart track filled with screaming kids and mid-life crisis dads who wanting to take a quick break from their giant SUV with ample seating and an excellent safety rating and pretend to be Jeff Gordan for a few short minutes. The course itself looks like it had a slight hill to it, with lots hairpin turns allowing for chain-reaction braking and no acceleration lanes – what, did MNDOT design the track?

A view of the building

Gasoline Alley had an arcade so when you’ve had enough racing, bumper boating, and destroying the landscaping around the mini golf course, you could try to play some video games and hope they didn’t eat your quarters. The game room was pretty decrepit and had outdated games like Burger Time and shitty crap like a Love Calculator. On the arcade games that worked, you’d have to be a very good player to beat the computer; not because the artificial intelligence was set for super hard, but because your character was constantly walking to the right when you clearly were thrusting the sticky joystick to the left. And the “A” button had a coating of dried up soda all over it.

A view of the finish line. If Gasoline Alley was around today, I’d come here and coast into the finish line, step out of my ride,  rip my helmet off and shake out my hair, just like Danica Patrick.

They also had a snack bar that had the shittiest food known to man. Yeah, I know, it’s a kiddie amusement park, so you can’t expect gourmet food, but the overpriced grub here was worse than SuperAmerica food. Decade-old wrinkled hot dogs on spinning on rollers, Totinos Party Pizzas cooked in a microwave, and a dessert cooler filled Flintstone Push Up Pops, Chipwiches, and those chocolate malt cups with the little wooden paddle spoon.

Okay, I admit, those desserts are pretty good…I could really go for a Chipwich right now.


Another pic of Gasoline Alley

Any memories of Gasoline Alley? Share in the comments!

Photos taken May 2009.

Frank’s Nursery and Crafts: Coon Rapids, MN

Memorial Day weekend is practically here & with its arrival, summer unofficially kicks off in a few hours. The “growing” season has arrived in Minnesota and what better way to celebrate that than a blog entry about an eerie, abandoned garden center?


The only flowers you'll find here are dandelions

Dumpy Strip Malls visited the Coon Rapids store, located on a lonely plot of land amongst the dead mall/store/restaurant graveyard that is Coon Rapids Blvd. Long abandoned since 2004, time hasn’t been kind to this former nursery. It looks like something out of the movie I Am Legend. Very creepy – I half expected that dog from the movie to pop out at any second.


Frank's Nursery now looks like a scene straight out of I Am Legend.

Potting soil, hanging annual baskets, cedar chips,  rose bushes — yep,  Frank’s had everything to make your backyard look like a wilderness escape scene or a tropical oasis.  Whether you were an aspiring Nancy Botwin looking for growlights, a gypsy looking to plant “magic beans”, a 10 year old blowing his allowance on a Chia Pet, a professional landscaper looking for a solution to zap broadleaf weeds, or just someone who wanted gussy up their backyard with plastic pink flamingos, Frank’s could be of service.

They also sold crafts, but their selection was nowhere near that of a Michael’s. Think more on the scale of the Wal-Mart fabric section or that of a Ben Franklin. Frank’s craft selection was serviceable – they sold things like silk flowers, spools of colorful yarn, glass beads, latch hook kits to make a shag rug with a design of an owl’s head. Frank’s also turned into Christmas Central during the holiday season. The nursery area would transform into a Christmas tree farm, conveniently bringing the old fashioned holiday family tradition of chopping down a coniferous evergreen pine straight to you without the hassle of lugging a dangerous axe out into the woods.

I always thought this store was owned by my uncle. No, not the crazy one I wrote about before, who bodyslides down bowling alley lanes and gives me “ghost shit” f or Christmas. That’s uncle Tim. Uncle Frank is normal, and apparently, I thought he was in the gardening and crafts business.

I don’t want to know what’s in that box

Even though he looks like Niles from Frasier, Frank’s a “guy’s guy” and probably the last dude you’d expect to find sprucing up a flowerbox or doing a Precious Moments needlepoint. Frank’s into hunting, big dogs, and camouflage dungarees. He’s the type of guy who can’t control himself in the Sportsman’s Warehouse. Get the picture? But when you’re a kid, that’s how your thought process works — you know a guy named Frank, you see a place of business with said name, and voila! Frank owns it! Simple logic, duh.

Who’s the real Frank? Some dude in Michigan who started a grocery store that quickly evolved into a nursery. Michigan, you say? Oh, that’s right. Did you think this was a local chain exclusive to Minnesota? Sorry to be a wet blanket, but think again. Don’t worry, I thought the same thing, until I did a little research. Turns out Frank’s was just another “evil big box store”, spanning 14 states. Want more detailed info on Franks? Read the memoir over at Wikipedia.



Franks went bankrupt and closed all of its locations in 2004. I don’t remember any sort of public outcry over the loss of Frank’s. It must’ve went away quietly in the night, without anyone noticing they were gone until, much like retirement of former Minnesota Viking Gary Anderson.   You never notice he’s not here anymore, until you start reminiscing about the heart-robbing 1999 AFC Championship Game every fucking time the Vikes are trying to kick a goddamn field goal. Yes, I am bitter and it still hurts.

With Frank’s gone, Minnesotans would now need to reach out to Home Depot, Lowe’s, Menards, Bachman’s, Linder’s, Gerten’s, Wal-Mart, Fleet Farm, the Nicollet Mall Farmer’s Market, the mobile nursery in the Cub Foods parking lot, or the New Hope Kmart for our gardening needs. Oh no! With such few choices, how will clueless idiots like myself find more houseplanets to kill?

Years of neglect have taken its toll on the Frank’s parking lot

Wikipedia notes that many Frank’s locations around the country are still sitting abandoned because the strange structure of the building and lot. There might be more empty locations in Minnesota other than the Coon Rapids location. I know that the Roseville Frank’s was razed a few years ago and is now some sort of golf superstore.

I really enjoyed going to Frank’s – when we went here, it was always with Grandma at the location somewhere in South Minneapolis.  I loved going here to look at all the pretty hanging baskets. Plus it smelled like SUMMER to me — meaning fertilizer and fresh cut grass. Yum.

This would’ve been a good place for Will Smith to hide out from the zombies.

My grandma had the most spectacular outdoor garden, thanks to Frances.  She bought all kinds of annuals, bulbs, and hanging baskets. Her backyard even had a little retaining pond & she would plant marigolds all around it. The pond looked pretty, but in reality it was just a place for mosquitoes and other pesky bugs to breed.

I’d always beg grandma to buy morning glories whenever we’d go to Franks. I liked morning glories for no other reason other than they were blue. I had an unhealthy obsession for anything blue back when I was a tot. Especially blue food. Didn’t matter what it was; I just liked to eat and drink blue things. Damn good thing my parents kept the antifreeze on a high shelf in the garage.


Such irony in this photo! Here we have a GARDEN CENTER, home of LIFE, LIBERTY, and the CELEBRATION of MOTHER NATURE. Yet, the place is crawling with weeds -- the GRIM REAPER of the horticulture world. Someone could write their dissertation on this.

So Grandma had a knack for outdoor gardening, but indoor plants were a different story. Grandma had a masochistic side to her. She would purchase unsuspecting spider plants, then lure them into the den, incarcerating them in one of the weirdest contraptions to come out of the ’70s since waterbeds and lava lamps — those blasted macrame houseplant holders. She’d stand on the davenport and hang (gasp!) the unsuspecting plants inside the crafty containers from the ceiling hooks, turning the room into a full-on botany torture chamber. Grandma, the crazy executioner she was, would either let them die of thirst and proclaim her innocence —  “I watered them every day! How could this happen?” Or she’d stuff the soil full of plant food spikes and watch them OD on Miracle Grow, madly cackling away, seeing the ‘roided up plants crash ‘n burn. Who says the highlight of a senior citizen’s day is the 4pm seating at Perkins?  When the plants would finally pass on, Grandma would be on the horn with my mom again, asking her to take her Franks to buy more spider plants. I’m surprised Grandma was never charged with several counts of first degree murder in the ruthless death of hundreds of innocent houseplants. I just think Grandma hated those fucking ugly spider plants and, like Bob Barker, just wanted to do her part to help control the population. Awww, lovable Grandma ❤

Beautiful things begin at Frank’s…

Anyway, I never realized how much work a garden is until we planted one this spring. We started a beautiful flower and  vegetable kingdom.  We bought a bunch of flowers, bulbs, veggie plants, and Northrup King-brand seeds from Bachman’s nursery and planted them just this past Sunday. And here it’s Thursday, and the death count is already at two. (And I doubt it’s Bachman’s fault…) I should’ve just tried to find some magic beans to plant, a la Jack & the Beanstalk.

Weeding, watering, Miracle Growing. Nearly EVERY DAMN night after work. Holy hell, it’s a lot of labor for few bell peppers that I can buy for pennies on the dollar down at Cub. I could see how gardening would be fun and relaxing for some folks — especially retirees.  They love puttering around in the backyard.  For me, gardening is nothing but trouble and I’ll bet you that by mid June, the “beautiful vegetable kingdom” we have today will be turned into a compost heap, thanks to me. It does look lovely though. Could perhaps hire a gardener, but that’s a bit expensive, plus it often ends in tears –remember the time on Desperate Housewives when Carlos caught Gabrielle sleeping with the groundskeeper?? Yeah, do not want.

The side of the Franks building

Whew. All this talk about gardening makes me feel guilty. Like I should be outside tending to the garden or at least sitting out on the patio sipping iced cold lemonade and looking at the garden.

What am I doing instead? Writing a bunch gibberish about some long-abandoned garden center that no one really cares about while watching the cat snack on the houseplants. 🙂

And now the Live Links ads are starting to pop up on TV. I think that means it’s time for bed.

Photos taken May 2009


Vandals must've needed the F and S off the Frank's sign for a special project?


Special delivery!


To my surprise, the trimmed topiary still looks decent

Skateland: Brooklyn Park, MN

Cheap, awkward, and always a great time.

No, I’m not talking about yo’ mama.

We’re talkin’ SKATELAND, the setting of my Junior High Soap Opera.


Many a hand jobs were handed out by horny teens in the Skateland parking lot

This is where the shit went down. Too old for playgrounds & swingsets, and too young for keg stands, teens and tweens from around the area would come here to goof off, pine for their crush, snark on other classmates, play arcade games, and cut each other up with slap bracelets.

Skateland was a popular choice in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s for birthday parties, school field trips and lock-ins, or even as a special night out for getting an “A” on your Amelia Bedelia book report.

I frequented Skateland between the years of 1989 – 1992ish and I have no idea when this place closed. I also know I don’t have any old pictures of this place.  After I started high school, my friends and I outgrew Skateland and never felt the urge to go back. As you can see from the recent pictures, Skateland is now a furniture store.

So pin your jeans, fan out your bangs like a peacock’s butt, throw a scrunchie in your hair, pop in a Milli Vanilli cassette — we’re going back to the early ’90s!


Skateland was a great place for lovelorn teens

My most vivid memory of Skateland was when I was in 7th grade, on Valentine’s Day, 1992. We held our class party at Skateland, so they bussed us over here from the middle school for the afternoon.

On the bus, tension was “snowballing” (tee hee!). Throw a bunch of 12 & 13 year olds going through puberty at a roller rink on Valentine’s day and the shit’s going to hit the fan. So many thoughts were swirling in my head! Which boy will ask me to skate? Will ANY boy ask me to skate? What if I fall on my rump in front of Matt? I am SO not skating with Pete if he asks me! HE IS SO GROSS!!! He put M&M’s in my Veryfine apple juice at lunch when I wasn’t looking! EWWWW!

Rowdy and jittery, the scene on the bus was pure pandemonium. This was PRE “video cameras-on-the-bus” days, so spitballs were flyin’, girls were engulfed in shrill “OMG WILL MY CRUSH ASK ME TO SKATE?” conversations, and Pete and Matt were taking turns whacking each other over the head with their Addison-Wesley Math books.  Our teachers and chaperons tried to give us stern warnings to stop, collaborate, and LISTEN, but it wasn’t working; we were too worked up.

The wheels on the bus went ’round and ’round until we pulled into the parking lot.

Time to get your ball bearings ‘cuz it’s ON.

Skateland was always kind of creepy, come to think of it. The place was dimly lit, smelled like soiled sucks, had gaudy dirt-disguising carpeting …hell, they probably allowed smoking for all I know.


The Butterfly, uh oh, that's old! LET ME SEE THAT TOOTSIE ROLL

My BFF’s and I rented our musty brown skates with orange wheels, and wheeled into to the creepy, dingy women’s bathroom. This was 1992 and bangs were an art. They could get pulverized by the strong weather elements from a short walk from the bus, and we just couldn’t let that happen.  Especially on Valentine’s Day.

Jenny brought the Aqua Net and I had the Malibu Musk.  Tracy had Love’s Baby Soft, but I quickly informed here that we are 13 now, and too old to be spraying ourselves in that shit. Boys are more sophisticated at our age & don’t want to hold hands with a girl smelling like she just changed a baby’s diaper. They crave a more worldy scent, like Exclamation or Malibu Musk.

We were holed up in the dimly-lit bathroom for a good 20 minutes, fixing our bangs in the streaky mirror and offering words of encouragement to each other before we rolled out onto the floor such as, “Oooh, Christy, you are ROCKING that scrunchie, girl!” “Oh no, Tracy, just a few light spritzes won’t do! You want Brian to ask you to skate, don’t you? …If you dump the rest of that bottle of Vanilla Fields on your neck, he will surely notice you!”

We skated out of the bathroom in a cloud of cheap perfume that followed us around like Pigpen’s cloud of dust.

We immediately noticed many of our classmates were skating around the rink, holding light-up roses in their hand.  Skateland was hawking glowing roses at a booth near the snack bar to celebrate the holiday. Here I was hoping that Matt would give me a TMNT Valentine’s Day card and handful of conversation hearts…but damn. A $6 rose? I hope he brought his allowance money…


Skateland was always kinda sketchy

The DJ started up our 7th grade anthem, Bohemian Rhapsody, so my BFFs and I headed out to the floor. We whizzed around, laughing and dancin’ and groovin’ to the music, and chasing boys around the slippery rink.

I wasn’t a bad skater. In fact, I was a MENACE on the rink. My years of figure skating paid off whenever I’d go to Skateland. When I noticed that Matt and Pete were watching us from their table in the snack bar, I’d do a “shoot-the-duck” move as I skated by their booth, hoping to turn their heads. Well, hoping to turn Matt’s head. I also got a few jealous evil eyes from this chick Jessica and her posse. My BFFs and I did not like Jess & the gang. Plus, she had a thing for Michael, a boy Sarah had her eye on.

When I wanted to pull out the REALLY fancy tricks, I’d make my way into the middle of the rink. This was the designated place where doing the type of jumps that only Kriss Kross can make you do. You didn’t dare do this stuff outside of the middle or else the Skateland “referee” would blow his whistle and scream bloody murder.

Chaperons and teachers kept a close eye on all of us, making sure no one breaks a tailbone or had any other type of maiming that would make Schwebel, Goetz & Sieben salivate.

Lots of skating games were played in-between the Paula Abdul/Rhythm is a Dancer/En Vouge-type songs…the Hokey Pokey, red light/green light, backwards skate, girls-only, boys only. You get the idea.

We were having a blast! Well, all but Christy. Christy was having a hell of a time on her skates and kept falling and disrupting the flow of the rink. She tried making a few laps by clutching the wall around the rink but eventually she was tired of being skating rink road kill, so she gave up and holed herself up in a snack bar booth, reading Sweet Valley High#48,  “Slam Book Fever.”

Then it happened.

The DJ announced COUPLES SKATE.



A stunned hush blanketed the arena. This was IT.

The rink cleared off as the 13 year old bachelors skated off the rink to find a suitable bachelorette with which to cruise around the rink and hold each other’s clammy hands. If they could work up the courage to do so.

Sarah, Tracy, Jenny, and I all sat down on a bench, looking around for our crushboys. Christy was still at the snack bar, oblivious to the whole thing, enjoying a Tombstone-style pizza and reading her novel. Tracy spotted her crush, Brian over at the claw machine, trying to fish out a fake Rolex. Matt was playing some pinball game with a couple other boys.

WTF are these boys doing? It is COUPLES SKATE!

Shawn made his way over to us and asked Jenny to skate. Jenny was ecstatic! And he even gave her a rose!

Sarah was pining away for Michael, but she spotted him already on the rink, skating with Jessica. That bitch!

Sarah angrily stomped away to join Christy at the snack bar to drown her sorrows in a Dr. Pepper.

I looked over and saw Matt still very into his pinball game. Brian was still trying to win claw machine jewelry.

Boyz II Men’s “The End of the Road” was just starting up. Looks like no couples skate for me 😦

I sat on the bench, completely dejected, trying to hold back my tears as I  pretended to tie my skate laces. I had been looking forward to this field trip since the day I had my parents sign the permission slip. And all Matt cares about is that stupid Addam’s Family pinball game. My Valentine’s day was pretty much RUINED. The HORROR. I was just about to get up from the bench and make my way to the locker, to get my coat and coin purse, and to join Sarah and Christy & get some cardboard pizza at the snack bar, when I felt a light tap on my shoulder.


This is the little strip mall near Skateland

I looked up, seeing a boy in a No Fear shirt and bowl haircut. It was Pete. And he had a light up rose.

“Would you like to skate?” Pete asked as he handed me the electric flower.

I was stunned. This was the boy who teased me at lunch 5 days a week, putting grapes in my potatoes and smearing peanut butter on my long dog roll-up. At first, I thought, “Don’t stress, don’t stress, don’t stress, just tell him to the left left left!” but he was smiling and…and…kinda looked cute.

I obliged. Pete and I rolled out on the floor, holding hands, and waving to Christy and Sarah sitting at the snack bar.
When couples skate was done, I was in 7th grade heaven. Pete LIKED me. And…even after all the teasing he did to me, I found myself kinda liking him. Matt was STILL playing pinball. Fucker.

The day was soon over and we boarded the buses to head back to school. The ride home was much tamer, as we were all pretty tuckered out the skating, loud music, and eating too many cheesy pretzels. The lucky girls, including me,who got light-up roses played with them on the bus the entire ride home. Brian did end up getting his “Rolex” out of the claw machine, and was showing it off to all the kids on the bus. Pete pointed out that Brian’s wrist was turning green from the watch, but that didn’t stop Brian. He played it up and told everyone he was turning into the Incredible Hulk.


Carousel Bingo is still next door. I'm sure many parents dropped their kids off at Skateland and headed over to Carousel to win big.

And that was pretty much it. I’m not going to wrap this story up by telling you Pete and I got married or anything. I don’t really remember what the fallout of the Skateland Valentine’s Day party was. We probably still ate lunch together in our little group, and Pete probably still put corn kernels in my milk. Hell, Pete and I really didn’t talk much when we got to high school, nor did we go to Skateland. When we left middle school, we also left Skateland behind.

Yep. You get old and your idea of fun no longer involves showing off some fancy moves in the center of a roller rink. You’d rather hang with your buddies, drinking beer from a crock pot.


Feel free to post your memories of Skateland in the comments!


This is next to Carousel Bingo

Photos taken May 2009.