An Authentic Downtown Experience: Red Wing MN

 Earlier this week I was in Red Wing MN to do Advanced Basic Training for the new Minnesota Main Street program. It was held in Red Wing MN, which is about an hour from Minneapolis-St. Paul and located on the Mississippi River.

 Red Wing has been doing Main Street for at least 15 years and it shows.  Virtually every one of the handsome brick buildings in the roughly 9 block downtown has been restored or renovated.  There some really good infill buildings. But one that stood out to me was the Red Wing Shoe Factory Outlet and Museum. It is located right in the heart of Main Street in a new, purpose-built building that houses a retail store, museum displays and factory outlet store in the basement.

 Coming into Red Wing, on highway 61 you begin to understand that something is up.  At the Comfort Suites Hotel where I stayed, there was a one of those large artist designed fiberglass sculptures –this one of a work boot.  I suspected the boot might have something to do with Red Wing Shoes, the venerable local company, but I did not yet make the connection.  I am still amazed that the 1999 public art event in  Chicago called Cows on Parade, can inspire towns a decade later to create fiberglass sculptures for artists to decorate in virtually every possible shape and size.

 So I give my half day talk,  which is held in a beautifully renovated building called the Indigo Salon and Spa. They renovated their space, and created a handsome meeting facility on the second floor outfitted with top-notch, custom designed and vaguely mission style chairs and tables. A beautiful custom designed stained glass screen lights up the space at the entrance way. After my talk, I got a chance to ride around and take some photos. A few doors down from the Indigo Salon and Spa was the Red Wing Factory Store and Museum. It was a new; two-story red brick building, built to the street wall with well designed storefront displays and recessed entrance.

 Upon entering I was greeted warmly by a salesperson who wanted to be sure I knew about the sale on women’s sandals in the outlet store in the basement.  Only then did I see the boot.  It is a gigantic replica of their signature product, shoehorned into a tall, two-story space.  It is a big boot.  You must walk around the boot in order to get to the stairway down to the outlet store.  When the salesman saw me taking photos, he asked if I wanted a photo of me with the boot –of course!

 The rest of the sales floor was divided into selling areas. Intermixed with these were small vignettes with panels or antique machinery used in making Red Wing boots and shoes. The fabrication of the exhibits was excellent and reinforced the sale of the products around it.

 It was a different experience than in a museum, because here you could touch everything—the gigantic boot, the machinery, exhibits etc.  I imagine this is a means to encourage conversation and interaction with the brand.  Throughout the first floor you learn about the heritage of the Red Wing Shoes and the products being made today. There are interactive things you can touch including the old machinery.  I am sure the exhibit and store designer collaborated to ensure that the museum aspect did not dominate. After all, it is the store and factory outlet. The outlet itself was straight forward.  Although I did not find my size in a shoe I liked, it was fine. I knew that someone had worked hard to create an experience for me that was more than just an opportunity to buy.  Salespeople were helpful and wanted to engage you in ways far beyond making a sale.  Like virtually everyone in the Midwest, they were unfailingly polite and enthusiastic.  It was as I was leaving that I noticed that the concrete entranceway had boot prints in the cement—Red Wing Boots!