Remnants of the Streetcar Era

All along Rice Street commercial buildings predominate, designed for profit, not for show. Between 1880 and 1925, both sides of the street from Sycamore to Maryland filled with storefronts and workplaces.

These were grocers, barbers and beauty shops, cleaners, cobblers, undertakers, taverns and an occasional professional office. Rice was a streetcar route (horsecars from 1880 to 1891 and electric cars from 1892 to 1953), and it developed accordingly. When people shopped on foot or by streetcar they could not travel fast or carry much, so businesses relied on small purchases from nearby patrons, hence the many corner grocers.

In 1930, there were twenty-four grocers, butchers, confectioners, and bakers operating along Rice Street between Atwater Street and Maryland Avenue (today there are three). Though less than half of the original commercial buildings still stand, Rice has few vacant lots or empty storefronts. The old buildings were mostly replaced with newer ones serving similar needs. The 1989 strip mall on the west side of Rice between Wayzata and Front Streets offers a vivid -- and, to some, horrifying -- contrast in commercial design to the original buildings nearby. The new apartments and storefronts on the east side, called The Winnipeg, between Atwater and Wayzata, on the other hand, capture some of the original flavor -- brick, built right up to the street, with cornices that salute the original cornices still visible on the older buildings.

The best place to catch a glimpse of the Rice Street of old is at the southern end, starting at Atwater Street and looking north. Here, nearer downtown, more old structures survived than on the northern stretches. These blocks were also home to some of Rice’s longest-lasting enterprises:

• 842 Rice Street (a well preserved Victorian commercial building) was the Caron-Fabre furniture store for more than forty years, and before that a sheet metal shop, a tavern, and a Goodwill second-hand furniture store.
• 843 Rice Street (built in 1922) was Kroemer’s Grocery from the 1920s into the 1960s.
• 849 Rice Street was Michael Sarafolean’s residence and barbershop from the 1920s into the 1960s. Sarafolean is a Romanian surname, and Michael himself is buried nearby in Oakland Cemetery.
• 855 Rice Street (built in 1889) was a Romanian rooming house during its early years, and later a mattress factory. In 1910 it was one of three such rooming houses near this corner, each operated by a small (Romanian) family and housing ten or eleven Romanian laborers working for railroads, city street crews, local foundries, or the nearby Crex Carpet factory. This is the best-restored building on Rice.
• 879 Rice Street was a drug store owned by Oscar Zandell for more than four decades. As of this writing (spring 2013) it is Ron’s Bar. [460]
• 900-904 Rice Street is linked to the story of Hillard Hoffman, an immigrant to St. Paul from the distant shores of Superior, Wisconsin. Hoffman started as a coppersmith and later became a hardware dealer. On this site he built a hardware store in 1889, and then tore it down to build the current building in 1914.The tenant at number 900 for forty years was the Bluebird movie theater (later called the Royal).