Yes, it was a big destination! I operated stores in Calhoun Square and Uptown from late-80's into early 2004. It was "the place" for several years, but when it changed it changed hard. Increased competition--especially MOA opening--had an enormous impact, as did online shopping. (In the early 90's Sales figures for Saturdays were what I subsequently brought in for an entire week.) I remember going to merchant meetings where Ray Harris or Martha Head were talking about the latest and greatest new tenant that was going to change everything. CS and Uptown have been alternately thriving or in decline for as long as I can remember; there was no specific and lasting period of glory days.
It sounds funny, but consumers wanted independent and funky until they didn't and then that changed; none of the previous iterations were wrong---just not right for the present.
I agree with this. I worked retail in CSQ in the late 90s/early 2000s. We used to have people come into the store and buy while they waited for a table at Figlios or Famous Daves. Also, Borders and Starbucks drove a lot of business on the southwest side of the mall. I recall as a kid going to CSQ and watching the NE part and second floor start to lose tenants as foot traffic seemingly dropped over time. Hallmark and the USPS station, the fossil place and toy store on the second floor NW corner. In talking with several store owners in the mid-2000s about the changes, they chalked it up to consumers changing preferences, macro economic/tax conditions that made it hard being independent businesses, and Uptown being less hip than it had been.
More recently, the city expanded liquor licenses and reduced auto parking requirements for restaurants outside of major activity nodes. While I think that is good policy, the result was that smaller restaurateurs could open for far less cost and risk in small business nodes across Minneapolis, whether 56th & Xerxes, 46th & Grand, etc. The best restaurants were located in neighborhood nodes with free parking. Additionally, there seemed to be a surge in bars, as I understand it, serving people who wanted a bar experience without having to go to Downtown and have to deal with the craziness of bar close. Those places paid more in rent than retail, and you saw a bunch of places open. At the time the chains were starting to come in more (keep in mind there had already been an Express, Gap, Borders, and Starbucks), and they seemed to be the only retail that could pay the rents landlords looked for. There actually are a lot of different landlords in Uptown, and unfortunately one particular landlord who owns the old Gap, went for Victoria's Secret, which was a real blow. The rest of what was going on was an attempt by various actors trying to figure out how to stabilize what had been a big retail tumble in Uptown. We can complain about how expensive rent is, but when you have bars willing to pay it and a regulatory environment that sort of allows it, the choices are a bit stark. When Zeno left and that burrito place, there had been an exclusive bar concept looking to open in some of the space that was to only be open 8pm-2am Wed-Sat. That was a bit concerning to a lot of the retailers and non-bars I spoke to, as it meant there would be a dark storefront for all the hours the other businesses were open and a view that a business like that added nothing to Uptown being a community hub.
An upside is that the last couple of years have been hard on Uptown and between Covid and the recent sale of CSQ, maybe rental rates will reset enough to allow retail to focus on those in the community and not trying to woo in people from outside of Uptown (like SW Minneapolis, let alone places further)