One of the oldest neighborhood shopping centers in the county is upgrading its look to compete with the flashy new outlets and mini-malls that have mushroomed along Ritchie Highway.
Southview Regional Shopping Center, an aging, L-shaped plaza in Brooklyn Park, is sprucing up for the new year by renovating its dilapidated facade and pothole-riddled parking lot.
Like a timely team of elves, construction workers arrived one frosty morning in mid-December and began covering the strip plaza with a bright green facade.
In the next months, the crew also will install a new roof, build brick columns, construct sidewalks and repave the parking lot.
"It's pretty much to jazz it up to go along with the rest of Ritchie Highway," said Demos Anastasiades, a Baltimore architect and engineer who is supervising the project.
Rehabilitating the more than 30-year-old shopping center at Ritchie Highway and Hammonds Lane is expected to cost between $500,000 and $1 million, he said. Barring delays caused by snow or icy weather, the construction could be completed by February.
A new parking lot could be the first step toward running buses down Hammonds Lane to the Meridian Nursing Center, said Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, D-Brooklyn Park.
Community leaders have been negotiating with the state Mass Transit Administration for more than a year to expand bus service to Hammonds Lane, he said. But Southview's parking lot is too weak to permit opening a bus stop there right now.
"The state has been concerned about whether the parking lot can hold the buses," Jimeno said. "We're hoping this remodeling will let us address some of our transportation needs."
Store owners and loyal shoppers were astonished when construction workers began renovating the center in the middle of the holiday rush.
Connie Miller, owner of Connie's Gift Shop, said she looked out the window one day and saw workers unloading ladders.
"It was quite a surprise," she said. "I think it's a good idea, though I wish they had done this in August or September, instead of through the holidays."
But few shoppers were crying humbug. Most of the elderly men and women interviewed outside Southview last week said they were pleased to see the neighborhood shopping center receive its first facelift in a decade.
Millie Volker, who has lived in Brooklyn Park for 40 years, stopped her grocery cart outside Farm Fresh to admire the facade.
"It was getting very shabby up here," she said, leaning over the cart to get a better view. "This was definitely needed."
Glenn and Margie Jackson also paused on their way into the grocery store to check on the progress of the remodeling work. They said they're "thrilled" to see their favorite shopping spot return to its former glory.
Exactly when Southview opened is somewhat unclear. Longtime Brooklyn Park residents like the Jacksons believe the shopping center dates back to the 1950s. But other community leaders, including newly elected state Delegate Joan Cadden, D-Brooklyn Park, believe the center wasn't built until 1960.
Cadden, who owns a hair salon in Brooklyn Park, remembers the shopping center opening about five years after the Hi-Way Shopping Center was finished in 1955. Though overshadowed by the larger shopping center a few blocks down Ritchie Highway, Southview always attracted a steady stream of customers, she said.
"I think, of course, it's dropped off with all the big stores like K-Mart coming in," she said. "But they still get the local trade."
Store managers said business is fairly brisk, though slower than in the more modern shopping centers up and down the busy highway. They hope that a face lift will boost trade.