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2021 has been a year of progress and setbacks. Thanks to vaccines, we finally started to come out of the pandemic—only to see it continue with new variations. Locally we saw a rash of construction and related complaints, but also a flourishing of new and expanded or remodeled businesses.
Here’s our year in review for West St. Paul, looking at the big news, the most popular stories, as well as some of our favorites.
2021 by the Numbers
First, let’s look at a few numbers for West St. Paul Reader in 2021:
- 209 posts (15 more than last year)
- 19 interviews with community members
- 49 city council recaps & previews
- 19 posts about the 2021 election
- 12 Then & Now history posts
- 12 other stories digging into local history
- 10 questions answered
- 6 posts from guest authors
- 4 restaurant reviews covering 14 establishments
- 1,271 tweets
- 1 printable voter’s guide
- 2 videos from candidate forums
- 3 commissioned postcards for members
- 121 supporters on Patreon (and counting!)
Top 10 Posts
The clicks don’t lie. Here are the top 10 posts of 2021:
- 2021 Construction Updates in West St. Paul
- High School Name Change Survey
- Former Mayor Puts Up Blue Lives Matter Mural in West St. Paul
- Voter’s Guide: 2021 ISD 197 School Board & Levy Election
- What’s Going on With Hy-Vee and the YMCA?
- Burger King Returns to West St. Paul
- Two Rivers High School Is the New Name for Henry Sibley High School
- Crumbl Cookies Comes to West St. Paul
- Frustrated by New Business Options?: Why We Get What We Get in West St. Paul
- When Does World Famous Momo Open?
All but one of these stories were posted in 2021. The Hy-Vee story is from 2020 but still gets the clicks thanks to continued interest and a lack of any discernible progress or new information.
Top 5 Stories of 2021
While the most popular posts tell one story, they don’t always cover the top stories. Here are the biggest news stories of 2021 in West St. Paul:
1. Two Rivers
Without a doubt, the biggest story in West St. Paul in 2021 was the renaming of Henry Sibley High School to Two Rivers High School. The ISD 197 school board voted unanimously to rename the school in late 2020, but 2021 saw the full process of coming up with names and ultimately selecting Two Rivers.
2. Construction & New Business
West St. Paul has likely never seen so many cranes towering over the city at one time. 2021 saw at least 13 different construction projects starting during the year. The most highly visible include the Dominium apartments at the former Kmart, the Town Center One project, and Gateway Place. (And no, there’s no news on Hy-Vee construction.)
With new construction comes new business, whether that’s brand new buildings or new life to old ones. At one point, Mayor Dave Napier said West St. Paul had seen at least 80 new businesses since the reconstruction of Robert Street. New businesses in 2021 included Chase Bank, Crumbl Cookies, Lavilash Lashes, Mamm Couture, North 40 Tavern, Starbucks, Tumble Fresh Laundry, World Famous Momo, Xfinity, and more.
3. Black Lives Matter Mural
A West St. Paul story that drew national attention was the saga of the Black Lives Matter mural. The mural first went up in the fall of 2020, but the debate came in 2021 when the city’s demand to take it down (first issued in 2020 but given a reprieve due to weather) became public. It prompted a counter mural from a former mayor and even ongoing debate that will continue into 2022.
4. School Board Election
The ISD 197 school board election saw 10 candidates vying for three seats, plus a levy renewal, making for the most hotly contested race in years. Mirroring a national trend, the local school board race saw a sharp divide with conservative candidates challenging the pandemic response, questioning equity and how to talk about racism, and rejecting LGBTQ acceptance.
2021 was a big year for parks in West St. Paul with several major projects coming to fruition, including the long awaited Robert Street underpass on the River-to-River Greenway Trail and the newly redesigned Thompson Park. While the bulk of Thompson Park construction finished in 2021, it came too late in the year for most people to enjoy it and will likely be something we fully embrace in 2022. Other smaller changes included pickleball and a new playground at Emerson Park, new trails in Marthaler and Garlough Parks, a new course at the Garlough disc golf course, and a new Little Free Library at the Art Park.
The biggest and most popular stories aren’t always the best. Here are some of our favorite posts from 2021:
- Optimistic: There’s nothing like sitting down with an optimist for an hour to lift your spirits. Our story on the Optimist of the Year and 50 years of the Optimist Club of West St. Paul did just that.
- Local interviews: Our favorite stories to write, and easily the most overlooked, are our interviews with local residents. It’s just fun to hear people’s stories, whether it’s a business owner like Anna Stevens or Henry Kisitu, overcoming PTSD like Michael Orange, or having a tough conversation on race with Marcus Hill. We learned about libraries, both official and little and free, as well as for seeds and food. We covered the range of arts, including fiction, memoir, zines, visual art, theater, quilts, Americana, and hymns and worship (quite a lot of art happening in West St. Paul!). We even talked sports, including a hockey ref, disc golf, and teaching softball.
- Guest writers: It’s a privilege to be able to pay guest writers, and this year we were thrilled to have Stephanie Schempp write six different posts for us including four more of her wonderful restaurant reviews.
- History: Sometimes local history is overlooked and ignored, but this year we dug into some larger stories that got more attention, including Albert Park and Forty Acres.
- Most unappreciated story: Perhaps the most unappreciated West St. Paul story of 2021 is the publication of Brood by Jackie Polzin. OK, literary fiction reviewed by the New York Times might be a big deal, but its failure to capture local interest is understandable. But a West St. Paul story about chickens? That’s going to be made into a movie? C’mon.
As a publication, West St. Paul Reader hit several milestones in 2021:
- Breaking news: We were the first to report on several big stories in West St. Paul, including the renaming of Two Rivers High School, the Black Lives Matter mural and Blue Lives Matter response, hiring the new city manager, Doddway redevelopment plans, and more.
- Anniversary: In May, we celebrated our two-year anniversary.
- Supporters: In September, we hit 100 members on Patreon and celebrated with a new postcard from local artist Edgar Herrera. These supporters help local news happen by giving monthly or annually to support West St. Paul Reader. You can join them here and keep the local news coming.
- Rider: We celebrated the opening of the Robert Street underpass on the River-to-River Greenway Trail with the first ever West St. Paul Rider community bike ride.
Thanks to everyone who supports West St. Paul Reader. We couldn’t do this without you.
This local coverage only happens thanks to the generous support of our members. You can join them, starting at just $3 per month through Patreon, and help support local news. In addition to helping your neighbors stay informed, you’ll also get a locally commissioned postcard and exclusive weekly updates. Learn more about supporting local news through Patreon.
Stay healthy and hopeful West St. Paul. Here’s to 2022.