Head west on Highway 7 past Excelsior about 35 miles from Minneapolis, cross the rails put in place a century ago by the Great Northern Railroad, and you’ll be in St. Bonifacius, population 1180. Immediately off to the right across a grassy ditch is the St. Boni Farm Store, which Tom Logelin’s father started in 1932 as a feed and seed store and Logelin has continued as an appliance outlet. Logelin–a dignified man with a shock of wavy gray hair and an “I’d Rather Be Fishing” belt buckle that explains his nut-brown tan–gracefully winds up a dishwasher demonstration before approaching another potential customer.
“Oh, yeah, the taxicab thing,” he says when informed of the visitor’s question. “We register more damn taxis out here than any other place around. We always know it’s that time of the year–October or November–because there are a stream of taxis stopping here, asking for directions.” But this year may see the last time Logelin leaves his sea of white Whirlpools to gesture the way to city hall (up the hill and to the right). If state regulators have their way, St. Boni will have to gear up its bureaucracy, or forsake its unlikely status as the metro’s taxicab capital.
First, some numbers. A decade ago, according to city hall estimates, St. Bonifacius had only about 50 licensed cabs. But in the last few years, cabdrivers around the metro area have found out that Logelin’s directions lead them to one of the best license deals around: $50 per car per year, compared with more than $300 in St. Paul and $400 in Minneapolis. Airport cabdrivers, who have to be licensed with a metropolitan city in order to receive a permit, have been taking notice. In 1998, 390 cars–more than two-thirds of all airport cabs–were licensed in St. Bonifacius. That’s roughly one cab for every three people in St. Bonifacius, for a total number that edges out the 343 registered cabs in the city of Minneapolis, and eclipses the 124 licensed by St. Paul. …
As part of my tour of Main Streets of Minnesota, I accidentally stumbled upon St. Bonifacius on my way to Hutchinson and New Ulm (see coming episodes). I knew intellectually this was a small town. But given its legend as taxi capital of Minnesota, it was smaller than anticipated.
The article continues:
St. Bonifacius wasn’t always a taxi town. The area was settled in the 1850s by German immigrants, among them Tom Logelin’s grandfather, and Logelin serves as the community’s unofficial historian. At one point, he boasts, “we were a hub of commerce for the surrounding area. Much bigger than Mound, Excelsior, Waconia.” The locally headquartered Minnetonka Canning Company “was the biggest cannery west of the Mississippi. Every canned good on the Great Northern came from St. Boni.”
But the advent of the automobile changed all that, Logelin says, allowing people to travel further for their errands and cutting into business on Main Street. Car travel also hurt the rail business, which put the pinch on Minnetonka Canning. The firm shut down its assembly lines during the Depression. “Isn’t it ironic?” Logelin asks, in an oratory style used most recently when he spoke at the local Memorial Day service. “Whereas in the old days the development of the automobile started the demise of St. Boni, today’s great income is from the automobile.”
Main Street (County Highway 92) intersects Highway 7, and the town is a couple of blocks in from the current right-of-way of the highway, centered on the intersection with Kennedy Memorial Drive, a block south of Old Minnesota 7. The town now has over 2200 people.
So if you are ever on Highway 7 and looking for a Meat Raffle, a Ham Bingo, or a playground for the kids, take a right on Main Street.
Cross-posted at streets.mn