The slogan started as an inside joke, shared between a few dozen hyperactive Twitter users who want to see St. Paul become more walkable, bikeable and lively.
It didn’t stay that way.
Hundreds of people now proudly don “Keep St. Paul Boring” T-shirts. Bumper stickers with the satirical motto are plastered on cars across the city. And Summit Hill resident Nick Hannula — who is credited with coining the phrase — is in search of a blank wall that could sport a Keep St. Paul Boring mural.
“I don’t think St. Paul is actually boring,” Hannula said. “When we say ‘Keep St. Paul Boring’ we are saying we know what St. Paul is, and we embrace it and love it.”
The phrase created in jest has spread far beyond its origins in a city burgeoning with neighborhood debate over development and the capital city’s future identity. An ever-widening circle of social media users tag tweets and Facebook posts with #KSPB, many of them exasperated St. Paulites who use it to mock people’s distress over bicycle lanes, housing density or lively bars and restaurants.
But for others, like mayoral candidate Tom Goldstein, the slogan rings true. When Hannula first created T-shirts with the phrase in 2015, Goldstein blogged on his website, “I think this shirt says it all. St. Paul is not a glitzy town and when it tries to do glitz, it does it badly.”
Expanded liquor licenses and big development projects like CHS Field and the Major League Soccer stadium will not make St. Paul less boring, Goldstein wrote, but will prevent the city from investing in neighborhoods.
“It obviously means different things to different people,” Goldstein said Wednesday, after he found out who created the slogan. The phrase reveals a generational divide — one he would like to bridge, Goldstein said.
“Underneath all that is, to me, a little bit of sadness that we can’t have these conversations and respect one another’s viewpoints,” Goldstein said. Older residents who want to see change at a cautious pace are being told, “You’re just an old fart, and you just need to get over it.”
The motto can mean whatever the reader wants, said Mike Sonn, the proud owner of a “Keep St. Paul Boring” T-shirt.
He falls into the camp that uses the phrase to vent about what Sonn describes as the city’s old guard, which is “longing for a bygone era — that may or may not have ever existed.”
Keeping St. Paul fun
While the phrase can provoke earnest conversations, for many residents it is just fun.
When Hannula sent an image of the slogan to Jess Arnold, manager of the “I like you” consignment shops, Arnold said their staff thought it was hilarious. They have sold 100 T-shirts with the phrase and more than 150 bumper stickers, she said. Hannula has sold another 275 shirts online.
“Some people look at it and are like, ‘What do you mean?!’ ” Arnold said. One of the employees is slightly upset about the items, but most people think they are funny, she said.
“It’s not that I literally think it’s boring. But it’s a hidden gem,” said Arnold, who lives in St. Paul and bought one of the bumper stickers for her husband.
Elliot Grosse, who lives in downtown St. Paul, agrees. Grosse and two fellow brewers are opening 12welve Eyes Brewing this summer in the Pioneer Endicott building. He said they chose St. Paul because of its relaxed vibe. As they came up with merchandise, they were inspired by Keep St. Paul Boring.
Now, $15 will get you a Keep St. Paul Brewing shirt on the brewery’s website.
“I think St. Paul has a long-standing history of trying to be different than Minneapolis,” Grosse said, and the city is trying to strike a balance between exciting new projects and retaining its quiet charm.
He said 12welve Eyes doesn’t want to turn downtown St. Paul into downtown Minneapolis, but it would like to change the perception St. Paul shuts down at 5 p.m., and push that back to 10 p.m.
“We’re trying to make it not so boring,” Grosse said.
Embracing the dull
St. Paul is not the only city to embrace its dullness. Residents of Raleigh, N.C., and Albany, N.Y., have affectionately mocked their hometowns with the same slogan. Hannula, a 29-year-old data analyst, said he didn’t realize that when he came up with the idea, but he sees similarities between the three state capitals that are often overshadowed by other cities in their states.
And he enjoys watching people play with the phrase, which he thought would be nothing more than a “one-off joke.”
One of the latest takes is a letter, sent by a stranger under the pen name Kevin Stephen Peter Beaumont to St. Paul establishments, noting their misdeeds.
“It has fallen upon us — the citizens of our fair city St. Paul — to preserve its austere and disciplined past and to insure its future is one of quiet necessary economy,” a letter sent to Bang Brewing said. It listed concerns with the brewery’s locally brewed craft beer, obscure or unusual flavors, and promotion of alternative transportation choices.
In the signature below his four-part name, “Mr. Beaumont” included a title: “Minister of Prudence KSPB.”
Jessie Van Berkel • 612-673-4649