Sure, your phone is a great navigation tool.
But can it show you all of the dog-friendly breweries in the Twin Cities? The location, times and what’s playing for the Music & Movies program in Minneapolis parks? Or display at a glance where every college, minor-league ballpark or airport in the country is located?
You can have that information at your fingertips thanks to a Minneapolis man named Tom Hedberg.
At a time when we increasingly rely on GPS to tell us our place in the world, Hedberg is still doing navigation the old-fashioned way — making maps, not apps.
Maps, as you may recall, are big pieces of paper, often folded in a complicated accordion pattern, that everyone used to keep in the glove boxes of their car.
Thanks to GPS and smartphones, the road maps that used to be sold by the millions in gas stations, convenience stores and bookstores are starting to seem as superfluous as phone books.
The mapmaking industry has shrunk and consolidated. Retail stores that specialized in selling maps and travel guides have gone out of business.
“There’s no question there are fewer maps,” said Hedberg. “Sales in the traditional map industry took a huge hit.”
But Hedberg’s northeast Minneapolis company, Hedberg Maps (hedbergmaps.com), has managed to stay alive by creating niche publications that make old-school paper maps surprisingly handy.
He has a pocket map that shows the location, hours and number of stalls in all of the Twin Cities farmers markets. Need to find the nearest ice arena? Boat access point? Where there have been UFO sightings in North Dakota? There’s a Hedberg map for that.
Many of the maps Hedberg creates are custom-designed as marketing or promotional giveaways; 150,000 for Meet Minneapolis, 50,000 for the Nice Ride bike sharing system, 10,000 handed out at the Minneapolis Radisson Blu hotel.
The map he made of Twin Cities dog parks and dog-friendly breweries was a hit at the Twin Cities Pride Festival last month.
“They flew off the table,” said Brian Kleist, who does marketing for Affiliated Emergency Veterinary Service, which commissioned the map.
Hedberg also created a custom map for the ESPN website devoted to the X Games in Minneapolis this weekend. (A paper version is being handed out in downtown hotels.)
“Our fingers are in a lot of mapping in the Twin Cities,” Hedberg said.
He has a line of college town street and campus maps. Another that shows the location of every university and college in the country.
“I haven’t found anything else like it online,” said Sue Luse, an Eagan-based consultant to students planning college applications. “I give them to every single one of my clients.”
Thanks to Hedberg’s national “Baseball Travel Map,” you can scout out your road trip to the New Mexico minor-league home fields of the Roswell Invaders or the Albuquerque Isotopes.
“Hedberg is a master of cartography, of making a good-looking map and creating a map that people will want,” said Ted Florence, president of the International Map Industry Association.
But some of Hedberg’s maps are just for imaginary journeys.
When the 1997 blockbuster film “Titanic” came out, the Borders bookstore asked Hedberg if the famous shipwreck could be mapped.
Hedberg’s “Titanic Reference Map” later became a National Geographic publication. Other theme maps followed, looking at the cultural geography of Santa, baseball and love.
“People are fascinated with putting geographic context on any kind of information,” said Hedberg, who also makes custom wall-sized maps.
Now a niche product
Hedberg, 55, first got into maps when he and his wife, Jennifer Shea Hedberg, opened the Latitudes Map and Travel store in south Minneapolis in 1987, selling maps and travel books created by other publishers. A customer asked if he had a map of the Minneapolis lake district. He didn’t, so that became the first map the college math major created and published.
Hedberg continued to publish maps even as technology began to change the way we navigate.
In 1996, the online mapping service called MapQuest was launched, allowing people to print out custom maps and directions from their computer.
In 2000, the U.S. Department of Defense allowed civilian access to accurate GPS data. GPS devices that people installed in their cars soon followed.
In 2005, Google Maps was launched, followed by the iPhone in 2007. Now everyone can summon directions from a device they carry in their pockets.
As a result, the demand for paper street maps began to drop. Even Hedberg admits he uses a smartphone to get to an unfamiliar address.
“We used to ship pallets and pallets of maps like these,” said Hedberg of a Twin Cities street map that he publishes. “We still ship it out. But not pallets.”
Minnesota used to print out 1 million copies of the official state highway map every two years. Now that number is down to about 720,000.
The Hudson Map Co., which was founded in 1892 in Minneapolis, closed its retail shop in Minneapolis in 2011. By that time, sales of its signature product, a spiral-bound Twin Cities street atlas that was once required reading of every cabdriver in town, had fallen from 100,000 to 10,000 copies a year.
The Hudson name was acquired by another company and is now used on a 432-page atlas that Hedberg produces, “Hudson’s Twin Cities Superatlas.” It sells about 5,000 copies a year.
Hedberg sold Latitudes in the 1990s. It eventually closed.
Even his mapmaking company, which does about $350,000 to $400,000 of business a year, has taken a hit. Once it had nine employees, now it has three.
But Hedberg is optimistic. He likens his maps to LP records, saying they won’t completely disappear because they’ll always appeal to a niche audience.
That’s partly because paper maps won’t break or run out of batteries. They can unfold to a view of the world more expansive than the screen of even the largest cellphone.
“Paper is a really good hard-copy backup,” said Andy Mickel, a Minneapolis software developer who buys Hedberg paper maps and atlases. “Sometimes it’s good to stare at the big picture.”
Richard Chin • 612-673-1775