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Duluth mini-mall openings begin; Panera to open in 4-6 weeks

Vitamin Shoppe (far left) and Verizon (right) have opened at the new Hansen Center mini-mall at Maple Grove Road and Miller Trunk Highway in Duluth. In coming weeks, Sleep Number will open in space next to Vitamin Shoppe, and Panera Bread will open in the middle building. (Steve Kuchera /

Two down, two to go.

As finishing work on the Hansen Center, a new mini-mall just west of Duluth's Miller Hill Mall, nears completion, its four retailers have started to open.

The Vitamin Shoppe was first to open on Dec. 28, followed by Verizon last Thursday. Sleep Number will open Feb. 7. The last to open will be much-anticipated Panera Bread, which will open in late February or early March, said Amanda Burns, the chain's marketing manager.

The Vitamin Shoppe and Panera are new not only to Duluth, but to northern Minnesota.

Panera is in the process of hiring 80 people, including managers, bakers and associates, Burns said. The popular fast casual dining chain, based in St. Louis, serves sandwiches, hot paninis, salads and soups and is known for its use of fresh ingredients and healthy offerings.

Construction of the Hansen Center on the former Ground Round site began in May, under general contractor Fendler Patterson Construction of Savage, Minn. Its three buildings on the 1.6-acre site form an L-shape with parking in the center. Florida-based owner General Realty is behind the development at Maple Grove Road and Miller Trunk Highway. The buildings have glass fronts with sections rising two stories high.

Verizon and Sleep Number will share one building. Panera will occupy the largest building and have a drive-through and a production center on site for its breads, bagels, muffins and other baked goods.

A Verizon Wireless Smart Store occupies the third building. Sporting a new retail design, the 3,600-square-foot store offers shopping for wireless devices in "mobile lifestyle zones," including music on-the-go, tracking healthy habits, novel technology gadgets and home automation.

It's the wireless service provider's second such smart store in Minnesota. The first opened in Maplewood. Verizon plans to convert its entire fleet of 1,700 communications stores into smart stores in the next few years.

The new Verizon store replaces its former store adjacent to the new mini-mall and its kiosk in Miller Hill Mall which closed Wednesday. The new store has a staff of 16, including three "solution managers" and seven "solution specialists."

At 3,500 square feet, the new Sleep Number store will be much bigger than its current mall store and offer its exclusive bed sets and other bedding accessories along with its Sleep Number beds.

According to a Sleep Number spokeswoman, it will provide shoppers with a multisensory, interactive experience as they try out Sleep Number products.