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New business brings glamour to Duluth's Old Downtown

Appearing like a framed picture, a mirror at BB Makeup Cosmetic Bar reflects Jen McCubbin (left) being made up by manager Haley Hedstrom. (Steve Kuchera / / 6
BB Makeup Cosmetic Bar manager Haley Hedstrom works on Jen McCubbin at the new business in Old Downtown. The newly renovated space sports tall, industrial ceilings and a brick, bright pink and black décor. (Steve Kuchera / / 6
Jen McCubbin before her makeover. (Steve Kuchera / / 6
Jen McCubbin after her makeover. (Steve Kuchera / / 6
Reuseable lash strips are a popular way to top off a makeup application at BB Makeup Cosmetic Bar. The lashes cost $15 and can be reused up to 20 times. (Steve Kuchera / / 6
Shannon Luloff owns BB Makeup Cosmetic Bar in Duluth. (Photo courtesy of Shannon Luloff)6 / 6

Shannon Luloff was window shopping in downtown Hudson, Wis., a couple of years ago when she came across a business that excited her so much that she started a franchise in Duluth.

"I walked by a store that was bright pink with women all dolled up and music blaring," Luloff said of BB Makeup Cosmetic Bar. "It was a very fun and hip environment."

It was summer, so the doors were open. The energy drew her in. She asked what they were doing. They explained they were applying makeup, specializing in celebrity-style looks.

"I was intrigued," Luloff said. "I had never heard of that."

She gave it a try. The makeup application took about 30 minutes.

"I fell in love with it," she said. "It was fun. I never looked so beautiful."

An entrepreneur at heart, Luloff is hoping to create a similar cutting-edge experience in downtown Duluth. On Feb. 1 she opened a BB Makeup Cosmetic Bar at 101 E. Superior St.

There, red carpet-worthy makeup applications geared for women's special occasions start at $50. It could be for proms, reunions, banquets, anniversaries or just a big night out.

For weddings, they'll go to the brides, sometimes doing the whole bridal party. The bridal rate is $120, which includes a trial run for free.

"A lot of women plan it for the night of the bachelorette part or shower," Luloff said. "Most brides get air- brush makeup. It's sprayed on and lasts all day. It looks like they've been air-brushed."

Air-brushed foundation is $25 extra.

The cosmetics bar also offers makeup lessons, eyelash extensions, hair extensions and its own makeup, hair and skin products.

Lessons are $99. The makeup prices are comparable to prices at department store cosmetic counters. Foundation starts at $21, concealer costs $18, lipsticks $16, mascara $21, and eye shadows and lip glosses are $15.

It's only the fourth BB Makeup store offering the hypoallergenic line developed by the small chain's founder. Hudson is the original store. Others are in St. Cloud, Minn., and Seymour, Ind.

For Luloff, 28, and her husband, Lucas, the startup was a "substantial" investment with the product inventory the biggest cost.

The couple, who live in Somerset, Wis., but work in Minneapolis, earlier tried to start two other businesses. Neither were successful.

"We never found the right one for us," Shannon Luloff said.

But she believes BB Makeup is the right one. And through those prior business attempts, she learned how to establish a business.

"That helped with the paperwork," she said. "I knew what I needed to do and did it fast."

She used the services of the Small Business Administration and SCORE's free business counseling, put together a business plan and took out a loan.

Duluth site sought

Because the couple are from Duluth and return often, it was a natural choice for the startup business, especially with its population of young, college-age women.

"Duluth is a college town with a lot of potential for capturing that market," she said. "This business attracts college students and a lot of people going through first times, like marriage and their first child. But women of all ages really love it."

Luloff shopped for a Duluth location for six months before picking the corner storefront in the renovated Fannie Rose building built in 1907 in Old Downtown. The Original Coney Island, Duluth Coffee Co. and Fannie Rose Candy Shop occupy the building's other three storefronts.

Rand Sola, one of the building's owners, had wanted food vendors in all the storefronts. But he received little interest for that last space until after Last Place on Earth, which had been selling synthetic drugs across the street, was closed by authorities last summer.

"When Last Place on Earth closed, phones started ringing," Sola said. "We had multiple people interested in that space. We've had lots of showing, but none were food-related."

For Shannon Luloff, the space's vibe felt right.

"Shannon was really enthusiastic about that corner," Sola said. "She convinced me that she had done her homework and that that corner and that part of town was where her business would most likely succeed in Duluth."

At first, though, Luloff was hesitant about Old Downtown. But she realized it was changing.

"I feel like it's heading in the right direction," she said. "It needs people who believe in that."

But will the glam look work in Duluth?

Luloff is betting on it.

"We're the town of flannel and natural looks," she said. "Being from Duluth, I don't think it's because they're opposed. When you're not around it, you haven't been taught how to use it. A lot of times people just don't know how."

Business picking up

The store's opening got off to slow start last month, but the business is starting to pick up, and appointments are getting necessary.

"Salons don't focus on makeup," said store manager Haley Hedstrom. "We're trying to fill that void."

Hedstrom's comments came as she applied makeup to Jen McCubbin, 22, of Duluth.

As she went through the steps -- eyes, concealer, foundation, bronzer and blush -- she discouraged McCubbin from looking in the nearby mirror.

"I don't want them to look in the mirror before I'm finished," she said. "It's kind of like looking at a painting before it's done."

In a half hour, McCubbin's face was transformed into one with a flawless complexion, emphasized eyes and an overall glow.

"It is a big difference," McCubbin said. "I really like it."

Luloff and Hedstrom are relying on social media and word-of-mouth to get the word out about the business. Because the sought-after college students have limited budgets, they offer 10 percent college discounts. Special events include a spring break party this Friday where students can get a free makeup application with a $50 purchase.

The store also offers Makeup and Girls' Night Out parties for women of all ages, and princess parties are available for little girls.