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NorShor renovation prompts business changes in downtown Duluth

With the sale of the NorShor Theatre expected this fall, the owners of Art in the Alley Home have slashed prices in anticipation of their September store closing. (Steve Kuchera / 1 / 4
Katlin Mulsoff, holding her 6-month-old son, Ben, and Margo Marko shop at Art in the Alley Home store at 209 E. Superior St. last week. (Steve Kuchera / / 4
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When Tami LaPole Edmunds and her husband, Dan Edmunds, opened Art in the Alley Home in the NorShor Theatre annex in late 2012, they knew their time there was limited.

They would have to vacate their storefront when renovations of the historic downtown Duluth theater began.

That day is nearing.

Sherman Associates’ purchase of the NorShor and Temple Opera buildings from the Duluth Economic Development Authority for $2.6 million is expected to close in October, with construction likely starting in November.

The Art in the Alley Home owners aren’t waiting for the official notice to vacate, however. Although their store at 209 E. Superior St. has done well, they plan to close it in September. It features vintage, repurposed and artist-created accessories, similar to their Art in the Alley women’s boutique across the street that will remain open.

“What we’re doing is being proactive,” LaPole Edmunds said. “We’d hate to get a notice saying to  vacate in 30 days. It takes a lot of energy to close a store. It’s a lot of work. We have inventory, products. We took the subtle hint we were given from the city that the sale was imminent to make the move.”

But the couple, both artists themselves, are all for the NorShor project, saying it will be good for downtown.

“We are the type of entrepreneurs who embrace change and take risks,” LaPole Edmunds said.

A $6.95 million state grant for the NorShor revitalization in this year’s state bonding bill is moving the $22.3 million renovation project forward.

Sherman Associates of Minneapolis serves as the developer. When work is complete, the Duluth Playhouse will become the owner and manager of the new NorShor Arts Center.

 “The Duluth Playhouse will manage it, but not control it,” explained Chris Eng, DEDA’s executive director. “They will allow other community nonprofits and events to use the space.”

 Three storefronts affected

Construction will start with interior work in the NorShor and its annex, which includes the theater entrance and three storefronts, including the Art in the Alley Home store. The NorShor renovations are expected to take a year.

The annex’s two tenants, who are on month-to-month leases, could stay as long as a month or two after construction begins, Kathy Marinac of Sherman Associates said on Friday.

If a tenant needs to be relocated, Sherman Associates will work with them, she said.

While the option of staying until the end of the year is there, the owners of Art in the Alley Home say they don’t want to move in winter. Besides, closing opens them up to new opportunities and allows them to concentrate on their main store.

Another annex tenant — Harbor Security Shop at 213 E. Superior St. — also will have to move out after 15 years in the space, said Steve LaFlamme, president of Oneida Reality Co., which has managed the tenants of the NorShor and Temple Opera Building for about 20 years.

The owner declined to talk about it with the News Tribune.

But LaFlamme said the owner has found a new downtown location, at the former Jewelers Bench location at 405 W. Michigan St.

“He’ll probably be moving over in the next 30 days,” LaFlamme said. “We told him to take as much time as he needs.”

The third annex storefront currently has Duluth Playhouse advertising in the window but is vacant.

Temple Opera tenants safe

Improvements to the Temple Opera Building will start a year after work on the NorShor begins, Marinac said. The upgrades will include installing an elevator, new roof and a skywalk connection to Greysolon Plaza and to the NorShor, she said.

The 13 tenants of the Temple Opera Building, including Downtown Computer and Fig Leaf’s women’s clothing shop in its two storefronts, won’t have to relocate, she said.

The annex’s vacated storefronts, however, will have new uses when the NorShor’s renovations are complete. A new concept, Light on Duluth, will be in one storefront, selling tickets for the various theater, concert, symphony and other entertainment in town, Eng said.

“People will be able to go to one spot to get tickets,” he said.

The other storefronts will contain Duluth Playhouse offices and possibly a wine bar, Marinac said.

For now, the owners of Art in the Alley Home have launched a store closing sale, slashing prices by 50 percent. They moved furniture, lamps and other non-sale items over to their boutique at Superior Street and Third Avenue East, which opened nearly two years ago and will again feature more home items.

“We’ve really enjoyed our home store,” LaPole Edmunds said. “It’s been a wonderful thing. But we’re not in control of everything. We knew it was coming. We’re just grateful we had that space for that long.”