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Longtime business owner finds new opportunity in downtown Duluth vintage shop

The Plaid Pantry on First, at 136 W. First St. in downtown Duluth, is open Thursdays through Saturdays. (Clint Austin / / 2
Cathy Letourneau of Duluth opened the Plaid Pantry on First in December after she and her husband retired from running a chain of convenience stores. A collector for years, she always had wanted to open a little shop selling her many vintage items. Besides, it was on her bucket list of things to do. “I’m having a great time,” she said. “It’s exactly what I want.” (Clint Austin / / 2

For 38 years, Cathy Letourneau and her husband owned and operated a chain of convenience stores in the Twin Ports area.

At its peak, they operated 14 D&C Gas & Convenience stores, owning eight of them. But when they retired a year ago, selling their last six stores, Letourneau wanted to stay busy.

“I just wasn’t ready to give up retail,” she said. “It’s fun getting to know people.”

It was the perfect time to open the little vintage shop she had always wanted but didn’t have time for before.

An avid rummage and estate sale shopper for the better part of 35 years and a former house flipper, Letourneau had accumulated enough collectibles to fill several garages.

So when she learned that Angela’s Bella Flora, a popular florist and gift shop at First Street and Second Avenue West in downtown Duluth was giving up some of its adjacent gift shop space last year, Letourneau was interested.

The floral end of the business kept increasing over the years and owner Angela Stocke said she needed to concentrate on that.

“I wanted to make the shop smaller, because I couldn’t manage all of it,” she said.

Letourneau eagerly took over the space a couple of months later. She opened her store, the Plaid Pantry on First, in December, filling the 416-square-foot space with a variety of vintage items, from old lanterns, crocks and wood shutters to oriental rugs and china dishes.

“Some things are truly antique; some things are in style right now like shabby chic,” she said. “I even have some new things.”

As the seasons change, so does her mix of offerings. Winter’s sleds and skates give way to old watering cans and birdhouses in the summer.

“Every day, business gets better as more people find me,” she said. “We have lots of repeat customers. Many, many women who are Angela’s Bella Flora customers stop in.”

She’s having a great time, Letourneau said. But some days she wishes the store was bigger.

“It’s a good size to keep it full,” she said. “But I have so much stuff. Sometimes I wish I had more space to show it off.”

When a woman stopped in last week, looking for horseshoes, Letourneau had some. But she didn’t have them at the store and told the woman she would bring them in. That also was the case when another shopper was looking for an old ice box. Letourneau had one of those in storage.

Letourneau still gets to rummage and estate sales when she can and is willing to be on the lookout for items people want.

“I take names and numbers of people looking for things,” she said. “I help people who are hunting for their treasures.”

The Plaid Pantry, at 136 W. First St., generally is open from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays.