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Duluth Trading Co. boosts business in Old Downtown

Since opening in May, Duluth Trading Co., at Superior Street and Third Avenue East in downtown Duluth, has exceeded the company’s expectations, and the store has drawn more people to Old Downtown. (Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com)1 / 2
Lindsey Jacobson (left), an ambassador with the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce, shops at the Duluth Trading Co. during May’s pre-opening reception. Helping her was Brittany Liberty, the company’s warehouse manager. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)2 / 2

Nearly four months after Duluth Trading Co. opened in downtown Duluth, store officials are confident about its long-term success.

“Things are going well,” store manager Mead Bradley said last week. “It’s been steady ever since we opened.”

More than 50,000 people have visited the store bearing the city’s name at Superior Street and Third Avenue East since its May 9 opening, Bradley said.

“Obviously, we’re thrilled to have that kind of foot traffic,” he said. “We would have been happy with 30,000 or 40,000. But 50,000 is beyond our expectations.”

Not only were many Duluthians happy to learn last winter that the popular catalogue and online retailer of durable work and outdoor wear was going to open a store in Old Downtown, neighboring retailers were as well, hoping the added draw would boost their businesses as well.

Boy, has it.

“The impact has been tremendous,” said Tami Lapole Edmunds, co-owner of Art in the Alley women’s boutique across the avenue.

“We’ve had more traffic, more people, more sales,” she said in July. “I couldn’t predict in my wildest dreams what it has done with downtown business. We’re going to do fine with one powerful store downtown.”

Kristi Stokes, president of the Greater Downtown Council, said other nearby businesses have reported  increased pedestrian traffic since the Duluth Trading Co. opened.

Already, it’s a destination store, which further helps fuel the growth in Old Downtown, she said.

“We’re pleased they have returned to their roots and that customers are showing them how much they wanted a retail store here,” Stokes said.

Duluth Trading Co. got its start in Duluth in the 1980s, but the company was sold in the mid-1990s and its call center and warehouse moved to Wisconsin.

The 8,000-square-foot Duluth store is the company’s fourth brick-and-mortar destination store carrying the company’s full line of men’s and women’s clothing, accessories and gear. Others are in Mount Horeb and Port Washington, Wis., and in Bloomington, Minn. Another Twin Cities store is scheduled to open in Fridley in October.

For their Duluth location, company officials chose the 1915 brick building at 300 E. Superior St. They liked the building’s decorative brickwork, large windows, tall ceiling and open floor plan and historic appearance of that end of downtown. The building also had recently been refurbished.

Downtown discovered

The new Duluth Trading Co. store is helping to draw tourists downtown who previously didn’t venture far from Canal Park.

“Tourists say, why doesn’t anybody tell us to shop downtown?” LaPole Edmunds said. “Downtown is a really good secret. They just happen to find downtown. There’s nothing to say ‘Shop downtown Duluth.’ They are wandering more, and they’re finding downtown, so it’s been great.”

Half of the more than 50,000 people who have visited the store are tourists and other visitors to Duluth, Bradley said.

“A lot of tourists who come to Duluth want to see Duluth Trading Co. and see our quirky products,” he said. “They’re almost souvenirs.”

For the store’s customers, parking hasn’t been the problem anticipated. Street parking turns over fairly quickly at that end of downtown. And the store’s two hours of validated free parking at the Sheraton Hotel ramp across the street isn’t being used that much by customers.

“I was surprised,” Bradley said. “I expected it to be an issue. But it hasn’t been. It was a pleasant surprise.”

Cold boosts sales

Duluth’s cooler and changeable weather is helping the store get off to a good start.

“Some visitors are not ready for our temperatures,” Bradley said. “They’re not prepared for it at all. We can help them with Duluth-appropriate clothing. We see a lot of that.”

When the summer tourist season winds down, the holiday shopping season will heat up, downtown retailers say. But what about the post-holiday lull that downtown stores face in February, March and April?

Bradley isn’t concerned.

“We have clothing people need year-round for our climate,” he said. “It will not just sustain us but drive us through winter.”

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