Historic Hunter Building in downtown Duluth attracts like-minded businesses
How the Hunter Building became a hub for businesses focused on health and wellness, New Age approaches to healing, personal care services and the downright mystical, the owner doesn’t know.
It just sort of happened.
Today, the building at Superior Street and First Avenue West in downtown Duluth houses massage therapists, a body-piercing studio, a Reiki energy therapist and a Cold Fusion nutrition club. It offers cranial sacral therapy, electrolysis and skin care services, and a woman who does tarot card and other readings.
“It was not necessarily the intent,” said Bob Maki, a Duluth attorney who owns the 140-year-old building with developer Kent Oliver. “It was how things kind of evolved.”
Once those businesses started moving in, they attracted like-minded businesses, even with Maki’s law firm and an architectural company also in the building that sports an upbeat, genteel appearance.
“Many of the healing-type businesses are female-owned,” Maki said. “Being on the skywalk is important for attracting customers, and it’s convenient and safe for getting to your car and with winter problems.”
To spread the word about what the building at 31 W. Superior St. offers, some of the businesses will hold an open house Friday, timed to coincide with the next day’s summer solstice.
“We want to bring awareness to what’s here,” said Cassandra Bachtell, who operates Reiki Moon on the lower level.
Lorene Couture — owner of Lady Ocalat’s Emporium on the skywalk level — is the organizer of the event, which will feature discounts, nutrition shake samples and the opportunity to learn about the services offered.
A self-described psychic and Wicca witch (a good witch, she insists), Couture offers psychic, tarot card, palm and past life readings. Her compact retail store is jam-packed with spiritual healing products including crystals, sage smudge wands for cleansing spaces and organic teas.
She calls the Hunter Building an enlightened place with a wide assortment of people.
“It’s all positive energy,” she said. “We’re really proud to be part of the building.”
Bachtell, who left the corporate world to become a Reiki practioner, was drawn to that vibe.
“I knew about the focus,” she said. “I’ve always felt at peace in this building.”
So when she was ready to move her small home-based business offering the Asian hands-on technique to improve the body’s crucial energy flow, she chose the Hunter Building.
“It was always going to be the Hunter Building,” she said. “It was just a matter of where in the building.”
Former Orecks store
The building itself has quite a history. Built in the early 1870s with a Victorian motif, it is one of the oldest buildings in downtown Duluth. At three stories tall, the red sandstone structure was called Duluth’s skyscraper when it was built because it was the first to rise that high.
Called the Hunter Block, the building housed the Duluth Savings Bank in its early years.
In the 1900s, it became Orecks Department Store. Orecks connected the Hunter building to the two-story brick building behind it, which boosted the store space to 30,000 square feet.
Orecks closed in 1982. The building sat empty a couple of years before Maki, Oliver and Realtor Lil Stocke bought it for less than $70,000, Maki said.
“When we got it, it was a 1950s-style redo, with big glass windows,” he said.
Over the decades, Orecks had remodeled the ground floor exterior several times, covering the original sandstone and altering the windows.
The new owners removed the first floor’s added façade, re-creating one closer to the original configuration. They replaced windows throughout the building, keeping the original openings. And they had the upper floor’s still-exposed sandstone cleaned of more than 100 years of dirt and grime.
“It was plenty dirty,” Maki recalled. “We spent a lot of time cleaning it back to its original status. It was caked with dirt so the dirt started assuming different colors.”
Inside, all the floors were redone and painted light shades for a refined look. Interior walls were moved to create spaces for commercial tenants. But the tall tin ceilings were kept, and a retro ambience remains.
The remodel ended as the Duluth commercial real estate market started to turn, and finding tenants became difficult, Maki said.
Times are better today, with about a dozen tenants, most in the personal services and alternative health fields.
“They’re very good tenants,” Maki said. “I don’t know how they gravitate here; it just happened. I just answer the phone, and if anyone wants to talk about space, I talk to them.”
Danny Cantrell made such a call a few months ago. As the result, he moved his body-piercing business, 120A Piercing Studio, there three months ago from a First Street location.
“It’s worked out well,” said Cantrell, a professional body piercer for 20 years. “My customers love how beautiful the building is. This is much more appropriate for what I do. The way the suite is laid out, it’s perfect.”
His studio is clean, neat and spacious, which especially suits his customers, who are mostly women.
He wasn’t aware of the building’s focus when he first responded to the “space available” sign he saw while driving by.
“I had no idea what was in there or that it was such a gem sitting here,” he said.
Because body piercing and tattooing — which Cantrell plans to add to his business — have a gritty image, he got dressed up when he first went there to talk to the owner and see the space.
He realized the building’s emphasis as soon as he walked in. And it won him over.
“That definitely helped in persuading me to be there,” he said.
If you go
The Summer Solstice Open House will be from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday at the Hunter Building, 31 W. Superior St. in downtown Duluth.
Several businesses geared to health, wellness and body art will participate:
* Lady Ocalat’s Emporium will offer $5 tarot, palm, Rune and angel readings.
* Cold Fusion will offer free shake samples.
* Reiki Moon will offer $5 spot Reiki healing sessions.
* 120A Piercing Studio will offer jewelry discounts.
* Le Source Electrolysis will offer waxing specials.
Treats and beverages also will be served.