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Touched By Africa Imports owner Beth Magomolla talks about the handmade tribal figures on a mobile created in Kenya. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

One pop-up store continues in downtown Duluth, another opens

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When vacant downtown Duluth store spaces were offered up rent-free for the holiday shopping season, organizers hoped for more than a boost in retail activity.

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They hoped retailers would do well enough in their two- to three-month runs to establish permanent stores downtown. But an especially harsh winter made the going tough.

Nearly six months later, only one of the 12 temporary “pop-up” stores is still downtown while another just opened a store on Superior Street.

Time will tell for how long.

Touched by Africa Imports, with fair trade jewelry and crafts, never left its spot in the skywalk in the 300 block of West Superior Street, months after other pop-ups closed. Owner Beth Magomolla, a missionary who brought back grass bowls, hand-weaved scarves and handbags, figurines made out of dried banana leaves and handmade jewelry purchased directly from the villagers who made them, says she intends to stay open through Christmas to sell out her stock, then close.

When her free rent ended Jan. 31, she started paying the landlord $400 a month, which includes utilities, she said.

“We were earning just enough to pay the rent, and I wanted to give people more time to discover me,” said Magomolla, who acquired the handcrafted items during her 21 trips to Africa.

That Magomolla still has the store is great, said Kristi Stokes, president of the Greater Downtown Council, which was behind the pop-up store program.

“This is something she always wanted, to share her story about the merchandise,” Stokes said of Magomolla. “It’s not just the merchandise, it’s the story behind it.”

Among the other temporary stores that came and went on the skywalk was artist Gary Lundstrom’s shop featuring his original line of art tiles, art lamps, poster prints, mugs, jewelry, jigsaw puzzles and other items sporting images of Lake Superior and the region’s landmarks. The detailed images begin as pen and ink drawings that are enhanced with computer airbrush tools.

But now Lundstrom is back.

On Thursday, he opened Great Lake’s Gifts & Gallery at the storefront at 5 W. Superior St. Besides his upscale gift line, the work of a dozen other artists — including painters, photographers, jewelers and a stone carver — are offered, continuing the store’s Northland theme.

The previously home-based artist made the leap to his first brick-and-mortar store, despite disappointing after-holiday sales at his skywalk pop-up location.

“This holiday season was probably like no other,” Stokes said. “It was a challenging winter. It was hard for everyone, not just downtown, because of the weather with all the snow and cold. But from the standpoint of pop-ups, it was great for them to experience what it was like to have a storefront, to have that visibility and to test the downtown market.”

Lundstrom, a long-time home-based artist whose work is sold at more than 20 stores in the area, had long wanted his own store on downtown Superior Street.

When he learned about a vacant storefront near Lake Avenue and Superior Street, a busy intersection where both locals and tourists go, he was interested.

“I don’t think the location could be better, other than smack in the middle of Canal Park,” said Lundstrom, adding that he didn’t want to compete directly with Canal Park stores that still carry his products.

Lundstrom was nervous about whether the summer, fall and holiday business could carry him through the post-holiday lull downtown. So he and the building owner worked out a deal —he would try it out for a few months to see if it’s enough to make it through the lean times.

After two months of remodeling, including refinishing the maple floors himself, some painting and building display stands with the help of friends, Lundstrom excitedly had his grand opening last weekend. For Lundstrom, it’s more than a store, it includes a working studio where he can custom print photographs and other images on mugs, ornaments, tiles and other items for customers while they wait.

Despite the extreme winter, Stokes said the pop-up program was worth it.

“Our goal was to bring some additional energy to retail space that was vacant and to allow entrepreneurs to try out the downtown market,” she said. “I think we truly accomplished that.”

In fact, the Greater Downtown Council is going to give it another go this winter.

“We haven’t determined the whole campaign yet, but we’ll probably see another round of pop-ups,” Stokes said.

The stores

Touched By Africa Imports, featuring fair trade items made by African villagers, is in the Skywalk above Bagley & Company at 315 W. Superior St. It is open noon to 4 p.m Monday through Saturday.

* Great Lake’s Gifts & Gallery is at 5 W. Superior St. It is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. It features original artist-made, Northland-themed home and gift items.

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