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Wild Birds Unlimited store switches to new site in Duluth in June

Dione Fosdick (left) of Hermantown and her friend Stephanie Van Staagen of Duluth look at birdfeeders at Wild Birds Unlimited last week. The store will be moving to Burning Tree Plaza, where it will open on June 1. (Bob King /

Just a year after new owners took over Wild Birds Unlimited in the Miller Hill shopping area, they’re moving the store.

The popular niche store for bird and nature lovers is moving from its longtime location at 1709 Mall Drive to Burning Tree Plaza, where it plans to open June 1.

And it’ll make the move without losing a single day of business.

Plans are to close May 31 at the current site and reopen the next day at the new location, next to Osaka Japanese restaurant, in space previously occupied by Daisies & Daydreams, a home décor store.

The new space is undergoing remodeling and will have the colors, fixtures, décor and upscale look that many of the other 275 Wild Birds Unlimited stores in the United States and Canada have.

Co-owner Misty Bristol said she has enough inventory to stage both locations so she won’t have to close for the move. Once open at the new site, they’ll move the rest of their merchandise over the course of a couple of weeks.

The new location, for which Bristol and her husband, David, signed a five-year lease, is slightly bigger than the current store. But with an open layout it will look bigger, she said.

Several factors prompted the  move, beyond the store’s current lease being up this spring.

“As new owners, we want a fresh new look,” Bristol said.

The store’s current location across Mall Drive from the Village Square Mall is tricky to drive to and from, she said, and can be hard for new customers to find.

“You have to know we’re here,” Bristol said. “I’ve gotten a lot of new customers since I’ve done advertising and gotten some drive-bys, but we don’t have the foot traffic. You have to know we’re here.”

In contrast, they’ll get plenty of pedestrian traffic at the Burning Tree Plaza strip mall.

“It’s the best opportunity for us to make this business successful,” she said. “We’re doing OK. But by relocating, we’ll get the foot traffic.”

Another concern is their current building has been for sale since October.

“I just can’t risk staying here with the building for sale,” said Bristol, also noting that the building’s upkeep has been less than stellar.

Timothy Jubie of Hudson, Wis., who took over ownership of the Mall Drive property from his parents in January, didn’t deny that the building needs work.

He said Princess Bride, which occupied the second floor and went bankrupt owing, records show, $32,000 in unpaid rent, had set them back. But in the next few months the entire two-story building will be remodeled inside and out at costs that could well exceed $40,000, he said.

Urged to move

For the most part, though, Bristol said she and her husband are moving Wild Birds Unlimited because the location doesn’t suit them anymore.

The couple bought the store a year ago from Bob Heller, who opened it in 1992 and ran it for more than 20 years. It was the first Wild Birds Unlimited franchise in Minnesota. Now there are six, but the Duluth store remains the only one in northern Minnesota.

When the Bristols bought the store, which is a franchise, the company headquartered in Carmel, Ind., wanted them to move the store to a new location where it could sport the chain’s new modern look.

The Bristols chose to stay put as they learned the business, even doing some store remodeling and broadening their selection of birdfeeders, nesting boxes, garden items, jewelry and impulse-purchase items, and adding children’s items. But in the fall, they started thinking about moving.

Both company representatives and the Bristols zeroed in on the same space at Burning Tree Plaza, which had been empty for more than a year.

With the move, the store will be open longer to comply with the shopping center’s hours. It’ll be open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. To do that, Bristol is hiring two more employees, bringing the store’s staff up to seven, including herself.

When Wild Birds Unlimited moves out, the Mall Drive building won’t be vacant for long.

Jubie has two likely new tenants. A group of local women plan to open The LoFT in Duluth, a high-end consignment and formal wear rental shop on the second floor, featuring new and slightly used designer-brand clothing and accessories. And the owners of a Twin Cities bridal shop, unrelated to Princess Bride, may open in Wild Birds Unlimited’s first-floor space.

The Princess Bride troubles, which made the news, made it difficult to sell the building, said Tracey Tellor, the property manager and listing agent. But once the building is remodeled and the new tenants are in, she said it should be easier.

Jubie said the remodeling should be completed and the new tenants moved in by late July.