Plans still in the works for two downtown Duluth storefront contest winnersWhen the three winners of the downtown storefront contest were announced in June, two talked about opening their stores in the fall, while one aimed for spring 2012.
By: Candace Renalls, Duluth News Tribune
When the three winners of the downtown storefront contest were announced in June, two talked about opening their stores in the fall, while one aimed for spring 2012.
They found it takes a lot longer to open a store.
“It was our hope and desire to see these businesses open by the holiday season, and they wanted to as well,” Kristi Stokes, president of the Greater Downtown Council, said in early November.
But as the holiday season approached, they weren’t even close to opening, even with the $55,000 incentive packages from the Greater Downtown Council, which sponsored the “Go Duluth, Grow Downtown, The Great Space Giveway” contest. Each won a year’s free rent with a three-year lease, a $5,000 loan, professional mentoring, marketing help and an advertising package. So far, none have used much of their incentives.
The winners — Dan Neff, Kelly Letko and Wendy Myers — had quickly picked out which empty storefronts on Superior Street they wanted. But working through the myriad details, logistics and hurdles was something else.
“The process has been more tedious than expected,” admitted Neff, a professional artist who plans to open Lake Superior Art Glass at 202 E. Superior St. “It’s just taken so long just to get to this point.”
Myers, 38, is moving forward with her plans to open an Apricot Lane Boutique at 313 W. Superior St. this spring after getting a franchise for the women’s apparel chain of stores in November and recently working out a long-term lease agreement. She originally hoped to open before the holidays.
Neff, 26, has pushed back his plans to open his gallery and studio several times as he worked with the city planning division and the Duluth fire marshal to meet codes. At his store, he plans to showcase local glass artists’ work, including his own, sell supplies and offer classes as well. He also intends to rent additional storage space in the basement.
But he needed to have a propane tank to do glass blowing at the shop, including demonstrations in the store. After he and others worked on this problem for months, the Duluth Planning Commission last week unanimously approved his permit to have a propane tank behind the building, safely enclosed in a storage unit. But the permit still must get Duluth City Council approval.
Stokes is supportive.
“For several years, he has been involved with our events as an artist, and his talent draws in the crowds,” she said. “We are thrilled to help a local artist take his business to the next level by opening a storefront and incorporating studio space for classes. And I know the storefront demonstrations will be a hit. He’s a perfect fit for the growing arts and entertainment district in the Old Downtown.”
But Neff has more hurdles to clear before he can open his business across the avenue from the new Tycoons restaurant in Old City Hall. They include installing a ventilation system and doing interior renovations, which he will have to pay for. But if all goes well, he hopes to open by the end of April.
When Kelly Letko won the contest, she was pregnant with her second child. So she knew her plans to open All About Baby, a specialty baby boutique, would have to wait awhile. She was hoping for a spring opening at 210 W. Superior St., which formerly housed the paint section of Ace Hardware.
Since she gave birth in December, however, she has had her hands full with her new baby girl, and plans for the shop’s start have been pushed back to at least fall.
“I’m still planning on opening a store. It’s a matter of when,” said Letko, 33, of Hermantown. “I’m still pushing forward.”
She’s hasn’t found financing, but her inventory wish list has grown to 60 vendors. She plans to carry high quality but affordable baby items, including cribs, folding play pens, bedding and strollers that people usually have to go to the Twin Cities to find. She also wants to carry baby sweaters, diaper bags and other items handmade by local artists.
She likes the storefront at 210 W. Superior St. because, she said, it has a lot of character. And the long narrow space would allow her to set up display areas that customers can walk by. She envisions entire nursery room displays as well as displays of items for bathing, feeding and other baby needs. She wants to include a play area where small children can play with the toys the store sells so parents can see how their children interact with them.
“I’m hoping for this year, I’m honestly hoping, but it depends,” she said of opening her store.
She realizes the storefront she wants might get rented before then. In that case, she said she would find another space.
“What I have in store for the store is going to bring people in no matter the location,” she said.