With subzero temperatures, Saturday wasn't the ideal day to open a frozen yogurt shop in Duluth. But owner Bill Marker wasn't wasting any time.
"We start paying rent March 1," he said last week. "We might as well open."
As the opening day approached, preparations moved into high gear as counters were installed, yogurt machines went in, the health inspector paid his required visit, and the team of 15 new employees gathered to learn procedures.
With its opening, Chilly Billy's Frozen Yogurt became the first retailer to open at the Shops at BlueStone, a new two-building retail complex that's Phase II of BlueStone Commons, a mixed-use development along Woodland Avenue adjacent to the University of Minnesota Duluth.
"It's only fitting," Marker said of being first. "We were the first to sign a letter of intent."
Waxing the City, a personal services salon offering body waxing, follows with its opening today. Starbucks and Sports Clips for Men are expected to open in late March or early April, and Northern Communities Credit Union in April.
And the piece de resistance -- Qdoba Mexican Grill --tentatively is opening in late spring or early summer, Qdoba spokeswoman Megan Wallace said.
An official grand opening date hasn't been set yet, she told the News Tribune last week.
Chilly Billy's is not only the first retailer to open at BlueStone, Marker said it's the first bona fide frozen yogurt shop in the Twin Ports. Its self-service frozen yogurt bar offers 10 flavors and about 50 toppings, including fruit, candy, nuts and brownie bits. Cost is 49 cents an ounce for the soft serve yogurt and toppings.
While the frozen yogurt industry declined in the 1990s, industry observers say it's made a big comeback around the country in the last decade. With its revival comes a new wave of flavors and the opportunity for customers to add their own toppings.
It's the second family-owned Chilly Billy's for Marker and his wife, Amy. They opened their first three years ago in Dinkytown near the University of Minnesota Minneapolis campus.
As a 1989 UMD graduate, Marker was eager to come back to Duluth, where he still has friends.
"I get excited driving to Duluth," he said. "I get to open a store in Duluth. We're excited and looking forward to being a part of the community."
While another location adjacent to two college campuses was a natural, Marker sees the BlueStone site as serving area residents as well as students.
"BlueStone is a great location," he said. "That whole side of town really doesn't have anything."
He said the area has many sporting events and Little League fields. Moreover, the Longview Tennis Courts are just down the street.
"There's really no dessert place," he said. "Every kid wants something sweet after practice and games."
Chilly Billy's will open at 11 a.m. weekdays and noon on weekends and stay open to 11 p.m. most nights.
It will share the courtyard with Qdoba at the complex's northwest corner.
Waxing salon is next
Meanwhile, on the other side of the upscale L-shaped mini-mall, the owners of Waxing the City were getting ready for their opening today.
Sisters Jo Haubrich and Jane Haubrich Casperson are behind the body waxing franchise's first entrance in Northeastern Minnesota. The full body waxing salon for men and women offers bikini and Brazilian waxes and chest, back and leg hair removal by trained professionals in private settings. Prices range from $12 for a brow wax to $ 55 for a full body wax, Jo Haubrich said.
The Duluth salon will be one of only a dozen Waxing the City salons in the country and is a new division of Anytime Fitness. The sisters brought the franchises for Duluth and St. Cloud, Minn., where they plan to open a site this fall.
They were drawn to the caliber of the BlueStone development and its mix of retail for students as well as the community.
"We want to align ourselves with something exclusive for Duluth that's cutting edge and with a company with extraordinary vision," Jo Haubrich said.
Nearby BlueStone Lofts, an upscale 100-unit residential complex at the former Woodland Middle School site, was the BlueStone development's first phase. It opened in August, offering furnished apartments for students and others.
Construction of Phase III, a standalone 10,000-square-foot restaurant to be called Tavern on the Hill, was started in November. But heavy snowfalls and the extreme cold slowed the foundation work. With the foundation now in, workers were back at the site last week, preparing to erect the steel framework.
Its targeted opening is July.