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Northland Special Events grows services, downtown footprint

Mariah McKechnie (left) meets with employee Diane Kaarbo in the giant vault at Fleurtation on Thursday morning. The vault is from the 1935 World's Fair. Purchased and installed in the Torrey Building at the time, it now serves as a cozy room where McKecknie meets with clients to plan their special events. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com1 / 5
The Duluth Balloon Company is taking shape in the space formerly occupied by Allenfall's clothing store on Superior Street in downtown Duluth. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com2 / 5
Diane Kaarbo prepares a bridal bouquet at Fleurtation on Thursday afternoon for a Saturday wedding. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com3 / 5
Fleurtation provides flower and decor services. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com4 / 5
Ribbons of many colors are used for wrapping flower bouquets at Fleurtation, a business owned by Mariah McKechnie. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com5 / 5

Mariah McKechnie is a master of plans — which makes sense, given she's the owner of wedding and special occasion planner Northland Special Events.

Now she's got something planned for herself as her business continues to balloon.

"It will be three boutiques in one space," McKechnie said inside the former Allenfall's department store in downtown Duluth, where colors and shapes are just beginning to morph into a different kind of department store.

Alongside Northland Special Events, headquartered next door at 314 W. Superior St., will be Duluth Balloon Co. and Fleurtation floral shop.

In a community this size, McKechnie said, it makes more sense to be able to do everything rather than specialize. From the helium to the hydrangeas, that's now more possible than ever.

"And we'll have a dedicated showroom," she said of the space at 324 W. Superior St.

Though the businesses are all up and running, the new storefront itself is still getting arranged before an opening the first week of May. Just last Thursday the wall separating the old and the new was taken down.

Many of the old pieces of Allenfall's, which closed in 2010 after 70 years selling men's clothing downtown, are getting put back to use, whether it be wooden racks or filing cabinets.

"I love department stores. We're working with all the vintage finds that are left behind," McKechnie said.

Most recently the storefront was home to Happy Space, an apparel store by Laughingstock Design, which decided to take its business online only.

That's how Duluth Balloon Co. started in January — online only and growing fast, with a delivery service too.

The balloon business rose from the closure of McKechnie's other business atop Miller HIll, Northland Party. That closed this winter as big online retailers started eating away the business' viability.

Turning the table on that, e-commerce is going to be a major focus of Duluth Balloon Co., Fleurtation and Northland Special Events.

But the storefront is still essential.

"I'm a bit of an urban girl, and I love downtown," she said in a mighty vault that doubles as a meeting space for Northland Special Events clients.

Floral shop Fleurtation will be tapped for events but also have a day-to-day retail presence, McKechnie said. Formerly Meadowlark Floral, florist Diane Kaarbo merged with Northland to be part of a team after two years in business.

"It was just one of those things where we were growing and decided to join forces," Kaarbo said.

Merging services, expanding spaces — the plans are all coming to fruition.

"We'll be here for the long-term," McKechnie said. "We want to invest in things that help people realize their dreams through special events."

Elsewhere downtown

Downtown Duluth has never had a static face, and ongoing changes will make sure that stays the case.

  • A Great Harvest Bread Co. is opening in the Medical Arts building where How Sweet It Is used to reside. The company says a mid-year opening is planned.
  • The corner of First Avenue East and Superior Street was formerly BB Makeup Cosmetic Bar, which moved to Superior not long ago. Now, Duluth Coffee Co. is expanding its operations and taking over the corner storefront.
  • Across the street, the white brick building housing Old Town Antiques & Books, Bullseye Silkscreen and Embroidery and Chinese Dragon of Duluth has been sold to a company with an office in California. No word on plans for the building, if there are any, though the buyer paid $1.6 million for the structure.
  • On First Street, passersby may have noticed a long-standing wooden vestibule just west of Second Avenue West. The look of the offices/storefronts behind that gate are getting an upgrade to look like the neighboring businesses, at least from the outside.
  • ZMC Hotels moved into the ground floor of the Technology Village, and TKDA moved to the fourth floor of the building as well. Some spaces still remain in that building, on the corner of Lake and Superior, which are listed at
  • Down the road at the Fitger's complex, Duluth Kitchen Co. is expanding its gourmet food shop, The Market.
Brooks Johnson

Brooks is an investigative/enterprise reporter and business columnist at the Duluth News Tribune.

(218) 723-5329