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Building demolition forces closure, relocation of downtown Duluth businesses

The owner of 102-108 E. Superior St. notified the tenants of Chinese Dragon, Hucklebeary and Old Town Antiques & Books they must vacate in early 2022.

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Fong Tang finishes up an order of Szechuan tofu out of the Chinese Dragon kitchen in Duluth on Nov. 8, 2021. The restaurant will close after 40 years because its building is being demolished. Peyton Haug / File / Duluth News Tribune
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Chinese Dragon in downtown Duluth announced it is permanently closing after 40 years in business because the building, at the corner of East Superior Street and South First Avenue East, is being demolished.

The owners of Chinese Dragon, Hucklebeary and Old Town Antiques & Books were notified of their leases ending last week, and publicly announced the business changes on an Instagram live video Thursday.

Marissa Tang, daughter of Chinese Dragon's owner Fong "Jenny" Tang, said her parents will be retiring from the restaurant business. Its last day open at 108 E. Superior St. will be Dec. 31.

RELATED: At Duluth's Chinese Dragon, owner keeps restaurant afloat despite worker shortage The downtown restaurant is open every day of the week and on every major holiday besides Christmas Day and Thanksgiving. Owner Fong “Jenny” Tang is usually the host, server and cook.
"My family would like to thank everyone for supporting us all these years and we will miss you," Tang said. "We also look forward to the adventures that lie ahead of us.”

Old Town Antiques & Books and Hucklebeary each plan to relocate their businesses, but have not yet found new locations. Old Town Antiques, which has been at 102 E. Superior St. for more than 21 years, will close mid-January. Hucklebeary will close after Valentine's Day.

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The building's owner, Hall Equities, of Walnut Creek, California, is also affiliated with ZMC Hotels. While the initial plan for the building was to turn it into a hotel, the current plan is to demolish the building and create a parking lot. The 23,000-square-foot building was constructed in 1906. Emily Ekstrom, owner of Hucklebeary, said it needs many repairs, including leaking pipes, sewage and plumbing problems, and flood damage in the basement.

“I always knew we are on borrowed time with things,” said Ekstrom, who was told the building was expected to be demolished shortly after she moved into 102 E. Superior St. in 2017. The pandemic postponed those plans until now.

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Emily Ekstrom

Fong "Jenny" Tang told the News Tribune earlier this month that she wouldn't retire until they tore down the building, which became a reality sooner than she anticipated. The business owners said they're still in shock over the recent notice to vacate.

“It’s hard because emotions are just so raw with it," Ekstrom said. "People ask what the game plan is, and we’re trying to figure it out. This is all so new. That’s what’s challenging for us as business owners. We’re still processing what’s going on.”

Ekstrom expressed frustration with downtown business properties, stating that rent is too high for most small business owners to afford, making it hard to sustain a vibrant downtown community.

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In addition to its creative space, Hucklebeary offers a range of cards and gifts. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com
In addition to its creative space, Hucklebeary offers a range of cards and gifts. The Duluth store plans to relocate due to the planned demolition of its building. Steve Kuchera / 2018 file / Duluth News Tribune

“You go downtown and you see all of these vacant buildings, so you’d think it’s easy to find another spot and it’s not that easy," she said. "To try and come back from a pandemic to keep your business afloat … We’ve had our challenges. We had Superior Street construction; we’ve had the pandemic; now we’re having to find a new building.”

Despite that, Ekstrom and Carol Jouppi, who owns Old Town Antiques & Books with her husband, David, said they are optimistic about staying in business. Jouppi said the dealers plan to move with the store to wherever its new location may be. However, gift cards must be used by the end of the year.

The three business representatives expressed their gratitude to the community for supporting their businesses over the years, and for their patience as they decide their next steps.

“It’s not the building that makes it it’s the people inside that make it,” Jouppi said.

Laura Butterbrodt covers health and business for the Duluth News Tribune. She has a bachelor of arts in journalism from South Dakota State University and has been working as a reporter in Minnesota and South Dakota since 2014.
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