Duluth retailers temporarily close doors, refocus business model amid coronavirus pandemic

Local businesses are adding new ways customers can access their services and products.

Zenith Bookstore manager Nikki Silvestrini prepares an order of puzzles and games for shipping at the store in West Duluth Wednesday. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the store is offering shipping and curbside pickup. (Clint Austin /

Utilizing video calls, new delivery options, curbside pickup and more, Duluth businesses — those allowed to stay open — are doing everything they can to adapt to the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

Gov. Tim Walz announced closures for restaurants, bars and numerous other gathering places earlier this week. Small businesses such as boutiques and local retailers are allowed to remain open — but many are only doing so with the addition of new services aimed at curbing the virus.

Locally owned Zenith Bookstore in West Duluth decided to completely close its doors to the public, said owner Bob Dobrow. They also had to reduce staff hours. Now, staff will field and complete book orders, as well as answer book recommendation questions.

Libby Fina of Duluth looks at a book Wednesday from a cart containing free books outside of Zenith Bookstore in West Duluth. Even though the store is closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, owner Bob Dobrow is offering free books to the community. The cart will be in front of the store when the weather allows for it. (Clint Austin /


The decision was “driven by a really strong sense of social responsibility,” Dobrow said. He said that businesses are in a good position to take the lead on minimizing social contact.

Since announcing it would no longer be open to the public, online orders for the bookstore have increased by a factor of four or five.

“It’s really been something (and) incredibly moving to me … how much people are kind of rallying to us,” he said.

Online orders won’t compensate for lost in-person sales, but they will help the store maintain the status quo, ensuring rent and staff are paid, Dobrow said.

“(We want to) maintain a level where we're not hemorrhaging, that's what we’re hoping,” he said. “I think we will be able to if the online sales are at the level they've been the last couple of days.”

This cart outside of the side door of Zenith Bookstore in West Duluth is where customers can pick up orders that they purchased online or over the phone. The store is closed to the public but is offering other ways to get products during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Clint Austin /

McTavish Quilting Studio in the Chester Creek neighborhood is staying open, but limiting store capacity to three people, owner Karen McTavish said. It also added curbside drop-off and pickups, ensuring the business can still receive and fulfill orders.


Even with her older clientele staying home, she said the business has received enough work to stay open and support the one other employee.

“Businesses around me are closing, and that's a really scary feeling. … Things were going great until they weren't,” she said. “Most people will be home sewing, using up fabric — that's the bright side of this thing.”

To ensure customers feel comfortable when shopping, Duluth Running Co. expanded its remote shopping opportunities by adding video conferencing for shopping, new delivery options and curbside pickup, said Clint Agar, who owns the local business with his wife, Andrea.

“These kinds of (local) businesses depend on revenue and spending,” Clint Agar said. “We have to balance that with the safety of everyone.”

Employees will deliver purchases within a 10-mile radius of the store, located at 1026 E. Superior St. For more hands-on help, people can also set up a video call with an employee by calling 218-728-1148 or by emailing — a service they expect to pick up the longer people are in quarantine.

“We, as a brick-and-mortar, (offer) a lot of value proposition in dialogue, in interacting with customers, just beyond (selling) products,” Clint Agar said. “People, a lot of times, they want feedback.”

They've reduced hours for staff, but are keeping everyone employed.

"That's kind of the unfortunate piece of it," he said.


Agar encouraged people to get outside.

“Running is the safest way right now to maintain social distancing and maintain health,” he said.

One new Lincoln Park business is shifting its business model — before it’s even had the chance to open its doors.

With many opting to stay home and not shop, Liila Boutique has ramped up its online presence by listing as many of its products as possible online, according to a news release from the company.

The boutique, offering unique women's clothing and accessories, had plans to open its doors in October at 2022B W. Superior St., but construction delays pushed that date back.

When it launched, a major online presence wasn’t initially a part of the store's plans.

“We wanted people to enjoy the experience of shopping in a small store. We wanted them to be able to see the items, touch them, and try them on in a comfortable environment,” co-owner Amanda Rolfe wrote. “That focus remains, but we have to recognize what the current environment looks like.”

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Bartender Aaron Benson fills a bottle with denatured alcohol spray for customer Krista Sivertson at Vikre Distillery Monday afternoon. Vikre announced on social media they are offering the sanitizer for free and encourage people to bring an empty container up to 16 ounces. (Tyler Schank /

Although mandated to close its taproom, Vikre Distillery is bringing people in by offering free hand sanitizer.

The distillery already had the ingredients needed for hand sanitizer. From noon to 5 p.m. weekdays, the public can stop by and receive 16 ounces while businesses and other entities can receive up to a gallon, cocktail room manager David Moreira said.

“Hopefully, this is a positive thing that others will model,” he said.

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Along with offering free sanitizer spray, Vikre Distillery posted signs encouraging people to wash their hands in the sink next to the kitchen. (Tyler Schank /

For more information

The Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce has an updating list of current business closures, hours and more: .

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