Tim and Angie Allen have been at this for a while.
After 13 years and numerous awards, the Duluth innkeepers are ready to sell historic A.G. Thomson House at 2617 E. Third St. They recently listed the property — made up of 10 bedrooms, 10 bathrooms, a main house, a carriage house on 2.4 acres — for $1.35 million.
It comes with mixed emotions, Tim said.
They tried turning their homes before A.G. Thomson House into a bed-and-breakfast. After settling in Duluth after a long career as a military family, the Allens’ goal finally came to fruition.
* * *
The home has a rich history.
It was originally built for William Ryerson in 1909, designed by Minneapolis architect Edwin H. Hewitt.
It’s named after successful grain exporter Adam G. Thomson, who purchased the property in 1918. Former Duluth Mayor John Fedo owned the home from 1986 to 1989.
Bill and Becky Brakken transformed the property into a bed-and-breakfast in 2000, a move that came with opposition from neighbors, a denial and a subsequent narrow vote of approval of a special-use permit from the City Council — and a lawsuit that was later dismissed.
At that time, A.G. Thomson House was the city’s 10th historic B&B.
Duluth now has six: The Cotton Mansion at 2309 E. First Street; The Ellery House at 28 S. 21st Ave. E.; Solglimt Lakeshore Bed and Breakfast at 828 S. Lake Ave.; The Firelight Inn on Oregon Creek Bed and Breakfast at 2211 E. 3rd Street; and The Merryweather Inn at 2316 E 1st St.; and A.G. Thomson House.
The property needed TLC, Bill said by phone. He and his then-wife, Becky, pumped their life savings into it. They added fireplaces and whirlpool tubs.
He and Becky divorced in 2005, and he ran the B&B solo for two years. The house was on the market for nearly two years when the Allens came along.
Now a Realtor and the owner of Cable Nature Lodge, Bill said he will sometimes drive by A.G. Thomson House for nostalgia when he’s in town. He never stops, but he has followed the inn’s success online.
“They’ve done a tremendous job with the grounds. I was trying, but it was nothing compared to what they’ve done,” he said.
It has set a standard in Duluth and throughout the state, he added.
* * *
“Everything you see here, the gardens, the structures, even the green grass, didn’t exist,” Angie said, sitting outside the front of the B&B.
“Even the color of the house, it was teal. It looks happy when it’s yellow,” said Tim, seated next to her.
Ignorance was bliss in the early days of the inn, Tim said. They hadn’t run a B&B before, and on their first morning, their daughter checked in guests while the Allens closed on the property. They returned from the title company to empty cupboards, which made for quick thinking for the guests' breakfasts.
“We always had the confidence, and none of this is rocket science,” Tim said. “It’s being nice to people, it’s talking to people. It’s cooking, it’s managing it all.”
Since 2007, the Allens have run their B&B through the Great Recession and COVID-19. After being closed for two months this spring and making several adjustments, from cleaning to offering meal delivery, they said their sales are year-to-date ahead of what they made in 2019.
Asked what helped them persevere through these rocky times: “We would've lost our home and our business. There’s no better motivator to work hard,” Tim said.
In 2012 and 2016, A.G. Thomson House ranked No. 1 out of more than 21,000 U.S. bed and breakfasts on online traveler site TripAdvisor.com. It was named "Best Bed & Breakfast of the Midwest" by Midwest Living magazine.
Kirsten Mason came on as assistant innkeeper more than a year ago. She calls the work a “lifestyle,” that allows you to contribute to the best part of people’s lives.
“They come here to celebrate their anniversary or their wedding, these big life events, and they chose to do it with us. You don’t get that at very many other jobs.”
“We’re seeing people when they’re at their best,” Tim added.
Though they know it’s out of their control, the Allens hope to see a B&B continue, or for the property to become a residence for a big family. “I would really hate to see it go as a rental; that would be heartbreaking,” Angie said.
Asked when they knew it was time to move forward, Angie said, standing on the front lawn: You want to try to let it go before it’s way past time.
“This was a dream of mine,” she said. “I fulfilled the dream, and we did a pretty darn good job at it. … With flipping (houses) and the success we’ve had there, I’m ready to build that dream.”