While 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic brought many challenges to the business community, for some it marked the start of something new. The West Duluth community welcomed a few new small businesses to bring more eco-friendly choices, ambiance and a new place to gather — though at a responsible distance.

Ren Market provides sustainable options

Ren Market owner Kendra Dean has a passion for sustainability. Her background in environmental science and own journey to reduce the waste she produces inspired her to open her store, which specializes in zero-waste products.

"I became frustrated that it's so hard to find products, specifically for the kitchen and bathroom, that are plastic-free. So much comes packaged in plastic and we don't think anything about grabbing another container," Dean said. "I was a little disgusted with myself for the amount of waste."

Owner of Ren Market Kendra Dean poses for a portrait Friday, Feb. 19, in her shop in West Duluth. Dean aims to bring sustainable and environmentally friendly products to Duluth. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
Owner of Ren Market Kendra Dean poses for a portrait Friday, Feb. 19, in her shop in West Duluth. Dean aims to bring sustainable and environmentally friendly products to Duluth. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

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After Dean visited a zero-waste store in the Twin Cities, she was inspired by the concept and believed it would fit in Duluth.

At Ren Market, located at 519 N. Central Ave., Dean buys items, such as eco-friendly shampoo, in bulk and customers bring their own containers for refills.

"It produces less waste and that way you only pay for the amount that you want," Dean said.

Dean strives to keep her cleaning and household products, from kitchen cleaners to shampoo bars, from ethical sources, affordable and environmentally friendly.

The bottle bank (bottom shelf) at Ren Market allows customers to repurpose used, sanitized containers for free that have been donated. Customers may also purchase brand new containers (top shelf) if they wish. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
The bottle bank (bottom shelf) at Ren Market allows customers to repurpose used, sanitized containers for free that have been donated. Customers may also purchase brand new containers (top shelf) if they wish. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

The store opened in November and Dean said the community has embraced the concept.

"People kind of need to come in and look around before they get it, but once they do, they're usually pretty excited," Dean said.

Naturalight Candles shines a light

Kyia Plummer has been making candles for nine years. It started as a hobby. She made a few for friends and family around the holidays. But eventually, she started making them to sell at craft shows and art marketplaces.

Naturalight Candles owner Kyia Plummer poses for a portrait Friday, Feb. 19, at her shop in West Duluth. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
Naturalight Candles owner Kyia Plummer poses for a portrait Friday, Feb. 19, at her shop in West Duluth. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

"Then 2020 happened and all the shows and festivals I go to were canceled," Plummer said. "I decided it was time to just go for it. The space popped up and I thought, yeah. Let's give it a shot." Her store is located at 517 N. Central Ave.

Plummer's candles are 100% soybean wax candles made with phthalate- and paraben-free oils and pure-cotton wicks — avoiding petroleum byproducts, lead and zinc in the wicks.

"They last longer than average candles and give off a nice scent that doesn't slap you in the face with a strong scent when you walk into a room," Plummer said.

In addition to her handmade candles, Plummer sells gift-worthy merchandise created by local artists and friends.

Egyptian amber is part of Naturalight Candles' Northwoods Collection. The collection features outdoor-inspired scents, like fresh pine, cedar smoke and oak moss & amber. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
Egyptian amber is part of Naturalight Candles' Northwoods Collection. The collection features outdoor-inspired scents, like fresh pine, cedar smoke and oak moss & amber. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

"So far, the community's been accepting and excited," Plummer said. "People seem excited to see small businesses like this popping up and it's just been a wonderful experience so far."

The Boreal House celebrates tumultuous first year

When The Boreal House owner Katie Fast and her business partner, Julie LaTourelle, opened up the small bar at 330 N. 57th Ave W. in February 2020, Fast remembers being concerned about whether people would come.

"We sat in the bar and I thought, 'I really hope somebody shows up,'" Fast said. "It was our first time doing something like this and we didn't know how it would go. But a year later, I can say, 'Man, did people show up.'"

The Boreal House is located at 330 N. 57th Ave. W., Duluth. (Steve Kuchera / 2020 file / News Tribune)
The Boreal House is located at 330 N. 57th Ave. W., Duluth. (Steve Kuchera / 2020 file / News Tribune)

But owning a new bar in 2020 did come with some unexpected complications. Five weeks after their grand opening, the first COVID-19 shutdown hit and the bar didn't open again until June 1. They're recently reopened after the late-November shutdown.

"But we're still here," Fast said. "And the outpouring of support from this community has been wonderful."

The bar specializes in local brews on 16 taps, a craft cocktail menu made from local and regional liquors and a snack menu with items such as nachos, Duluth's Best Bread pretzels and homemade dips with chips.