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Harvey Winthrop, Duluth's 'Mayor of First Street,' dies at 88

Harvey Winthrop stands outside Ideal Market in downtown Duluth in November 1998, shortly before the store closed. (News Tribune file photo)

Harvey Winthrop, the longtime owner of downtown Duluth's Ideal Market and fondly called the "Mayor of First Street," died Tuesday at the age of 88.

Winthrop had retired to the St. Paul area, where he died of cancer.

Winthrop was known for his kind demeanor and giving nature in serving downtown residents who often had little or no money, suffered from addictions and other health issues and lived in ramshackle apartments or boarding houses.

Winthrop sold the Ideal Market property and closed the store at 102 W. 1st St. in 1999. The last of Duluth's downtown markets became the Life House youth center.

Founded in 1921 by Winthrop's father, George, and a partner, Lewis Camenker, Ideal Market was once one of downtown Duluth's larger grocery stores, but it had plenty of competition. In the early years, the store was among at least 30 similar grocery stores serving downtown shoppers and businesspeople.

George Winthrop, who later split with his partner, struggled to maintain his share of the market through world wars, the Great Depression, the Cold War and recessions. Harvey took over in about 1965 after finishing college and a stint in the Army, where he was a combat veteran of the Korean War.

Over the years, the competition slowly faded along with the department stores and offices that left town or moved to Miller Hill. In 1978, Red Owl closed and Ideal Market was all alone downtown.

In a 1998 News Tribune interview, then-Duluth Police Chief Scott Lyons said Harvey Winthrop was an unheralded friend to the down and out who lived downtown in places like the Palmer House, the State Hotel and Gardner Hotel. Lyons called Winthrop part grocer, part delivery service and part banker who would hold money for people so they had enough on hand to buy groceries.

Harvey Winthrop inside his Ideal Market store in downtown Duluth. 1998 file / News Tribune

"He talked to them and treated them with lots of respect, and many times gave people things because he knew they couldn't afford to buy them," said Lyons, whose first job was at Ideal Market.

Winthrop even stopped selling lottery tickets because he felt they were a tax on the poor who could least afford to waste the money.

After selling the Duluth store, Winthrop sold real estate for a couple years in Duluth, then moved to St. Paul to be closer to his family, his daughter Pam Lauer told the News Tribune. He worked at Cooper's Foods in St. Paul.

"I think he enjoyed the people, interacting with people. It made his life purposeful," said Bob Winthrop, Harvey's son. "One of the things he did, even at 88, was to go around the neighborhood, on his way to work, and look for shopping carts that people took home and bring them back to the store."

Harvey Winthrop continued working until August when his cancer was diagnosed, Bob Winthrop said.

Winthrop was a lifelong member of Temple Israel in Duluth and served on the synagogue board and as president of B'nai B'rith. His wife, Esther, died in 2016.

Winthrop's funeral service is set for 10 a.m. Thursday at Beth Jacob Congregation, 1179 Victoria Curve in Mendota Heights, Minn., with a graveside service at 2:30 p.m. Thursday at Tifereth Israel Cemetery in Duluth.

Donations can be made to the Talia Fund, a pediatric cancer fund at the Band of Parents, a fund named after Winthrop's granddaughter Talia Joy Castellano, who preceded him in death.

A full obituary can be found here.

Read more about Ideal Market here.