Showcasing how design meets function when it comes to growing Superior’s economy was Mayor Jim Paine's goal Tuesday, June 15, as he led state officials on a tour of some of the city’s flourishing small businesses north of Winter Street.

Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes and Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. Secretary Melissa “Missy” Hughes visited Superior between stops to Siren and Ashland. They visited the area to recognize Softec Education on Tuesday, an entrepreneurship training program in Siren, and to announce the winners of the WEDC’s sixth annual Main Street Makeover Contest, Moores on Main in Ashland.

In between, Barnes and Hughes joined Paine for stops at Sweeden Sweets, where they stocked up on sugary confections; visited the gaming world at Level UP; and had the opportunity to sample local brews at Earth Rider Brewery and Thirsty Pagan.

At Thirsty Pagan, Barnes and Hughes sat down with owners Steve Knauss and Deb Emory to learn more about the business.

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“How did you guys do during the pandemic?” Hughes asked.

“We talked about when we close down … we’re going to do carry out, we’re still going to serve beer and we’re going to learn delivery,” Knauss said.

Emory said it was a learning experience. Last summer they erected a tent in front of the historic train depot on Winter Street so they could serve their customers outdoors and provide live music for their crowds, Emory said. This year, the tent is back because it proved to be a popular feature for the business, she said.

Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (right) listens as Sweeden Sweets co-owner Dan Klarner talks with visitors to the North Superior business on Tuesday, June 15, 2021. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)
Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (right) listens as Sweeden Sweets co-owner Dan Klarner talks with visitors to the North Superior business on Tuesday, June 15, 2021. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

“We had outdoor bands all the time,” Knauss said.

In addition to changing the way the business operated, he said it was an opportunity to get other work done, such as insulating the building's attic, cleaning the sand and clay basement, and painting. The projects helped keep employees who wanted to work on the job.

“We got PPP the first round … and the second round,” Emory said of the Paycheck Protection Program. “We were able to not worry about actually keeping more people here than you actually needed.”

Employers were able to apply for PPP loans through the U.S. Small Business Administration. To qualify, business owners had to maintain employee and compensation levels and spend at least 60% of the funds on payroll costs, according to the SBA. Knauss said the program worked really well for them and the fact that the loans could be forgiven is “super great.”

Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (from left), Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. Secretary Melissa "Missy" Hughes, and Superior Mayor Jim Paine talk near Sweeden Sweets after meeting for a tour of four businesses on Tuesday, June 15, 2021. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)
Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (from left), Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. Secretary Melissa "Missy" Hughes, and Superior Mayor Jim Paine talk near Sweeden Sweets after meeting for a tour of four businesses on Tuesday, June 15, 2021. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)

Paine said the tour was an opportunity to talk about how infrastructure affects community development.

“There is no denying that the Tower (Avenue) project really injected new life into this area,” Paine said.

In 2013, Tower Avenue was completely reconstructed between North Third and Belknap streets, with single drive lanes going north and south, tinted pavement on the sidewalks and new sewer and water infrastructure. The $14 million project included plantings and trees in a center median designed to be pedestrian-friendly.

Paine said he hoped to get other state officials involved in the conversation as he works to extend the downtown design of Tower Avenue north of Belknap Street to North 21st Street with new businesses opening there.

“We’ve got a lot of flourishing businesses there, too,” Paine said. “That’s only going to help them.”

For Hughes and Barnes, the visit was a learning opportunity.

“Superior is a city on the rise,” Hughes said. “It has just a really great, authentic feel — I think that really prepares it for the future.”

Barnes acknowledged that the pandemic has played a significant role in the economy for more than a year.

“You can see on Tower that it’s an area that’s really getting ready to take off,” Barnes said. “COVID could have really derailed that progress. Given the fact that the state was able to step in, do what needed to be done, make some tough decisions … to keep establishments like this afloat, it’s going to pay off in the long-term. It’s already paying off.”