Bentleyville ramps up security ahead of Saturday opening

Santa isn't the only one keeping an eye on visitors during Duluth's Tour of Lights. Donated security services will increase surveillance for the event's newly expanded retail space.

Three security camera stand on top of large containers.
Three security cameras donated and operated by Downtown Computer are positioned up high to survey Bentleyville, as seen Thursday.
Wyatt Buckner / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — The Bentleyville Tour of Lights will return to Bayfront Festival Park for another season of winter wonder — as well as ramped-up security — Saturday night.

Admission is free, made possible by the support of hundreds of volunteers, local businesses and organizations. The display is open through Dec. 26.

On opening night, Santa Claus will be skydiving into Bayfront Park at 4:55 p.m., followed by fireworks at 5:30 p.m.

With up to 350,000 annual attendees estimated each year, Visit Duluth estimates a $21 million–$22 million economic impact to the community during the 38 days Bentleyville is open.

The Zenith City's Christmas season kicks off this weekend with a parade and a lights display. Grab your calendar and peruse our guide to what's coming up.

"Last year was our first year back from our drive-thru with COVID," Bentleyville founder Nathan Bentley said. "Now, COVID seems to be drifting away a little bit more in people's minds, so I think the public's going to come out even stronger. Ticket sales at concerts throughout the city, state and country have skyrocketed. People are out doing things and I think we're going to see a lot of people coming here to Duluth. The hotels, from my communication with a number of them, they are (doing) very well booking."


Turned off Christmas light displays cover the area.
The Bentleyville lights are in position at Bayfront Festival Park on Thursday.
Wyatt Buckner / Duluth News Tribune

While most visitors find themselves on Santa's "nice" list, theft and vandalism have been ongoing in the event's past 15 years at Bayfront.

"Weather conditions actually have a lot to do with things," Bentley said. "The warmer the weather, the more trouble you'll see actually in any community of people out wandering around and causing mischief, so it kind of varies from year to year."

Security camera sits up high.
One of Downtown Computer's security cameras watching over Bentleyville is positioned on top of a trailer Thursday.
Wyatt Buckner / Duluth News Tribune

Depending on the year, Bentley said the attraction loses up to $10,000 in equipment and supplies due to theft, in addition to charges pressed for vandalism. Such losses are replenished by more fundraising, requesting more money from sponsors and cutting back on displays.

"We have set budgets for how much we're going to put towards displays," Bentley said. "So when we set that budget in February, and we know that we have to replenish X amount of dollars in stuff that's either been damaged, stolen or vandalized. It comes out of the budget for things that should be adding more fun."

Man points towards camera up near trees.
Downtown Computer President Nicholas Mancini points out one of the security cameras positioned near the trailers at Bentleyville on Thursday.
Wyatt Buckner / Duluth News Tribune

To ensure families are able to focus on warm memories and fun times, Bentleyville partnered with Downtown Computer , a Duluth-based computer sales and service company.

In 2021, Downtown Computer donated around $20,000 in start-up services by installing and monitoring a campuswide closed-circuit television system at Bentleyville, complete with cameras in elevated locations, recorders, surveillance management systems and other technology that can be remotely accessed 24/7, according to Downtown Computer President Nicholas Mancini.

Bentleyville 2020 FILE.jpg
Vehicles line up to visit Santa on Nov. 21, 2020, during the opening night of the Bentleyville Tour of Lights in Duluth. Bentleyville temporarily switched to a drive-thru format due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

"Bentleyville is a huge economic impact for what I would say is a majority of our customers," he said. "Hotels, restaurants, the shops in town — they all need computers, networks and guys like us to keep their stores safe, but also functioning."

Following the success of the video surveillance system, which deterred vandals in 2021, additional security measures for 2022 were announced during a media conference Thursday. Continued costs for the security services are estimated at a $15,000 annual donation.


Holiday merchandise fills a large retail space.
Bentleyville's new 4,000-square-foot retail space, as seen Thursday, is filled with merchandise monitored by Downtown Computer's security system.
Wyatt Buckner / Duluth News Tribune

This year's video surveillance footprint of the event will expand. In addition to the system launched last year, Downtown Computer is monitoring Bentleyville’s newly purchased 4,000-square-foot retail space. The former 800-square-foot retail space is now used as heated storage for backstock items.

24 hour video monitoring sign.
These signs are located in Bayfront Festival Park in the hopes of deterring anyone who may try to vandalize or steal from Bentleyville.
Wyatt Buckner / Duluth News Tribune

"Various businesses came together to help build this, from the iron workers (union members) donating their services to put it up, to Sunbelt Rental donating the floor, the mats being donated to us, and, of course, Downtown Computer putting security in for us. Everybody is coming together to help make this work," said Bentley.

Downtown Computer has also developed a next-generation network to handle Bentleyville’s point-of-sale and other IT needs, Mancini said. Altogether, he estimates the system took 70 hours and a crew of 14 people to install.

In addition, organizers consult with the Department of Homeland Security regarding safety measures due to the size of the event, Bentley said. The Duluth Police Department is hired to provide additional patrol during Bentleyville hours of operation.

When I heard about Bentleyville, I knew I had to go. Not only did it sound fun, but it was free, which was a primary qualification for choosing most activities in those days. My partner and I made a date.

Brielle Bredsten is the business reporter for the Duluth News Tribune.

She earned a bachelor's degree in Professional Writing & Technical Communication, with minors in Advertising and Creative Writing from Metropolitan State University, in addition to a two-year professional paid internship as reporter/editor of the student newspaper.

She is an award-winning professional writer, photographer and editor based in rural Minnesota. Over the past decade, Brielle Bredsten has contributed more than 1,000 articles, feature stories, non-profit press-releases, photographs and columns. Her work has been published in several community newspapers.

Send her story tips, feedback or just say hi at
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