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West Duluth business owner sends message to city with signs over snow removal

Al Kosters, owner of Spirit Valley Antiques in West Duluth, stands on the sidewalk Wednesday near the large snowbanks along Grand Avenue in front of his business. Kosters would like the city to clear the snowbanks. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com1 / 3
Al Kosters, owner of Spirit Valley Antiques in West Duluth, placed signs in the large snowbanks along Grand Avenue in front of his business. Kosters would like the city to clear the snowbanks. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com2 / 3
Al Kosters, owner of Spirit Valley Antiques in West Duluth, puts together a sign Wednesday protesting the large snowbanks along Grand Avenue in front of his business. Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com3 / 3

West Duluth business owners are speaking up as the snow on their sidewalks has piled up more than 5 feet high.

Since Feb. 1, the city of Duluth has received 26.5 inches of snow, according to the National Weather Service in Duluth. With so much snow in such a short period of time, it has begun to pile up all over the city, but one business district is feeling forgotten.

Businesses along Grand Avenue in West Duluth have snow piled so high, their storefronts are not visible from the road and some say it's beginning to hurt business. Al Kosters, owner of Spirit Valley Antiques and Oddities at 5701 Grand Ave., has tried asking the city for help with the 5-foot-high snow banks to no avail. So he decided to voice his concerns with some lighthearted signs.

"The signs are not meant to be mean," Kosters said. "They're just meant to try and make a point, and that point simply is that West Duluth also deserves (snow removal)."

Koster hammered signs into the snow bank this week, including one with his business name. Some of the signs are cheeky, like one that said, "Welcome to Duluth's newest tourist attraction! The Himalayas."Others are maybe more on the political side with one saying "Can we send this to the Mexican Border? Then Trump gets his wall without picking the pockets of taxpayers or Mex. gov." with an arrow pointing at the snow bank.

"It's becoming a big issue," Kosters said. "A number of businesses have been contacting the street department and have gotten no response."

Kosters has been working in West Duluth for almost two years now. Before that, he worked at Port City Antiques on Superior Street, across from the Holiday Inn in downtown Duluth, and he said there's a stark difference on how snow is removed downtown versus West Duluth.

"I mean they did take their time with snow removal in downtown Duluth, but I take the bus, so I go right through Lincoln Park and downtown Duluth and I've seen that it's been weeks now since they've removed the snow there," Kosters said. "We haven't had any snow removal (in West Duluth) this entire winter."

The city of Duluth removed snow from downtown Duluth from Jan. 16-18 and had plans to remove snow in the Hillside neighborhoods Tuesday, but were unable to due to a snow storm. The city, according to West Duluth Business Club president Susan Coen, was supposed to remove snow early Wednesday morning from West Duluth after being rescheduled three weeks in a row.

"I was told we were on the rotation but due to cold weather that came through they had to cancel snow removal," Coen said. "Then they canceled that following week because it snowed and then they canceled again this week because it snowed."

She said she has not been able to talk to city officials about a rescheduled snow removal date.

"We had our business luncheon with the West Duluth Business Club at Mr. D's (Wednesday) and we are all just kind of feeling like we are just not on (the city's) map," Coen said.

Coen said the snow has been piled so high on the sidewalks that it's spilling into the streets, causing them to become narrow and unsafe with on-street parking.

"We're kind of at our wit's end with this," Coen said. "We've just lost our patience with (the city), I guess is all you could say. We just don't know what else to do."

According to the city of Duluth's website, Grand Avenue in West Duluth is considered a transit route, which is a tier three priority sidewalk area, behind safe routes to school and high pedestrian traffic areas.

"The issue, as I understand it, is that crews have a very hard time keeping up with tier one areas when snow is this persistent," Phil Jents, city of Duluth communication and policy officer, wrote in an email to the News Tribune. "For instance, they make a dent on tier one routes, and then more snow comes, so they have to hit reset. So it can be incredibly challenging to get into the other tiers."

Though for the most part, Jents said, it's the property owner's responsibility to remove snow on sidewalks whether it's put there by a snowplow or not.

"That said, we're committed to reviewing our snow removal responses to better reflect a fair and equitable response to snow events moving forward," he said.

Adelle Whitefoot

Adelle Whitefoot is a Michigan native who moved to Minnesota in Sept. 2014 when she started as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle. She graduated from Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Mich., in 2012 with a bachelor's in English writing and has been a professional photographer since 2011. Whitefoot is the night general assignments reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. 

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