Kozy, Ringsred, the rest of the story


Moments after owner Eric Ringsred arrived at the Kozy Bar Tuesday afternoon, he was being solicited as he stood outside.

One bar regular approached, asking if Ringsred had any work to be done.

“Lots,” said Ringsred as he juggled an armful of papers and two dogs on a leash. But the problem is getting the job set up for someone to do, he said, adding apologetically, “I’m not very organized.”

Another man asked Ringsred for $12. Despite the man’s friendy manner and engaging smile, Ringsred resisted. The man was banned from entering the bar. And Ringsred knew that the money would probably go towards the man’s next cocaine fix.

A year or two ago, Ringsred might have simply given the man the money in an effort to help. But Ringsred, an emergency room physician who has owned the Kozy since 2006, has turned a philosophical 180. And it’s at the heart of his decision to get out. To that end, he has listed the business for sale or lease on craigslist.

“Ringsred done with Kozy,” my story in Tuesday’s News Tribune, only scratched the surface. It’s a problem for reporters with our space and time constraints. What do we include in our 20 inches? What do we leave out? Both choices are critical. But one advantage of blogs like this, is we can share aspects of stories that don’t make it in.

And so, here’s more of the story:

Besides being a thorn in the city’s side over the years, Ringsred has a history of buying old historically important but neglected buildings. Among them is the Norshor Theatre. The front of the seedy-looking Kozy Bar in downtown Duluth isn’t architecturally significant, but the 40-unit apartment complex connected behind it, is significant. Dating back to the late 1800s, it was designed by Oliver Traphagen, a reknowned architect.

Ringsred bought it all back in 2006.

One of the most notorious bars in Duluth, police were frequently called to the Kozy for disturbances and other problems. At First Street and Second Avenue East, it’s in the heart of the city’s most troubled and vulnerable population — the homeless, chemically dependent and mentally ill, spiced with chronic offenders.

But Ringsred talked about turning the place around, making it a positive place for the low income, racially-mixed community.

He refused to serve those who came in intoxicated. He banned the worst troublemakers and sent those with minor infractions to church. He started a work-for-rent program, to help people pay their rent at the Kozy Apartments. Staff worked with police. Things improved.

Ringsred’s proud of the safety improvements he made, including putting in a state-of-the-art fire alarm system that was far from cheap.

 “We got the building to pass the housing inspection. It never had passed, ever,” said Ringsred who still plans to spruce up the building’s exterior this summer.

But, he says his efforts were thwarted by both the people he was trying to help and local regulations. Providing residents with phone and Internet access enabled some to simply further their drug dealing. His plans to celebrate black heritage with community events in the Kozy’s Paul Robeson ballroom were blocked by the city, according to Ringsred. A group who met regularly to do Native American crafts on the Kozy’s rear deck ended, he said, when someone got drunk and created a disturbance.

“You just can’t win,” Ringsred said.

He now believes that the people whose lives are guided 24/7 by alcohol, drugs, gambling or mental health issues shouldn’t be surrounded by it as they are there.

“What worst place can you put them?” he asked.

“People with problems shouldn’t be heaped in a pile like this," he said. “They should be in a family environment.”

On the positive side, Ringsred said:
“There is a family here, and people who care about each other. But unfortunately there’s not enough positive role models. And I wish I could change those dynamics.”

9 thoughts on “Kozy, Ringsred, the rest of the story

  1. One thing I think is worth commenting on that all that Eric does he does with goodness in his heart. Not everything he tries works-out and because he is both disorganized and without assistance, much goes unfinished…but never forget that his intentions, regardless of the outcome, are good. I may not agree with the Norshore’s business model or that of either the Cozy Bar or Wabasha Books, but I can guarantee his goal does not include profit.

  2. The thing is, though, that I worked in downtown housing for years and to most of those who arrive in Duluth from larger cities, they look at someone like Ringsred and say ‘I’m gonna take that white guy for all he’s got’ because his views are so idealistic and ridiculous (sending someone to church, for example, is totally inappropriate when they need LIFE SKILLS and WORK ETHIC instead). The one thing these people have never had is a sense of accountability for their actions. It is here that the extremely wealthy and the extremely destitute are on the same page – neither one ever has to worry about anything because they know how to scam their way out of trouble. I used to cringe when people would send their clients or family members to Duluth after leaving chemical dependency treatment – thinking that downtown Duluth was some quaint place like Grand Marais or something – little did they know that the same elements that influenced people to use drugs or alcohol in big cities is right here waiting in Duluth, less than two blocks from our building. I would watch these people fall right back into relapse within a day – nothing we could do – we provided rooms – not a halfway house.

    Ringsred’s problem is that he is not an addiction counselor, nor does he have any background in dealing with what I call parasitic criminals. These are typically the men who move up here, have multiple felonies, find a local woman who lives in ‘housing’ to sponge off of (you always see her driving him around), he doesn’t work but she does, he gets her pregnant, he beats her up, he goes to these bars and find other guys from wherever he came from, and quickly realizes, if things don’t work out with this girl – guess what? Duluth girls are easy. They never say no. You can move in with another one pretty much without asking. And that’s why these guys never leave. This is paradise compared to where they came from. Even if it means living above to Kozy Bar.

  3. I think that Ringsred should sell the Koz to the DCBers! We need a clubhouse to meet up in to practice “free speech.” Mom’s basement is getting old and we are not exactly rolling in money.

  4. You basically said it all. A very honest and frankly horible description of the scenario on first st and at the Kozy.
    The incredible scope of the problem and the sadness it exudes is beyond any easy answer…

  5. Jim M,

    Duluth or the Twin Ports area does not need anymore
    condos, upscale condos or low scale.

    I believe most of the condos are already empty.

    But,people please correct me, if I am wrong.

    I did not agree with Ringsred’s projects, business plans, ideas and etc. But at least he’s trying “hold on” to some of Duluth’s history (building wise).

  6. Even though I don’t agree with alot of Dr. Ringsred’s philosophies, I feel he has done alot of good for Duluth in helping preserve the cultural diversity in Duluth. He has made mistakes, but he seems to have come to the conclusion he was enabling a lot of the negative behavior of the people he was trying to help. Instead of criticizing him, we should be thanking him for his efforts and for admitting and changing his mistakes. I’d like you to consider how much in tax income he brings to Duluth with his properties and the people he employees. Most of these properties would be vacant and not bringing in revenue for the city and the low income people he has tried to help would be under the bridge living or in the park. At least he’s trying. Good luck Dr. Ringsred.

  7. Jon, your problem is you don’t know jack and sound a lot like that yahoo neocon. What about the locals who have lived @ the Kozy for years, on a fixed income and use the bar as their social outlet? What about some of the other regulars who have drank there for years? I cringe whan I see people like you post on these boards when YOU DON’T HAVE A Clue! Sure there are some like you say but ask the POLICE how many of the BAD GANGSTERS from out of town make up the population.

  8. Dr. Can you turn a blind eye, look the other way while people are being eaten alive. The brains from booze and drugs the body from lack of food. catch 22 you can’t close it down then where would we go, what bar what corner what light pool what liquor store. there will always be people like us and people like you who want to help.. keep trying one day one day.

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