A story today tells you about the three big winners in the Greater Downtown Councilâ€™s contest that will put new retailers in three of the empty storefronts on Duluthâ€™s Superior Street.
There were so many good business plans submitted, that the judges couldnâ€™t limit themselves to two winners. Thatâ€™s good for us, because now weâ€™re getting three new retailers.
All three will get storefronts rent-free for a year, along with lots of expert help to help them succeed.
Two Â â€” a womenâ€™s clothing store and an art glass shop â€” should be open by the holiday shopping time. A baby boutique is coming early next year after the owner â€” how fitting! â€” has another baby. Exact store sites are yet to be nailed down.
All three had been doing due diligence and working towards their dreams of opening a store when the contest came along. So it was perfect timing, they say.
But thereâ€™s more to tell you about these businesses than I could cram into todayâ€™s story. So hereâ€™s a summary of each venture…. coming soon to a storefront near you:
WOMEN’S CLOTHING SHOP (yet to be named)
There was a time when downtown Duluth had several high quality womenâ€™s apparel shops downtown. Not so much anymore (though Zoeâ€™s Boutique and Catherine Imports comes to mind).
But Wendy Myers â€” with 20 years experience in retail and management â€” plans to boost the offerings by opening an an upscale franchise womenâ€™s clothing store that will feature designer brand and celebrity lines like Jessica Simpson and William Rast.
She canâ€™t reveal what that franchise is yet, because the deal isnâ€™t final. But she said it will be new to Minnesota and â€œfabulous.â€
Myers, who lives in Duluth, has worked for Northern Reflections and American Eagle Outfitters, among others. She started working on her dream of opening her own stop last summmer, taking the Northeast Entrepreneur Fundâ€™s business planning class. She was hoping to open a store this spring.
Her target market for her â€œcasual to dressy, trendy to sophisticatedâ€ apparel will be the more mature professional women, meaning not the youthful market most mall stores cater to.
The core focus will be women ages 25 to 45, â€œbut thereâ€™ll be something for anybody in the store from ages 12 to 50 and over. Mothers and daughters can come in and each will find something they like,â€ she said.
Expect prices to start at $10 with the average sale about $55, she says.
Sheâ€™s got two vacant storefronts in mind, including 313 W. Superior St. which is next to Bagley & Co, and once housed Anne Childs womenâ€™s clothing shop.
ALL ABOUT BABY
When Kelly Letko got pregnant with her first baby three years ago, she discovered Duluth offered little more than the standard big box merchandise when it comes to baby equipment and quality bedding.
In the Twin Cities, she found what she liked in specialty stores staffed by knowledgeable staff that big box stores also lack.
â€œIf we can tweak this,â€ she thought, â€œand offer something in Duluth that not everyone else has and also help people through the process, it would be a great addition to the town and the area.â€
Backed with nine years sales experience, three years retail and college studies focusing on advertising and marketing, she began checking out possible sites when the contest was announced in January.
â€œIt took off from there,â€ Letko said of her baby boutique that will emphasize sustainable goods. â€œI couldnâ€™t have timed it any better.â€
The shop, to be called All About Baby, will carry baby equipment, including cribs, Moses baskets, convertible strollers and playpens as well as bedding that can be made to order.
She will have some specialty clothing, such as hard-to-find christening outfits, wooden toys and everyday items such as lotions, baby bathtubs, bottles and breast pumps. Down the road, sheâ€™d like to add maternity wear.
She wonâ€™t compete with Sproutlings, a baby boutique on Central Entrance across from the mall.
â€œI donâ€™t see them as competition at all,â€ she said. â€œTheirs is mostly clothing, mine is furniture and accessories.â€
The storefront she would like is 210 W. Superior St., across from Explorations toy store which she thinks would be a good pairing.
â€œ I like the space,â€ she said of the vacant space. â€œItâ€™s long and narrow so I can have the cribs set up and miniature rooms on one side so people can see what it looks like.â€
Hers will be the last of the three new stores to open, because sheâ€™s having her second baby in December.
LAKE SUPERIOR ART GLASS
When Duluth artist Dan Neff opens his glass art store, heâ€™ll carry more than the large colorful marbles, paper weights, wine goblets, sculptures and other items he creates with a torch.
Heâ€™ll carry the work of other glass artists, broadening his offerings from pendants to stained glass. Heâ€™ll also have an art gallery, sell artist supplies, offer classes and studio rental. And heâ€™ll demonstrate his glass blowing technique in the store window.
â€œFrom our standpoint, someone who would demonstrate their art in the storefront would be a great draw,â€ said Kristi Stokes, Greater Downtown Council president. â€œAnd itâ€™s just really unique.â€
But his mix of offerings made his plan even more more appealing.
Supporting himself as an artist for five years working out of his home studio, Neff has wanted to open a store for more than two years. He has worked with the Northeast Entrepreneur Fund and already had a business plan when the contest came up.
It was his chance to make his dream happen.
Some of his work is on display at Legacy glassworks, a glass art store that opened last year on First Street.
â€œIâ€™ll be competing only a little bit,â€ Neff said. â€œThey sell a lot of functional glass.â€
â€œFunctional glassâ€ is another way of saying glass pipes which many associate with head shops. You wonâ€™t find glass pipes at Neffâ€™s shop, however.
â€œThatâ€™s never been my market,â€ he said.
He has two possible Superior Street locations in mind. But his first choice is corner space in the Center for Nonviolence building at Second Avenue East, across from Old City Hall where a new restaurantÂ and pub will open later this year.
The large storefront windows will provide ample room for his glass making demonstrations. And the site will be in the heart of whatâ€™s becoming the cityâ€™s entertainment district. He sees his shop being an evening attraction, a place people go when they have time to kill before or after dinner or a show.