Downtown Duluth building to be demolished, displacing businesses

17December 2021

DULUTH — Three popular downtown Duluth businesses will soon be forced out of their century-old building with the owner’s plans to demolish it, the business owners say.

Owners of the 40-year-old Chinese Dragon restaurant, the gift shop Hucklebeary and Old Town Antiques and Books were given 45 days notice to vacate by California-based Hall Equities Group, which purchased the building on the 100 block of East Superior Street in 2019 for $1.65 million. It’s the same company that bought Duluth-based ZMC Hotels in 2015.

“It took us by surprise,” said Carol Jouppi, owner of the antique shop. When Hall Equities purchased it, Jouppi was told the building would eventually be demolished, but she wasn’t given a timeline, she said.

Jouppi and Hucklebeary owner Emily Ekstrom plan to relocate, hopefully downtown. Chinese Dragon owners Man and Jin Tang will retire and close the restaurant Dec. 31, their daughter Melisa Behrendt said.

Ekstrom, due to give birth to her first child Jan. 1, opened her store four years ago as a three-month pop-up shop and was successful enough to remain open. She knew her shop in the building was temporary, having been told of future plans for the block that included a parking lot and eventually a hotel, she said.

“But it’s coming sooner than I originally wanted and planned,” she said. “As a small business owner, how do you have maternity leave and move your business at the same time?”

Ekstrom said that while Superior Street reconstruction and the pandemic created plentiful available space downtown, rents are high in anticipation of the 2023 opening of Essentia Health’s new hospital.

Downtown is her “heart and soul,” she said, and it needs businesses like hers to thrive. The closure of the Electric Fetus last spring hurt the area, she said, and if others leave, it’s “a domino effect” that reduces not only foot traffic and reasons for residents and tourists to spend time and money there, but also its sense of community.

Duluth broker Greg Follmer, who sold Hall Equities the soon to-be-closed building, agreed that the hospital development was creating demand in the eastern section of downtown.

“It’s creating sort of a concentric circle of value around it,” he said, but rental rates are fair and accurate.

Less expensive sites are now found in the western part of downtown and Lincoln Park, he said, both resurging areas.

Ekstrom will stay open through Valentine’s Day and then operate as she did during the height of the pandemic, with online ordering and curbside pickup somewhere temporary, until she finds the right space.

Old Town Antiques will close mid-January, Jouppi said, as she searches for a new location.

The 1906-era building suffered water damage and a fire in recent years.

Hall Equities has indicated to the city of Duluth it would be vacating its tenants to redevelop the site, said Adam Fulton, deputy director of planning and development.

While the city would like to see the block redeveloped, it’s “strongly supportive of these downtown businesses, and wants to see them stay downtown,” he said.

Calls to Hall Equities were not returned.

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