June 6, 2016
Downtown is a choice. Whether it is to work, eat, shop, see a movie, do your banking, see your dentist or open a business, downtown is a choice we can make every day.
Four years ago, Kristi Stokes of the Greater Downtown Council approached Dan and me, asking, “What would it take for you to open another store, right in downtown Duluth?” It got us thinking. My husband and business partner, Dan Edmunds, and I started looking downtown. We looked at a beautiful downtown storefront that was yet another office space and said, “Let’s gut it.” We put a stake on the corner of Third Avenue East and Superior Street, turned it into Art in the Alley, and called it home.
Why take that level of risk? Why bother to take the time and energy to turn office space into retail space in downtown Duluth? What were we thinking? There was not much retail downtown and the Last Place on Earth was making news much too often.
We were thinking it was the right thing to do — on many levels.
We believed in downtown and all that it stands for in our community.
Growing up on the Iron Range in the ’80s, I remember what real downtowns were made of. The downtown was the hub of the community. It was where you went to get your shoes, jewelry, bakery goods and winter coats. It had the post office and dentist’s office. It was the choice of not one, but two beautiful movie theaters. It was where we “bombed the drag” on weekends with so many teens from neighboring cities. It was the diversity of the local shops and restaurants owned by neighbors, family and friends. Downtown was the heart and soul of the community.
Dan and I wanted to strengthen this feeling in downtown Duluth. And four years ago, downtown Duluth needed us. It needed Art in the Alley. It needed our passion, vision and dedication. It needed a vibrant storefront and unique, artsy retail shop. It needed someone to remember what downtowns used to be, someone who had the determination to help dust off those memories and bring them back to life.
Today, the corner of Third Avenue East and Superior Street is a very different place; it’s a very vibrant place, bustling with activity day and night. Duluth Trading Company is our neighbor across the avenue, and the Lark O’ the Lake Café is across the street. The old Carlson bookstore is undergoing a major renovation, as will the NorShor Theatre. The Last Place on Earth is just a faded memory.
Last year a group of downtown business owners, along with the Greater Downtown Council, worked to develop a new brand for the area east of Lake Avenue, resulting in the Hart District. Thanks to the support from the city of Duluth, the Hart District’s beautiful logo brands the public parking ramp on Superior Street across from ShelDon Print and Design. We have a special group of like-minded downtown entrepreneurs working together to keep the momentum going.
So much has changed over the last four years. Today I am writing to you as chairwoman of the Greater Downtown Council’s board of directors. I am honored to be part of the group that advocates for the downtown businesses and supports development. I am also involved with the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce, VisitDuluth, the Canal Park Business Association and Destination Duluth. There are so many hardworking, passionate and talented individuals working on behalf of our downtown.
But most needed are individuals like you, the consumers who choose downtown. Downtown is fun and exciting, just as we remember. It is a different place than it was just four years ago when Art in the Alley first opened. If you haven’t been downtown recently, we invite you to revisit your downtown and create some memories of your own.
Tami LaPole Edmunds is the owner of Art in the Alley in downtown Duluth and is chairwoman of the Greater Downtown Council board of directors.