Lincoln Park Craft District braces for a tough winter

With in-person sales down, Lila’s Boutique owner Amanda Wolf has shifted the store’s focus to onliine.

 

Since March, when the first big wave of COVID closures began to hit nationwide, all businesses, stores and commercial ventures have had to ride the wave of ever-changing regulations and requirements to be able to keep the doors open. The Lincoln Park District in Duluth has been no exception.

Some businesses have already shut their doors. Mike’s Western Cafe, that had been a fixture for over for 38 years, closed in March. They made the tough choice not to open this summer, when they could only have limited capacity. With only 12 booths and regulations then allowing them only six, they decided it was not feasible to stay open and closed permanently.

U.S. Bank closed its Lincoln Park branch in March and decided not to reopen. U.S. Bank had targeted 10-15 percent of its full-service branches for closure and the pandemic may have increased and sped up that process.

Like all small businesses everywhere, Lincoln Park’s merchants are struggling to hang on through COVID. It has been increasingly difficult, especially without additional federal funds to help with declining revenues. Ripple effects have led to employee layoffs, shortened hours, scaled back menus in some restaurants, and for most, the prospect of a long, bleak winter.

What would normally be one of the busiest times of the year, the holiday season is anticipated to be well below last year, with a big percentage of annual in-person sales replaced by gift cards and shopping online.

Restaurants have been particularly hard hit with the latest state-mandated four-week shut-down of in-person dining and bar sales.

OMC Smokehouse (Oink, Moo, Cluck) is a popular Lincoln District barbecue restaurant featuring a wide variety of smoked meats and sides. OMC Manager Evan Sieve said, “Now that our in-restaurant seating is on hold again for the next month, we will be relying even more on our curbside, takeout and delivery with Food Dudes.”

He added, “We are offering gift cards with bonus certificates and gift cards for each increment of card you buy from $25, $50, and $100 options.” They are also selling their OMC Cookbook, featuring smokehouse recipes (rubs, sauces, beverages, smoked meats & more) on their website.

Sieve noted, “We are doing everything we can to keep the gears churning and to keep our employees with us. We no longer offer lunch, and our store hours are now 3 to 9 p.m. Monday-Thursday and Sunday and Friday and Saturday 3 to 10 p.m.”

Corktown Deli and Brews Manager Jeff Petcoff said similarly, “We have updated our menu. We are doing curbside pickup, takeout, online ordering and (utilizing) Food Dudes for delivery. We are trying to keep all of our employees on staff. Some of them are working fewer hours.” 

“Corktown has Tasty cards available. $100 for 12 sandwiches for up to a $157 value, and we have gift cards,” Petcoff added. The menu includes hot and cold sandwiches, salads, soups, sides, desserts, OMC Smokehouse Express items and deli meats by the pound, cheeses and loaves of bread. 

“With being down 30 to 40 percent in our business, all we can do now is take it one day at a time,” he said.

The Duluth Folk School has a combination of its Dove Tail Cafe and Marketplace and its classroom space for the teaching of a variety of types of crafts and projects. In-person dining has once again closed.

According to Bryan French, folk school co-founder and director, “We have simplified our menu in the Cafe and are still doing takeout now that our indoor seating has been shut down. People can still come in to shop in the Marketplace stocked with locally made goods. We have some items in storage that we didn’t have room for that we will bring out to fill the space where the restaurant seating was.”

The classes that used to be one of the mainstays of the School have been mostly shut down. A few of the teachers have agreed to do very small groups for private classes only. French does guided nature walks that can still be booked for groups.

Classes available to be scheduled privately for families, educational pods or small groups (up to six people) include, woodworking (making canoe paddles and snowshoes), fabric, digital photography, soap and lotion making, rosemaling, and watercolor painting. 

“We have had to pivot since our original mission does not work for now,” French said.  They are looking for a large-acreage farm where they can have specialty buildings for their wide range of classes and a space that would allow them to partner with craft and art organizations that don’t currently don’t have workable spaces of their own.

“If anyone knows a farmer who is ready to be done, and whose family isn’t interested in taking over the family farm, please let us know,” said French. 

Lila’s Boutique is one of the newer tenants on Superior Street in Lincoln Park. Her shop has a wide variety of items including women’s clothing in all sizes, Swedish dish cloths, mugs, candles, bath products, lotions, scarves, hats, mittens and purses,

“With in-person sales down, we have shifted our focus to our website. And we will do private appointments for shopping before and after our regular hours. People can call to set up appointments,” said store owner Amanda Wolf.

Customers can order online and do curbside pickup and order gift cards online as well. For in-store shopping, Wolf noted, “We have been very careful to keep all surfaces wiped down, having hand sanitizer out, wearing masks, keeping social distance and only having 10 or fewer people in the store at any time.”

“We offer merchandise that can’t be found anywhere else in town including some made locally,” Wolf said. “We are being very cautious going forward, but I think we can make it through the slow winter season.”

Duluth Pottery is a working studio and gallery that includes pieces from owner/artist Karen Kraemer as well as the work of other professional potters and artists. They also make cups and dishes for area restaurants and breweries, as well as custom tile for businesses and homes.

Kraemer reported that revenues have fallen by half – year over year. “Our gallery is closed and I have also not been able to go to the craft shows where I would have sold my work. I have lots of debt, but I was lucky to get some grants and loans early on that have helped.”

She has been building her online store and working with other galleries to advertise and sell things together. They will do curbside pickup as well as mailing merchandise. “We will also let people shop, by appointment only, in the gallery in small groups,” she noted.

Kraemer hopes that people will buy gift cards. She is also getting ready to be able to do a group gift site with boxes containing her work, the work of other artists and other types of products.

Meanwhile, Lincoln Park retailers and restauranteurs hope that local consumers will shop locally - ordering gift cards for family and friends, doing take-out and delivery with restaurants and observing COVID regulations. Distancing and mask wearing in stores can help assure that the small businesses stay open and will be open on the other side of the crisis.