DULUTH, Minn. (AP) — Business leaders in Duluth are getting creative to fill some vacant downtown space with a contest that offers free storefronts to people with the most promising business plans.

The city estimates the value of each storefront giveaway at $55,000, counting a year’s free rent plus help with start-up costs. Winners will also get an advertising deal, marketing help and retail and business counseling. They must sign three-year leases, however, which could be a drawback for some.

The contest has been a success, with 56 applicants for the two storefronts, the Duluth News Tribune reports. That group has been narrowed to 15, with plans ranging from art galleries to women’s clothing to restaurants.

Many of the hopefuls are entrepreneurs who have been trying to start businesses but have struggled to come up with enough money.

One finalist is a Duluth woman hoping to open a dessert-only restaurant that would have a build-your-own cupcake bar.

Another is Dan Neff, an artist who makes jewelry, paperweights, sculptures and other items from glass. He’s been trying to open a storefront gallery for two years.

“When I saw the opportunity, I thought, ‘Here’s my chance to finish the plan and get a storefront,’ ” Neff said.

Finalist John McCarthy has run an antiques shop in Two Harbors since 2002. He said customers have been begging for a shop in Duluth, and he’s tried, but start-up costs were too high for him.

Finalists must submit detailed business plans by June 1, and a panel of judges will choose the winners two weeks later. They’ll choose one new retailer and one that’s expanding to downtown.

The idea behind the contest is to attract retailers to downtown Duluth and fill the empty storefronts with business concepts that complement the existing mix of shops and eateries. Kristi Stokes, president of the Greater Downtown Council, which is running the contest, said the response has been overwhelming.


(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (8)
  1. Victim Du Jour says:

    Duluth thinks it deserves special treatment. I’m going to go fondle my sweaters.

    1. Ricky says:

      Huh? what do you mean by special treatment?

    2. Nancy says:

      victim du jour – do you have a brain in your skull or just lots of hot air that seeps out on here

  2. Donna N says:

    Brilliant idea! With more stores closing in towns all over is a great way to generate interest in the town and fill some vacant buildings. That really gives a lift to oher businesses! BRAVO

  3. Mike S says:

    That city’s a dump. I lived their for years. Everything’s overpriced and overrated. Maybe this contest will change that.

  4. This is great news and a huge spirit lifter for everyone. This makes me happy just reading it! The world needs more of this and less pay now tax more. There is no reason why every town can not do this. Look to the towns in western Minnesota. The term ghost town is not to far from a reality! I hope this spreads and other towns take notes. It is only good! And so what if the new business fails sometime there after. Atleast someone with a dream had a shot and the curb appeal went up if only for a short time! Empty main street buildings are depressing and should be filled whenever possible! Go job Duluth!

  5. Longfellow says:

    The city is broke, has been for years. City is number one employer and has given lifelong full coverage benefits to workers and now cannot foot the bill. They raised taxes but of course it gets worse each year. Businesses have move to areas with lower taxes so now you have a city of demacratics and unions with no one to pay the bill.

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