Free To A Good Idea: 2 Duluth Storefronts

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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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