Freimuth’s Department Store closes, 1961

October 18, 1961

Freimuth’s Department store at the corner of Superior Street and Lake Avenue in downtown Duluth, circa 1960. (News-Tribune file photo)

Freimuth’s to quit business today

Duluth Herald, October 18, 1961

Freimuth’s Department Store, Duluth’s oldest family-owned firm, will go out of business at 5:15 p.m. today.

J.J. Mickelson, Minneapolis, court-appointed trustee of the financially troubled store, ordered the closing. He said he had no alternative.

The store went into bankruptcy Monday after a reorganization plan, worked out by the U.S. District Court and the referee in bankruptcy in Minneapolis, failed to restore the firm’s financial footing.

Edgar Freimuth, president of Freimuth’s, at 2 W. Superior St., said his 60 employees did not learn of their job losses until Tuesday. He told them as soon as he learned of the decision, he said.

Freimuth’s was founded in 1883 by the present president’s grandfather, I. Freimuth, as a general store, and was moved to its present location in 1900 from 119 W. Superior St.

Freimuth said another 40 persons are employed in leased departments which "will remain open at least temporarily." The leased departments are Gift House Stamps, furniture, beauty shop, a post office sub-station, millinery, watches and jewelry, downtown ticket office, restaurant and shoe repair.

Freimuth said he "explored every possible course of keeping the store operating." …

"I had no alternative but to order the closing," Mickelson said. "The reorganization plan failed. If the people of Duluth were interested in keeping Freimuth’s open they should have supplied the necessary capital." …

Mickelson said he will come to Duluth and make arrangements for a complete inventory of the stock. Then he will decide whether to sell the inventory in bulk "or to someone who wants to operate a department store," he said.

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Freimuth’s was located on the site of what is now an open plaza next to the Minnesota Power building, where the city Christmas tree is displayed each year.

After the department store closed, the building – known as the Fowler Building – sat largely vacant for several years. It was acquired, along with the neighboring Fidelity Building, in 1968 by a group called Duluth Downtown Properties Inc., and was razed in April of that year (more on that below).

In November 1968, the News-Tribune reported that the group wanted to remodel the Fidelity Building "for use as a motor hotel of about 100 units. It would be in conjunction with a parking ramp and retail shops to be constructed on the site of the Freimuth Building."

Obviously, that didn’t happen. From what I can tell, the site sat empty until the Minnesota Power complex went in…. but if anyone out there knows more and can fill in the gaps, please post a comment.

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The photo above has some nice detail. Here are some zoomed-in views.

Looking south down Lake Avenue, there is the railing of the bridge over Michigan Street, then the Metropole Hotel building. Among the other signs just visible are one for Joe Huie’s Cafe, and one for Old Bohemian beer:

Here is a look at the busy Superior Street facade of Freimuth’s:

Next door to the Freimuth’s building was the Fidelity Building, housing – at this time – what appears to be the Kelley-Duluth hardware store (the sign is a bit hard to read). Beyond that to the west, it looks like there was a furniture store:

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Here is another photo of Freimuth’s, from August 4, 1959, showing a window display that must have been celebrating the new St. Lawrence Seaway:

In the background, behind the people looking in the window, is a building with a "Diamonds" sign on it, so I’m guessing it housed a jewelry store. It appears that it’s located where the Tech Village complex is today. Anyone have more information?

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As mentioned earlier, the Freimuth’s / Fowler Building came down in April 1968. Here are a couple photos of the demolition, both from April 16, 1968:

Razing of the Freimuth Building in Duluth began Monday, attracting the attentionof pedestrians on the Lake Avenue viaduct sidewalk. Demolition of the building by Earth Movers of Duluth, Inc., is on contract to Duluth Downtown Properties Inc. The latter corporation is razing the structure for possible development of a retail store, parking ramp and motel complex. (News-Tribune file photo)

Visible in the photo above is an entrance to Joe Huie’s Cafe and the Metropole Bar:

Here is the second razing photo:

The Freimuth Building, long an important part of the Duluth business community, is being razed for possible development of a retail store, parking ramp and motel complex. (Duluth Herald file photo)

Visible in this photo are a Fitger’s beer sign along Michigan Street behind the crane, and in the far, far background is a very early Skywalk "bridge" over Michiagn Street - I think that’s the one out the back of what is now Wells Fargo Bank:

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Finally, here is the last Freimuth’s image from the archives – an undated artist’s concept for what probably would have been a major renovation, rather than a replacement, of the Freimuth’s Building:

This would probably date to 1955-1960; judging from the financial difficulties the store faced in 1961, I don’t think they would have been planning such major work anytime after 1960.

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So that’s everything about Freimuth’s in the Attic’s clipping and photo files… and I’m exhausted. I’ve been going at a whirlwind pace on posting the past couple months. I’m going to scale back just a bit in frequency of posting for a while; we’ll see you back here in a few days.

22 thoughts on “Freimuth’s Department Store closes, 1961

  1. l came to Duluth in 1963 some of the large department stores were still there Such fun to explore!!! on said:

    Good to know Duluth’s history and what people nowadays are missing–the closeness of the retail business–one came from the range on the train could shop, eat at Gustafsons,etc. then go home on the evening train–such memories!!!

  2. Pingback: Corner of Superior and Lake, circa 1930 | News Tribune Attic

  3. The “early skywalk” mentioned was probably the one that went from the Glass Block store to their paking ramp below Michigan Street. The skywalk was taken down when Glass Block was demolished for the Construction of the First Bank building along with an updated skywalk connection to the remaining ramp.

  4. Pingback: Corner of Superior and Lake, 1988 | News Tribune Attic

  5. It is so nice to read about all the good things everyone has to say about my father and his brothers store… I also have great memories of growing up with the store and remember all the things I lvoed about it……. From the building and the location, to the floors and getting to each one on that old elevator……. Going down to the basement to get something to eat or go into the cash room where I loved to make the change from the containers coming down the pneumatic chutes and sending them back up……… To working, even as a kid on the 3rd floor where the toys and trains were…….. I even sold one!!!!!!!!!!! And, watching the parades going down Superior Street from the windows in my dads office………… And, the pigeons used to nest on the backside of the store facing Michigan Street and we would wait and watch the eggs hatch………..You can’t turn back time, but I sure wish the store was still there……………I miss it, and the downtown atmosphere and Duluth………. And, as some have said, the window displays were great…….. Nothing like walking down Superior street in the Winter and over the Holidays and looking in the store windows……I am very appreciative to all of you for saying such nice things and knowing our family store, Freimuth’s, meant so much to everyone. Thank you…………….

    • My grandmother’s father was Louis Freimuth. I was never told much about her side of the family and so I love this article. I wish I knew more about them. I was aware of the department store, but it’s so nice to have some actual information on it.

  6. My grandmother, Pearl Skendziel worked at Freimmuth’s in the ’50′s. She baked for the restaurant. I remember going to the store many times as a kid-once there was a pet show in the children’s department and my sister, Patty Jerina and I had our picture in the newspaper-best behaved children at the pet show!! I remember going to see Santa there as well, and maybe having our pictures taken in the photo studio. Good times.

  7. I concur with Mr Sigel that Savolainen’s Jewerly store was kiddy-corner to the Freimuths Dept Store. Wonderful store. I lived in Duluth from 1946 until 1963. We moved back in 1989. It’s nice to see all these pictures of the town as we knew it when we grew up. Yes, times and economy’s change. Duluth is doing fine. We don’t have to be the biggest and the best but look at our natural beauty – not found too many places in this country. Wouldn’t trade it. Enjoy!!

    Thanks for the good work on the pages.

  8. Thanks for this…downtown Duluth used to be so cool, prior to the opening of Miller Hill Mall. The Christmas shopping season would see all the merchants open until 9pm five days a week, loads of people on the sidewalks, and splendid decorations framing Superior Street. Joe Huie’s was the after hours place to chow, way before Perkin’s. The Metropole was $.20 taps and a very, shall we say “Diverse” clientele? How many recall that Lake Avenue used to go over Michigan Street on the west side of the steam plant rather than the east side as it does now? Canal Park Drive used to be south First Avenue East. In the photo with the Fitger’s sign on the upper side of Michigan Street, I do not recall the name of that bar. I believe the skywalk in the background connects Glass Block and TownPark? ramp. The wooden sidewalks on the Lake Avenue viaduct were hard on bike tires…and bare feet. The Attic is very cool. Thank you.

  9. Pingback: Freimuth’s Department Store | News Tribune Attic

  10. Just a quick FYI,

    The Freimuth family home was at 13th and 2nd Street. I eventually became Chester Creek House ( a hippy comune in the 70′s) and the first location of the Whole Foods Co-Op. I lived there with my family from 1971-1979. It’s still a co-operative living house

  11. I appreciate your hard work, too. It’s wonderful to see all these old photos. I don’t remember ever going to Freimuth’s, but if I could go back in time, I’d shop every floor. I’m adding it to my list of places to visit in case I ever get the chance to go back in time. Who knows? It could happen. I’d also stop at Joe Huie’s for deep fried shrimp, and the run to Glass Block to visit the stationery department for a box of Montag’s perfumed paper.

  12. Freimuth’s Department Store always seemed to carry quality products at an affordable price. I bought at least two very fashionable coats there when I first started working.
    Also the window displays, especially at Christmas, were always a delight. I remember live sheep, and one time a Tuckered out Santa being given a steaming footbath by Mrs. Santa. Somehow the window designer devised a continuous flow from tea kettle to washtub.

  13. Those who think change has been better need to look at the city budget even going back to the Doty years. Native Duluthians know the city was born by industry not tourism. You can have your coffee houses and over-priced specialty stores. Bring back industry and high paying jobs. Then you will see a healthy city economy.

  14. Boy, did the Freimuth story ever bring back memories. I worked for the S & H Green Stamp Co, which had their redemption office on the 4th floor, with the stock room on the 5th floor. I worked there for about five years, hauling freight from Michigan St. on the antiquated freight elevator to the stockroom. I unloades, restocked the merchandise, cleaned the floor, and cancelled full books of Green Stamps. The cancelling machine, hand operated. contained 30 punches to put holes in the book, as there were 30 stamps per page.

    The old open grated passenger elevators were also antiqutes, at least when I was there fron 1947 thru 1952.

    My Mother worked in the ‘cash’ room, which would get the sales slip and money via the mechanical tube system, make the change, and return the tube to the proper department.

    The furniture department was also on the 4th floor, and they had a furnature refinishing dept. on the 5th floor, along with their extensive stockroom.

    I really enjoy this web site, even though I’ve been gone from Duluth since 1953. I do return every summer to the Duluth area.

  15. I am a frequent visitor to your website. I love seeing and reading Duluth’s history. Thank you for all your research and work!

    Change is difficult – many (most commenters) see it as negative. I think most every generation sees change not as progress but as something “worse”. Growing up here in the 70′s & 80′s, I did not see the Mall, or all the development up over the hill as negative. It was exciting.

    This was the normal course of development in those decades. Proclaimed at the time as the “death of downtown” all over the nation. Business, like most things in life, swings like a pendulum. Look now, downtown is redefining itself. Canal Park led the way in the 90′s, with both restoration and new construction happening here and there in downtown proper these last 10 years.

    Yet even with that, people complain. The run-down buildings can’t be torn down because they are “historic”. That is only because of your memories of things that happened in those buildings. If it is economically feasible to restore, great. If not, let the owner exercise his right to improve his property by tearing down and rebuilding. A building does not define a city.

    I am a native Duluthian. And proud to be one. Somehow, I am not the stereotypical Duluthian, who complains about change, complains about lack of change, complains about lack of jobs, yet stops businesses by protesting every move they make. Why so pessimistic folks? Stop listening to all the negativity out there! While all change is not good, all change is not bad, either. Move forward Duluth! It is not 1950 anymore.

  16. Hi,
    I grew up in Two Harbors in the 1950′s. Thank you for this walk down memory lane, when downtown Duluth was really the place to go! Wahl’s, The Glass Block, Woolworths, the early Maurice’s, etc. Amazingly just yesterday while eating at Grandma’s at Canel Park I was trying to explain to my husband where Joe Huie’s Cafe was!
    Thank you for your great work!

  17. When growing up in Duluth, both the downtown,
    West End, and West Duluth business districts were very busy and active. Of course, at one time Duluth had much more industry than at the present and it seems to me that once the Miller Hill Mall was established, the surrounding business districts struggled to compete. I remember several shoe stores (Clark’s, Plaza Bootery, Unden’s)to name a few that have been closed for several years. Times change but not for the better.

  18. I also appreciate your work. I am too young to know about most of postings here but I am interested in the history of Duluth and how things have changed (mostly for the worse in my opinion). Great job giving the people what they want to see. I hope they pay you well.

  19. To let you know, I appreciate your work.
    It’s so sad to look back and see so many family-owned businesses biting the dirt in Duluth.
    But, it’s memories of times that used to be better, in a land that used to be free.
    Only God knows who is to blame. No doubt He’s got ALL the pictures and stories on His hard-drive.
    Again, thank you for your work.

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