Miller Hill Hardee’s destroyed by fire, 2001

July 8, 2001

Duluth firefighters battle a fire that destroyed the Hardee’s Restaurant near Miller Hill Mall on July 8, 2001. No one was injured in the fire, which a manager said started in an office. (Ann Arbor Miller / News Tribune)



By Elizabeth Gudrais, News Tribune, July 9, 2001

Now there’s one less place to get fast food in Duluth.

A fire destroyed the Hardee’s Restaurant near Miller Hill Mall Sunday afternoon, leaving 30 workers jobless.

Twenty-four firefighters spent more than two hours fighting the blaze with three high-powered ladder hoses, using about 250,000 gallons of water.

No one was injured in the fire. Duluth Assistant Fire Chief Richard Mattson called the restaurant a total loss.

Hardee’s general manager Melissa Moretto said she suspected the blaze was an electrical fire, though she wasn’t sure.

The fire began in an office in the back of the restaurant, which is at 1201 Miller Trunk Highway.

Moretto said electrical appliances started freezing up in the front of the store about 1 p.m., prompting her to go back to the circuit board and check the circuit breakers. When she did, “I heard them going pop-pop-pop,” she said.

That’s when Moretto looked into a nearby office and saw flames. The fire was too big to try to extinguish, she said, so she just called 911 and evacuated workers and customers.

Mike Schrage had come to Hardee’s for lunch after doing some Sunday morning shopping at Gander Mountain. He was enjoying a two-piece chicken dinner and reading the newspaper when he noticed the smell of smoke.

“Right about the time I thought, ‘That smells funny,’ they said, ‘Everybody out,’ ” he said.

Schrage, 34, of Cloquet, said customers and employees evacuated calmly. He and most of the other customers immediately moved their cars into other nearby parking lots so they wouldn’t be blocked in by fire trucks.

When the firetrucks arrived, what they found didn’t look good.

“When I got here, there was already yellow smoke billowing out of the attic,” Mattson said. “That means backdraft conditions are present.”

Firefighters arrived hoping to save the building, Mattson said, but soon saw that it wouldn’t be possible. “Once it went through the roof, we pretty much knew we were in trouble,” he said.

Upon arrival, firefighters entered Hardee’s and tried to put out the fire from inside. Soon after, the ceiling of the room where they were working collapsed.

The hole in the ceiling allowed the fire access to the space between the ceiling and the roof — an open corridor through which it could easily sweep, causing the rest of the ceiling to fall, along with heavy air conditioning units above the ceiling.

Because there was a risk of these units falling on firefighters, they were forced to switch from an offensive to a defensive approach and fight the fire from outside the building instead of inside.

The blaze at the Hardee’s Restaurant near the Miller Hill Mall required the efforts of two dozen firefighters and more than 200,000 gallons of water. (Ann Arbor Miller / News Tribune)

The fire drew curious onlookers, about 200 around 1:30 p.m., who lined the ridges above the restaurant’s parking lot, watching as orange flames and black smoke poured out of the structure.

“It’s terrible,” said Karen Nyberg.

“We lost our lunch spot,” said her husband, Denny.

When the Duluth couple received a call from their daughter on their cellphone, they drove over to see the spectacle.

The Nybergs, both 58, retired two years ago and have eaten at Hardee’s two or three times each week, usually after playing golf.

The irony of an electrical fire in a restaurant that uses vats of hot grease provoked some amusement.

“I think everybody probably thought it was grease, in a place like this, you know,” said Karen Nyberg, laughing.

Meanwhile, the employees who’d been on duty gathered at a picnic table in the back parking lot to watch their livelihood go up in flames.

“It’s going to be a long night of cleanup,” Moretto joked to her employees.

Hardee’s crew member Aaron Ronning watched the blaze in dismay, wondering what would come next for him. Ronning, 21, was about to be promoted to crew trainer.

Moretto said Hardee’s would help the employees find work, either at other Hardee’s franchises in the area or at other fast food restaurants.

“We’ll take care of them,” she said. “There are other restaurants. It’s no problem there.”

Property records indicate that the restaurant was built in 1978 and expanded in 1992.

The franchise is owned by North Central Food Systems Inc., a company that owns most Hardee’s restaurants in the region, and a total of 97 across the Upper Midwest. Based in Irvine, Calif., North Central also has offices in the Midwest.

Mattson had no official theory about the fire’s cause Sunday afternoon but said the Fire Department would be investigating the case.


Damage from the fire was estimated at $1 million. About a month later, investigators labeled it a case of arson. “We ruled out ignition sources throughout the store, like mechanical or electrical equipment, until we came up with the conclusion that there was no cause for the fire, other than human,” Officer Jim Christensen, Duluth Police Department arson investigator, told the News Tribune. From what I can see in the archives, no one was ever arrested in the case.

The restaurant was rebuilt and reopened about a year later, in June 2002. A few years later, it was demolished to make way for a new Walgreens store at the corner of Trinity Road, Central Entrance and Miller Trunk Highway.

Other Northland Hardee’s locations have closed in the past decade – on Arrowhead Road and on Grand Avenue in Duluth, and in Two Harbors, among other places. A Hardee’s on London Road in Duluth closed back in 1996. As far as I know, the only Hardee’s that remains open in the area is on Belknap Street in Superior.

Share your memories by posting a comment.

Ideal Market closes, 1999

January 17, 1999

Harvey Winthrop, owner of Ideal Market, gets a hug from longtime customer Lorraine Yagoda on Jan. 17, 1999, during a farewell gathering at the store. Founded in 1921, the store is the last of downtown Duluth’s full-service grocery stores to close its doors. (Renee Knoeber / News-Tribune)



By Steve Kuchera, News-Tribune, Jan. 18, 1999

On Sunday afternoon, Harvey Winthrop did what he has done for years — he stood behind the counter at the Ideal Market and Bakery, greeting people coming through the door.

But this time it was different. Winthrop wasn’t just greeting customers and friends, he was welcoming guests to a going-away party.

Winthrop has sold the Ideal Market, the last downtown Duluth grocery, and will shortly close the family business he’s operated since the mid-1960s.

“Thank you for coming,” he said as more old customers came in.

“Take care of yourself,” Anita C. Cerio told Winthrop, giving him a hug. “It’s been a pleasure having you here. This was the best store down here.”

When George Winthrop and Lewis Camenker founded the market in 1921, there were at least 30 similar grocery stores downtown.

But over the years, shoppers’ habits changed and small, neighborhood stores vanished. Last fall, son Harvey Winthrop sold the building at 102 W. First St. to Life House Youth Center, which plans to convert it into a teen center.

He hasn’t decided what he’ll do after closing the store later this month, although he’s considering selling real estate.

“I’m used to working 12 hours a day, six days a week,” he said. “I’m used to staying busy.”

“He’ll find things to do,” although it will be nice to have more time together, to see friends and family, said Esther, Harvey’s wife of 38 years.

A customer does some afternoon shopping at the Ideal Market on West First Street in downtown Duluth in October 1997. (Kathy Strauss / News-Tribune)

Esther called Sunday’s get-together the family’s “Mitzva” — good deed — for the day. Esther and Harvey Winthrop and their daughter Pam Lauer greeted people as they entered the store, guiding them to a guest book and a table full of food.

Customers and friends gathered and visited in aisles between half-empty shelves. Son-in-law Bill Lauer videotaped guests’ reminiscences of Harvey and George Winthrop and the store.

During a lull, Winthrop, 69, said he’ll miss the people the most. And they will miss him.

“He was always pleasant to everyone,” Cerio said. “He treated everyone with respect. He’s a real gentleman.”

“He did favors for me,” said Ron Jensen. “He would deliver things. He gave me rides to the bus station. I hate to see him leave. He’s been a real friend.”

“He’s a people person, very concerned about people,” Bob Bulloch said.

Over the years, Winthrop showed his concern in various ways. He held the money for people who were down and out, picking out their groceries and delivering them as needed. Several years ago he stopped selling lottery tickets, feeling that many customers couldn’t afford them.

Winthrop’s son Marc couldn’t attend Sunday’s party, but he wrote to tell how, when he was a teen-ager, he became upset over his father’s habit of simply ordering shoplifters out of the store, rather than having them arrested.

Then, one day, Marc chased a man carrying a boom box who had stolen a carton of cigarettes and knocked down a friend. Marc tackled the man. In the fall, the shoplifter’s stereo shattered.

“When I looked at his face, at that moment, I realized that the boom box laying in pieces may have been his only possession,” Marc wrote. “I suddenly understood why my father was so lenient with some of the people who frequented the Ideal Market, how he has always and continues to live out his values, and how he has become such an important person in so many people’s lives.”


The News Tribune ran another story about Ideal Market a couple months earlier, on Nov. 26, 1998:

Ideal Market owner Harvey Winthrop, seen here in November 1998, soon will be closing the business. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)



By Paul Adams, News-Tribune

In an era of 24-hour warehouse retailing, the Ideal Market and Bakery is a bit of Americana: A melting pot of a grocery store where downtown professionals looking for ethnic specialties and street people looking for basic staples get in line behind the same cash register.

Whether the customers are paying with a Visa Gold Card or food stamps, owner Harvey Winthrop usually greets them by name with the same resonant, radio-quality voice.

“I like people, there’s no question about it,” Winthrop said while on a break from the front counter. “I’m going to miss the Ideal very, very much.”

The last of the downtown grocers — and one of the few that still makes house calls — will close sometime in January. Winthrop, 69, recently sold the building, at 102 W. 1st St., to Life House Youth Center, which plans to convert it into a teen center.

The store will be missed by downtown workers who rely on the market for fresh ricotta or feta cheese, grape leaves and other specialties. But the loss may prove greatest among the downtown’s poor people and among elderly shut-ins, who lack transportation or the ability to shop on their own. To them, the Ideal Market has been everything its name suggests.

“He (Winthrop) has taken care of a lot of people over the years and I don’t think anybody has any understanding of how much he really has done from that perspective,” said Duluth Police Chief Scott Lyons.

Lyons went to work as a delivery boy for Winthrop right out of high school in the 1970s. He remembers Winthrop as part grocer and part banker for the city’s down and out.

Winthrop would hold their money for them and pick out their groceries as needed. Lyons would deliver the parcels to many of downtown’s flophouses and low-income apartment buildings, such as the Palmer House, the State Hotel and Gardner Hotel.

“He talked to them and treated them with lots of respect, and many times gave people things because he knew they couldn’t afford to buy them,” Lyons recalled.

Winthrop never called attention to such services, or his generosity. As Lyons put it, “He never tooted his own horn.” But word gets around on the street.

The facade of the former Ideal Market at 102 W. First Street in downtown Duluth in December 2000, before it was converted to the Life House teen center. (Derek Neas / News-Tribune)

Over the years, many longtime customers — rich and poor — have rewarded good service with uncommon loyalty.

Lucille Rugowski first sampled Ideal Market produce as a child growing up on Park Point. Her father, who worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, became a customer after seeing the market’s goods delivered to ships visiting the Duluth harbor. As an adult, Rugowski carried on the tradition and has been a customer for more than 50 years.

“I appreciate that we’ve had a charge account there for many, many years and he delivers,” said Rugowski, who doesn’t own a car. With few exceptions, she gets all of her groceries from Winthrop.
“I walked through Cub (Foods) once and that was enough for me,” she said. “It’s too big, too many things.”

Though the Ideal Market remains a sentimental favorite, business hasn’t been good for Winthrop the past two years. Downtown just doesn’t attract shoppers like it used to, Winthrop says.

Founded in 1921 by Winthrop’s father, George, and a partner, Lewis Camenker, the Ideal Market was once one of downtown’s larger grocery stores, but it had plenty of competition. In the early years, the store was among at least 30 similar grocery stores serving downtown shoppers and business people.

George Winthrop, who later split with his partner, struggled to maintain his share of the market through world wars, depression, cold wars and recessions. Harvey took over in about 1965 after finishing college and a stint in the Army.

Harvey Winthrop keeps this 1931 newspaper ad taped to his office wall. Check out the prices: 65 cents for a 2-pound can of coffee, 9 cents for a pound of cranberries, 31 cents for a pound of butter. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

Over the years, the competition slowly faded along with the department stores and offices that left town or moved to Miller Hill.

In 1978, Red Owl closed and the Ideal Market was all alone downtown.

“My father died in 1977 and my mother in 1978. Neither one lived to see that we were the last grocery store downtown,” Winthrop said.

It was a victory for the store and business was exceptionally good for a few years. But retailing trends would soon overtake the Ideal Market.

“Stores started this new concept . . . where they locate on the outskirts of the city with big parking lots. They’re geared to the automobile,” Winthrop said.

Duluthians are known for thrift, and it didn’t take long for the traffic to diminish downtown as shoppers flocked to big-box discount stores. That combined with the loss of jobs on West First Street made it tough for the full-service grocery store to thrive.

“For years, parking was quite a problem downtown,” Winthrop said. “I’m sorry to say today parking is really not a problem . . . because I feel there is not enough retail left downtown.”

First Street retailers say they will miss the Ideal Market and the niche it filled for customers and downtown workers.

“I think it’s a draw for my business as well as his,” said Paul Draeger, owner of Duluth Liquor, 32 W. First St. “There’s nothing (like it) downtown.”

But the Duluth business community may not be rid of Winthrop for long. He doesn’t plan to rest much in retirement. In fact, he may even get a job selling real estate, volunteering or promoting Duluth in some fashion. It’s time to move on, he says, without regret. And he’s certain his parents would approve of the decision.

“They would be extremely happy and they would be very proud of me for having lasted this long and being the only grocer downtown,” Winthrop said. “I’ve had good years in the business and they would have been very happy with that.”

Winthrop hasn’t set a date for closing yet. It will probably occur sometime in mid-January. Sometime before then, he will announce a farewell party for all his customers.


Share your memories of Ideal Market and downtown Duluth in general by posting a comment.

Denfeld Drive-in Cleaners, 1961

April 28, 1961

Almost exactly 50 years ago, on April 28, 1961, the Duluth Herald ran this photo of the new Denfeld Drive-in Cleaners. The business hadn’t opened yet, as indicated by the unfinished front yard and drive-through lane.

Despite the name, this particular business was not located near Denfeld High School. News Tribune files place the business at 2123 Central Entrance, but that address no longer exists; I think the street numbering may have changed. Do any of you know where this was on Central Entrance?

Denfeld Drive-in Cleaners was part of the Denfeld East End Dry Cleaners chain. According to a 1971 News Tribune clipping, the company also had locations at 930 E. Superior Street (Denfeld East End… would that be today’s DEE Independent Cleaners?) and 4031 Grand Avenue. At the time, they were building a fourth location at 2332 Central Entrance (again, an address that apparently no longer exists).

Easter in the Twin Ports

It’s Easter weekend, so I thought I’d pull a few photos from the News Tribune files of Easters past. Enjoy…

Sister Samuella and members of her first-grade class at Holy Rosary School display their Easter bonnets during a tour of the school on March 25, 1988. In this photo, they were visiting reading specialist Elaine Mrak’s classroom. (John Rott / News-Tribune)


Dan Pendergast of Superior, an employee of Engwall Florist and Greenhouse, makes his Easter deliveries on April 18, 1992, in Superior in a seasonal costume and a Cadillac. (Steve Stearns / News-Tribune)


The Lester Park United Methodist Church congregation gathers for an Easter sunrise service at Brighton Beach on April 19, 1987. Providing the music are (from left) Dale Rogers, Mark Dundas and Jeanine Alexander. (Bob King / News-Tribune)


Six-year-old Jeff Zajac of Maple Grove, Minn., casts a dubious glance at the Easter Bunny in the Fitger’s complex on April 6, 1985. Inside the costume is Fitger’s employee Stephanie Anderson. (Jack Rendulich / News-Tribune)

Share your stories and memories by posting a comment.

The glory days of smelting in Duluth

A crowd of about 400 smelters gathers for a small run at the mouth of the Lester River on April 25, 1986. (Steve Stearns / News-Tribune)

Up until the 1980s, one of the biggest gatherings in Duluth each year was the annual spring smelt run along the shore of Lake Superior and local rivers feeding into the lake.

Each spring, the call went out when smelt – a tiny fish – swarmed by the thousands to spawn. When the fish came, thousands of locals and visitors swarmed to scoop them up for smelt fries. In the 1970s, the Minnesota DNR even operated a “Smelt Information Headquarters” in the old Duluth Curling Club on London Road.

The smelt run took on a party atmosphere, and probably isn’t remembered very fondly by police and neighbors who had to put up with the rowdy crowds and litter. There are many articles in the News Tribune files from the 1970s covering meetings on what to do about smelting-related troubles.

There was at least one tragedy – in April 1981, two UMD freshmen at a smelting party were swept out into Lake Superior by the swift current of the Lester River, and drowned.

Whether loved or loathed, the smelt runs decreased over time, and largely died out through the 1980s and early 1990s. As the fish dwindled, so did the annual party on the banks of the Lester River.

Here’s a look back at some photos and articles about smelting from the News Tribune files:

Keith Buddish of Cloquet dumps a few smelt into a waiting bucket on the Lester River on April 23, 1986. Buddish was one of a growing number of people waiting with nets for the smelt run to begin. (Dave Ballard / News-Tribune)

May 9, 1983

Rite of spring in full swing


Duluth is a city of five seasons – spring, summer, fall, winter and smelt – but it’s that fifth one which causes a lot of natives to shake in their hip boots.

Smelting is the art of catching a silvery Lake Superior fish about the size of a toothpaste tube – squeezed almost dry – with fine-mesh dip nets or minnow seines. The smelt begin spawning runs into shallow waters and up Lake Superior tributaries along the lake’s South Shore and work their way clockwise to Duluth-Superior and the North Shore.

Although all shoreline communities are invaded by fishermen during the smelt runs of late April or early May, Duluth receives the greatest number with its Park Point beaches and abundance of rivers feeding Lake Superior.

The city’s Lester River is a Mecca of the net-dipping mania and, at peak weekends of the run, hundreds of visitors and residents mingle to catch, to watch and to party while the smelt move upriver. The crowds there and at Park Point require additional police and police auxiliary personnel – and an extensive daily cleanup effort each morning after the night before.

But even residents of those neighborhoods see some good with the arrival of the smelt and smelters: It’s a seasonal harbinger that spring is here and summer isn’t far off. -END-

Dave Anderson of Sparta Location, near Eveleth, holds his “trophy” smelt at the Lester River on May 5, 1983. Anderson and four others in his party netted only a bucketful of fish in two days. (Jack Rendulich / News-Tribune)

May 2, 1980

Smelting: A mad, springtime ritual of the night

By Pam Miller Brochu, News-Tribune


The young smelter, resplendent in waist-high waders and a BUST OPEC T-shirt, split the night air with his cry, hoisting the long-handled net in which flipped a single, startled smelt.

Ecstatic with beer and moonlight, the smelter grabbed the little fish in his muddy hand and bit its head off.

The most frenzied of spring rites, which might provoke an anthropologist’s scrutiny elsewhere, is a regular midnight occurrence on the Lester River as hordes of smelters, their inhibitions left at home, celebrate the catch of their first smelt.

The combination of a full moon, full beer kegs and crowd psychology turns the Lester into a prime night spot – or trouble spot, depending on your point of view – each year at this time, when the doomed smelt fight their way through hundreds of rubber boots at the mouth of Lake Superior rivers.

There was plenty of action Wednesday and Thursday nights, but it was subdued compared to what’s expected tonight, as the peak weekend opens.

There’s something for everyone in Lester River night life – pockets of absolute mania on some rock outcrops, quiet family gatherings on others. Small children risk their lives crossing the narrow, fast-moving current rushing into the lake; senior citizens sit in lawn chairs and take it all in.

Duluth police officer James Wright stands patrol on the Lester River bridge during smelting on April 25, 1986. (Steve Stearns / News-Tribune)

Around 10 p.m. Wednesday, the smelt weren’t running heavily, but the smelters were. They poured into the area by car, cycle and foot. It was rush hour on the river, and Mike Ferrazi and Frank Ruby of the Lakehead Emergency Volunteers calmly directed crowds of pedestrians through the heavy traffic on the Lester River bridge.

“No problems so far,” shouted a cheerful Ferrazi over the hubbub. “Slow DOWN!” he yelled at some passing hotrodders. They ignored him. …

Down on the rocks, darker than usual because of the ban on fires, there were more partiers than smelters.

“This is the highlight of my year,” said one exuberant young man, sloshing his beer for emphasis. “You can really get crazy, you know? But don’t use my name. By day I’m real respectable … can’t blow my cover.” …

Rick LeBlanc of Hermantown surpassed tradition by biting the head off not just his first smelt, but about two dozen others, too, at the Lester River on May 5, 1983. (Jack Rendulich / News-Tribune)

There were many serious folks, too – those who came primarily to net smelt.

Don Uhlhorn, 27, and his wife, Mary Burmeister, 28, had come from Sandstone with three large buckets.

“I’ll spend all day tomorrow cleaning them, then divide them up in meal-size portions,” Uhlhorn said. “We give them to my folks, Mary’s folks, friends, neighbors and our cat.” …

“Smelting’s a tradition for us,” said Al Heins, who comes annually from Grand Rapids with his wife Linda and their children Jan, 17, and Lyndy, 16, to stay with Heins’ sister, Connie Merrill, 2525 E. Fourth St.

Oblivious of the icy water, Lyndy plunged into the river without waders. Jan was less enthusiastic. “It’s a heck of a long way to come for a few fish,” she said.

Elizabeth Rios of Newport, Minn., watches out for potential customers to her Marina’s Lunch Wagon during smelting at the Lester River on April 25, 1990. Rios, her husband and two daughters planned to stay as long as the season lasted. (Clara Wu / News-Tribune)

From the river, a smelter let loose a string of profanities. Pained, one mother covered her small daughter’s ears. The partiers and the families keep their distance from each other, and around midnight, the partiers take over.

But smelting, like television networks, has its family hour – before the sun goes down and before the smelt get thick. In the warm glow of Wednesday and Thursday evenings, the beach was crowded with children skipping stones and learning how to swish the nets.

Rick and Gayle Frenzen, 1017 N. Seventh Ave. E, were on their first-ever outing with Shawn, 2, and Ricky, 4, Wednesday.

“It’s a big thrill for the kids to get out here,” Gayle Frenzen said.

Ricky Jr. cast a line in the fashion of a four-year-old, almost hooking his father, who readied the smelting nets and buckets.

“I’m gonna catch a smelt,” he said solemnly. “A smelt four feet long.”

Hours later, around 3 a.m., the crowd thinned out, but the hardcore smelters left were pulling in nets heavy with fish – just as if the smelt had waited for the darkest, quietest hour to make their final run, unhampered by nets – and human teeth.

Bags of bottles, cups and cans give visitors Lucille and Ed Sobania of Little Falls, Minn., a good idea of what happened the night before on the Lester River on May 5, 1983. (Jack Rendulich / News-Tribune)

Share your smelting memories by posting a comment. If you have photos to share, e-mail them to akrueger(at)

KDAL color photos from the 1960s

Attic reader Tom Barstow was kind enough to send in four color photos from the 1960s, showing staff at KDAL-TV and KDAL-AM. The first is of longtime women’s show host Dottie Becker, apparently showing off a new transistor radio:

And here is  a photo of Dottie Becker (center), John Russell (left) and another KDAL staffer – do you know who? – at a KDAL-AM booth in a local store during the Christmas season. It looks like a department store – can anyone tell which one:

More on Dottie Becker later in this post.

Here’s a photo of KDAL newscaster Dick Anthony, whose evening newscast was sponsored by Standard Oil:

And finally, a photo of Bill Cortez and George Gothner:

KDAL-TV is now KDLH, Channel 3. If you have any information or stories about the people in these photos, please post a comment.

Now, a little more about Dottie Becker. She hosted “Dottie Becker’s Town and Country” on Duluth TV from 1956 to 1971. When she died in December 2002 at age 76, News Tribune columnist Jim Heffernan wrote a column recognizing her place in Twin Ports TV lore:


By Jim Heffernan, Duluth News Tribune

I used to be a real sloth. In my youth, I would go out of my way to arrange my life so I could sleep until noon. It helped that I’ve held very few jobs that required getting up ultra early. Journalism lends itself to this kind of slothery.

One of my favorite movie scenes comes — yes — in the classic Humphrey Bogart-Ingrid Bergman wartime melodrama “Casablanca.” No, it’s not the airport scene when the two must part and he persuades the reluctant Bergman to leave by saying she’d regret not going, “Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life . . .” And it’s not “Play it again, Sam” (which isn’t actually put that way) nor is it, “Here’s looking at you, kid.”

All great dialogue, but my favorite line is uttered by Inspector Renault, played by Claude Rains, who has this exchange with a couple of desperate refugees trying to escape Casablanca when they say they’ll be in his office early in the morning to pick up letters of transit: “We’ll be there at 6,” says the eager refugee. “I’ll be there at 10,” deadpans Inspector Renault.

Way to go, Claude. Man after my own heart.

All of which backs into my point here today. When I was in my 20s and just breaking into newspaper reporting here, I worked the 3-11 p.m. shift. It allowed me to sleep until noon, roll out of the sack, click on the TV and watch Dottie Becker on Channel 3 — then KDAL.

Yup. Hairy-chested newspaper man watches the queen of local broadcasting on her long-running noontime “women’s” show, “Town and Country.”

Last Sunday, I was given pause when I read in the obituary section that Dottie Becker had died in California, where she had been living in recent years. I’m sure a lot of other Northland folks old enough to remember her caught their breath, too, to read that this effervescent, charming, seemingly forever young woman was gone.

Why would I watch a show that held virtually no appeal for me? I don’t know. Because it was there? Occasionally Dottie had guests that were interesting to me. Longtime Channel 3 news anchor and program director Earl Henton would sometimes be her guest and talk about movies.

Then there were the endless sessions with a woman named Ingeborg — just Ingeborg — who had a corset shop in Duluth and would jabber with Dottie about the importance of a good foundation. Ingeborg spoke with a European accent, sounding something like Dr. Ruth.

Society dames flocked to her show to promote their various charities, often involving some country club ball to raise money but also provide them an excuse to buy a foundation from Ingeborg and a new gown at the old Silver’s, a women’s apparel shop so exclusive it didn’t advertise or even have a sign on its building.

I came to know Dottie Becker slightly years later, and I could never be around her without having the feeling that I was in the presence of great celebrity — like a movie star. With a bright smile and never at a loss for words, Dottie was a local institution.

She was also responsible for one of my most uncomfortable moments. She persuaded me to model a man’s suit in some fashion show she was narrating. I wasn’t cut out to be a model and the suit wasn’t cut out for me.

All this is ancient history to many, but Dottie Becker shouldn’t pass from the scene without special mention. Not in Duluth.


If you have interesting old Duluth or Northland photos to share, send them to akrueger(at)

Taking a brief break

What’s good for UMD hockey is not so great for posting updates in the News Tribune Attic.

I’ve been putting in a lot of time on hockey-related pages and special sections these past couple weeks, which has significantly cut back on my Attic time. And now I need a few more days to recuperate.

So, I’ll be back with some new posts next week. In the meantime, browse the archives – there have been so many photos and stories posted, you’re sure to find something you hadn’t seen before.

Congratulations to the UMD men’s hockey team – and thanks to the Bulldogs for creating plenty of “Attic” moments to post on the blog in, say, 20 or 25 years.

Farewell, Chalet Motel

There will be a story in Saturday’s paper, and online, about Friday’s demolition of the Chalet Motel on London Road. It will be replaced by a new office building; here are two photos of the site late Friday afternoon:

The Chalet Motel was formerly known as the London Manor Motel; it was mentioned over on the Perfect Duluth Day blog a while back in a post on the London Road motel row. There’s a vintage postcard view of the London Manor Motel here.

And, for those who looked very closely at the motel site today, you would have seen a vestige of the Chalet’s former name. Someone tore off the boards on one side of the Chalet sign, revealing the old “London Manor Motel” sign underneath. It’s very clearly the same sign seen in the postcard mentioned above:

I know the Chalet had a bit of a rough reputation in recent years, but I remember it for a different reason. My first apartment in Duluth was less than two blocks from the Chalet Motel, up on Jefferson Street. So the night before I moved in there – my first night as a new resident of Duluth – was spent at the Chalet, with all my possessions in a U-Haul outside in the parking lot.

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Downtown Duluth Woolworth’s

Woolworth’s in downtown Duluth, 1986. News Tribune file photo

Things have been a bit busy in the Attic these past couple weeks, so I haven’t had much time to create new posts.

Until I have some new material ready, how about taking a look back at some early Attic posts you may have missed? Click here for an Attic item on the downtown Duluth Woolworth’s store, originally posted in June 2008. There’s a second post on Woolworth’s, from August 2008, here.