Mels TV Audio Closes, 1999

September 11, 1999

Karen, Richard and William Moe, co-owners of Mels TV Audio on East Superior Street, are seen in September 1999. Mels is closing, and the Moes are having a going-out-of-business sale. The building was purchased to make way for a new National Bank of Commerce branch. (Bob King / News-Tribune)



By Jane Brissett, News-Tribune

Mels TV Audio, a Duluth store where customers have gone for decades to buy high-quality home entertainment equipment and receive personal service, will close its doors in late October.

Owners Richard, Karen and William Moe are retiring from the business and selling off the store’s inventory in a sale that began Thursday.

President Richard Moe, 60, said he had planned to retire in two years but when a representative of National Bank of Commerce came knocking on his door recently, the offer to buy the building was too good to pass up.

Mels was something of an institution in Duluth for consumers who wanted top-quality televisions and stereos long before big box retailers such as Best Buy came to town.

Mels was founded by Mel Cohen, who began a repair service called Service Radio and Sound Co. at 120 W. First St. in 1946. When television came into its own in the early 1950s, he said he erected 40-foot antennas on the roofs of customers’ houses to pick up television signals from the Twin Cities. As the business grew he began to sell TVs, record players and other equipment.

By 1955 Cohen had moved and expanded his business three times, and in 1967 moved the store to its present site at 1314 E. Superior St.

“We were the first ones to sell hi-fi and stereo and color televisions,” Cohen said in a telephone interview from his daughter’s home in California. “When I first started, I was nothing but a guy who repaired people’s radios and phonographs.”

Cohen, now 73, lives in Duluth and Colorado. He sold the business to the Moes in 1981 when he retired. Richard Moe had been with the store since 1957 and his brother, William, had worked there since 1959.

Bryan Connor and Joe Carr (hidden), who work at Mels TV Audio, load a big TV into a truck to make their first delivery of the going-out-of-business sale in September 1999. (Bob King / News-Tribune)

Competing with discount retailers wasn’t as tough as many people thought it would be for Mels, Richard Moe said. The store, which now has 11 employees, would match prices on identical equipment and also offer service while discounters would not, he said.

But Mels specialized in high-end merchandise. “We couldn’t handle the low-priced equipment because we couldn’t make the profits,” Moe said.

The store specialized in home stereo systems, including custom home installation.

Ann Treacy of Duluth has been a customer for about nine years, when Mels employees installed audio wiring in her house during a remodeling project.

“We’re not techies. We don’t know anything about the equipment and we don’t want to know anything about it,” she said. “They set up this really user-friendly system.” And they also taught her how to use it.

They’ve also advised her on a number of purchases, from a run-of-the-mill VCR for the kids to a good CD player.

“Knowledgeable salespeople have been our savior,” Moe said.

There is a possibility that the service department may continue operating with its two technicians after the store closes at the end of October but details have yet to be worked out, Moe said.

Mels is ending on a high note, he said. The store has remained profitable and the Moes are eager for the freedom retirement brings.

“I really want to whitewash the concept that Best Buy had anything to do with the store closing,” he said.


Here’s one more, earlier shot of Mels, from a reader-submitted photo in the DNT files. There’s no date listed in the caption:


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3 Responses

  1. Hillcity Mike

    Ha! I blame them for turning me into an audiophile! I guess I have them to thank for my dad giving me his Techniques turntable from around 1982-83. It still looks like it just came out of the box. Best piece of audio equipment I’ve ever owned!

  2. Craig S.

    Mels TV Audio was the place to go for high end stereo gear. They carried flat panel Magneplanar speakers (which are one of the most realistic sunding speakers ever made), large Dahlquist DQ-10 speakers, Phase Linear amps and pre-amps and giant Marantz receivers (which are much coveted now – check out ebay). They carried the first high end home cassette deck, the Advent 201. It was the only place in town to buy top of line Denon turntables and moving coil cartridges. They brought Bang & Olufsen stereo equipment to Duluth, which is of such fantastic design it is on permanent display in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. They also introduced large screen televisions and giant 10′ satellite dishes to the area. I remember watching the first MTV broadcast on an Advent Videobeam 1000 projection television which had the biggest screen in existence – 4 1/4feet x 5 2/3 feet. If you wanted to see the latest that audio and video technology had to offer, you went to Mels.

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