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)
MELS TV AUDIO SIGNS OFF AFTER DECADES OF SERVICE
OFFER TO BUY BUILDING TOO GOOD TO PASS UP
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.
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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