Another of the Northland’s legendary characters passes away

First, Richard Wozniak of Duluth’s Young at Heart Records passed away Feb. 18 at age 94.

Now, Charlotte Zacher, the longtime owner of Charlotte’s Cafe in Carlton, has died at age 99 (just a few weeks shy of her 100th birthday). Charlotte was known far and wide for wearing elegant evening gowns (and many other unique outfits) behind the counter of the cafe she ran for more than 60 years. You can read the obit I wrote for the News Tribune here. For those who may know her more by sight than by name, here’s a News Tribune file photo from 1980, of Charlotte sitting in her cafe:

Richard and Charlotte both were institutions of their respective communities for decades – a little eccentric, yes, but very much a part of the local fabric. After their respective businesses closed, they faded from the public eye; their passing has revived many memories and stories in the minds of Northland residents.

I may post a few more photos and stories about Charlotte here in the Attic later this week (if those plans aren’t derailed by the big winter storm forecast to move in here the next few days). In the meantime, please share your memories by posting a comment. And if you can think of other Northland characters of the likes of Richard Wozniak and Charlotte Zacher, please share those names and stories, too.

Duluth’s most flammable building?

This view from the 11th floor of the Medical Arts Building shows the extent of the damage to scaffolding on the Northwestern Bell building after a fire on Nov. 27, 1983. (Jack Rendulich / News Tribune)

This is a “best of the Attic” post – something I originally posted on this blog more than four years ago, but which many of you may not have seen yet.

In the early 1980s, the Northwestern Bell building in downtown Duluth was plagued by never-ending repairs that left it sheathed in scaffolding for years. And then, twice, that scaffolding burned in what were described as “spectacular” fires. The photo above is the aftermath of the first; here’s a photo of the smoke plume from the second:

Thick, black smoke rises from the Northwestern Bell Telephone Co. in downtown Duluth on Wednesday after scaffolding on the building caught fire on Jan. 16, 1985. (Joey McLeister / News Tribune)

Read more about the fire in this previous post. And read about the construction of the building in this previous post.

The Northwestern Bell building became home to Qwest, and now CenturyLink, as companies merged and changed names. It seems to have mostly shed its flammable ways, though if I remember correctly a power transformer exploded under the sidewalk in front of the building a few years back.

So would these two big fires place this building among Duluth’s most flammable? Perhaps it would be competing with the Kozy Bar and Apartments. Or is there another, more fire-plagued structure in town?

Share your thoughts and memories by posting a comment.

Richard Wozniak, Young at Heart Records owner, dies at 94

Richard Wozniak, who owned the well-known Young at Heart Records in downtown Duluth for more than 40 years, died on Feb. 18 at age 94. You can read the obituary on the News Tribune website.

I posted several articles about Wozniak and his store on this site back in 2009. You can find those posts here, here and here.

I dug up a few more photos of Wozniak and his shop from the News Tribune files; here they are:

Richard Wozniak, owner of Young at Heart Records, in his store in April 1993. (Bob King / News-Tribune)

Richard Wozniak outside his store at 22 W. First St. in June 1981. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)

A customer rifles through stacks of records at Young at Heart Records, 22 W. First St. in downtown Duluth, in June 1981. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)

Richard Wozniak’s desk at Young at Heart Records is littered with mailing from record companies, the latest issue of Record World, blank cassette tapes, two clock radios, and a broken adding machine. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)

A card for the record club at Young at Heart Records in Duluth, June 1981. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)

Richard Wozniak, owner of Young at Heart Records in downtown Duluth, in his store in June 1981. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)

John Harteau of Duluth (right) buys a record from Richard Wozniak at Young at Heart Records, 22 W. First St. in downtown Duluth, in April 1993. Harteau said he’s been a regular customer of the store since the 1950s. (Bob King / News-Tribune)

Share your memories of Richard Wozniak and Young at Heart Records by posting a comment.

Kenwood Shopping Center, 1961

This view of the Kenwood Shopping Center – click on the photo for a larger version – is from the Duluth Herald on March 15, 1961. I apologize for the quality; it’s the best version I had available.

The photo ran with a story mentioning several new shops and sales to be held at the center, which opened in 1958. The story also noted that its name was changing from Town and Country to the Kenwood Shopping Center.

It also listed the tenants of the shopping center. Here’s that retail lineup from early 1961: Red Owl food store, Boyce Drug Store, Town and Country Beauty Salon, Ben’s Hobbyland, Westman’s Apparel, Town and Country Bootery, Kenwood Laundromat, Sherwin Williams Paints, Juniors & Toddlers Shoppe, Abelson Our-Own Hardware, Peerless-Yale Dry Cleaning, Town and Country Barber Shop, Fortmeier’s Happy House candy shop and Woolworth’s.

The Kenwood Shopping Center has been featured in a couple other Attic posts:

1982 photo of Kenwood Shopping Center (read the comments for a lot of memories about the various shops and restaurants)

Kenwood Hardware closes, 1997

Share your memories by posting a comment

Wall comes tumbling down in Duluth’s West End

No one was injured when concrete cornices fell from the Johnson Furniture Co. building, 1917 W. Superior St. in Duluth, on Oct. 16, 1968. Dennis Johnson, a member of the firm, reported that before the cornices fell a bright flash of lightning was seen and might have caused the collapse. When the cornices collapsed they tore a six- by eight-foot sign from the building and smashed two eight- by 10-foot plate glass windows. Russell Johnson, president of the company, said that it was a miracle that no one was on the sidewalk. (News-Tribune file photo)

Johnson Furniture was a longtime business in Duluth’s West End / Lincoln Park neighborhood. According to News Tribune files, the company was founded in 1917. It operated at 1907 W. Superior St. from the 1920s until 1957, when it moved to the former home of J&J Furniture Corp. at 2009 W. Superior. In 1962 it moved to 1917 W. Superior — the site of the cornice collapse in the photo above — and stayed there until moving to the former Enger & Olson Furniture building at 1826 W. Superior St. (I could not find a date for that).

The owners of what eventually was known as Johnson Brothers Furniture announced in Feb. 2011 that they were closing the store.

In the photo above, looking left from Johnson Furniture, you can see the Hong Kong Cafe at 1921 W. Superior, then Dahlen’s Paint and Wallpaper, the White Inn Cafe and a long, low commercial building that was vacant at the time, according to a 1967 city directory.

In the background, across 20th Avenue West, the Seaway Hotel is visible.

Here are two views of that row of buildings today:

At some point between 1968 and today, the Hong Kong Cafe building was torn down. Was there a fire? Post a comment if you know that story. Other than that, there has been a big change in businesses (or lack thereof at present), but the buildings remain essentially as they were 44 years ago.

Here’s one more associated photo from the News Tribune files:

Ready for the grand opening of Johnson’s Appliance and Television Store at 1907 W. Superior St. are Edward Aamodt (left), manager of the appliance section, and Ronald Vogler, manager of the TV and stereo section, in this photo published Sept. 14, 1966. The building, which formerly housed Johnson Furniture’s trade-in outlet, has been remodeled, with new paneling throughout and new carpeting in the balcony. (Duluth Herald file photo)

Share your memories by posting a comment.

Archive aerial views of Duluth

It’s fun to look at aerial photos in the News Tribune Attic – when you look up close, they can show so many things that have changed or still are the same.

Here are three aerial photos of Duluth from the archives; as with most photos I post here, click on these images to access a larger view:

The Duluth Entertainment Convention Center and surrounding area, August 2003. This is before the addition of the Duluth 10 movie theater, the new parking ramp and Amsoil Arena. (Justin Hayworth / News Tribune)

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St. Mary’s Medical Center and the surrounding area in October 2003, before construction of SMDC’s First Street Building. (Derek Neas / News Tribune)

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The Technology Village / Soft Center building under construction along Superior Street in downtown Duluth, May 1999. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)——Share your memories and observations by posting a comment.

View of Mount Royal, when gas was $1.26 a gallon

March 25, 1997

Businesses from grocery stores to gas stations cater to residents and motorists along Woodland Avenue in March 1997. (Kathy Strauss / News Tribune)

This photo was featured as an Attic post back in March 2008; I had a lot fewer viewers back then, so I’m posting it again for those who missed it the first time around.

There’s a good mix of things that have changed and things that have remained the same over the past 15 years. Among the things that have changed, perhaps most notable is the price of gas:

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Here’s another News Tribune archive photo from that area, of the Mount Royal grocery store in September 2000, before it was renovated:

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And one more, looking north along Woodland Avenue near Mount Royal in March 2009:

At that time three years ago, gas was less than $2 a gallon:

Share your memories of the Mount Royal area by posting a comment.

Office Depot’s brief foray into downtown Duluth

After Office Depot announced that it wanted to open a store in downtown Duluth’s Holiday Center in March 1999, it took nearly 10 months for the retailer, the mall’s owners and the city to reach a final lease deal.

After Office Depot opened its doors in June 2000, it took little more than six months for the retailer to decide the store was “underperforming” and needed to be closed.

Such was the brief, tumultuous run of Office Depot in downtown Duluth…

The Office Depot store at the Holiday Center in downtown Duluth, Jan. 3, 2001. (Bob King / News Tribune)

March 17, 1999

OFFICE DEPOT SET FOR HOLIDAY CENTER

By Paul Adams, News-Tribune staff writer

Holiday Center and Duluth city officials confirmed Tuesday that Office Depot has signed a letter of intent to locate a 25,000-square-foot store on Superior Street, fulfilling a long-standing goal of attracting a major retailer to the city’s downtown.

The office products store will occupy much of the Holiday Center’s vacant street level, including the space currently occupied by a McDonald’s restaurant and the Renegade Comedy Theatre. Where those tenants will relocate was unclear Tuesday.

The deal would be a coup for the Holiday Center and Duluth Greater Downtown Council, which have made filling the vacant retail space a top priority.

However, the deal didn’t come without some strings attached.

The Duluth City Council must first agree to vacate the public corridor, or hallway, that runs in front of the Holiday Center at street level. In order to create a large enough space, Office Depot needs to include the corridor in its floor plan.

Also, the Duluth Economic Development Authority must agree to provide the Holiday Center’s owners a forgiveable $450,000 loan to make improvements in the center’s courtyard, public restrooms, storefront and skywalk areas.

Labovitz Enterprises, which owns the Holiday Center with other partners, would not have to repay the loan as long as Office Depot remains a tenant for at least 10 years.
If the company closes the store before the term is up, the landlord — the Holiday Center — would be required to repay the portion of the loan that remains.

“I really don’t see any stumbling blocks,” said Duluth Mayor Gary Doty at a press conference announcing the deal.

A News-Tribune article identified Office Depot as the likely tenant Jan. 15. But Holiday Center officials were still negotiating with the city at that time to satisfy Office Depot’s requirements.

The retailer said it will invest an estimated $1.3 million to renovate the space. It is estimated that the store will employ 30 to 40 people and be open in time for the holidays.

Bruce Stender (left) of Labovitz Enterprises and John Mutch of Office Depot officially announce on Jan. 5, 2000, the closing of the deal that will bring the retailer to the Holiday Center in downtown Duluth. (Derek Neas / News-Tribune)

January 6, 2000

OFFICE DEPOT SIGNS LEASE

OFFICIALS HOPE HOLIDAY CENTER LOCATION WILL ATTRACT MORE BUSINESSES DOWNTOWN

By Paul Adams, News-Tribune staff writer

It’s not exactly a Daytons or Target or even a Wal-Mart, but the opening of an Office Depot this spring will give downtown Duluth the closest thing to an anchor retailer since Glass Block and Wahl’s department stores left the city’s center nearly 20 years ago.

The 26,400-square-foot office supply store also gives the Greater Downtown Council its first victory since launching a newly funded effort in 1998 to recruit retailers downtown.

Combined with nearly $100 million in other recent construction and renovation projects in and around downtown, city officials are hopeful Office Depot’s new superstore in the Holiday Center will attract other retailers to Superior Street.

“I think it will strengthen downtown retailing and attract even more tenants to the downtown area,” said Bruce Stender, president of Labovitz Enterprises, which owns the Holiday Center. Those comments were echoed by Mayor Gary Doty at a press conference announcing the deal Wednesday.

But Office Depot’s example may illustrate just how hard that goal will be to accomplish. The retailer, which is expected to top $9 billion in sales in fiscal year 1999, took more than a year of difficult negotiations to finalize its lease with Labovitz Enterprises.

In the end, the lease required $450,000 of city subsidized improvements to the Holiday Center’s public areas; the vacating of a once public hallway; and the removal of three tenants from the center, including the Renegade Comedy Theatre, McDonald’s restaurant and a Duluth Transit Authority information booth.

The McDonald’s in the Holiday Center downtown closed its doors on Sept. 3, 1999, to make way for the new Office Depot store. (Bob King / News-Tribune)

Labovitz Enterprises also accepted a below-market rent to secure the 10-year commitment from Office Depot. However, Stender said the lower rent is mitigated by Office Depot’s agreement to pay for its own buildout, which was expected to cost about $1.3 million.

“It is one of the most sophisticated leases that I’ve ever seen,” Stender said.

The Holiday Center is also stepping up renovations at Porter’s, the Holiday Inn’s anchor restaurant and meeting center. Labovitz Enterprises is investing more than $500,000 to renovate the space and expand the meeting rooms.

Though some analysts say downtowns are enjoying a retail revival, the fact that Office Depot is locating a superstore in a downtown location is still uncommon. Only a small number of the company’s more than 850 stores are located in core downtown areas, including those in New York, Minneapolis, Miami, Washington, D.C., and St. Louis. A spokeswoman at Office Depot’s Florida headquarters couldn’t say whether any downtown stores are located in comparatively small cities such as Duluth.

“I think it’s a bit unusual because of the size (of Duluth),” said John Mutch, district manager for Office Depot in Minnesota. But after numerous trips to Duluth, Mutch concluded downtown was where Office Depot’s market is located.

“We do a lot of homework on where our customers are, where the businesses are. This is home,” he said of the Holiday Center location.

Downtown stores tend to cater to a different market than their suburban counterparts, Mutch said. That will likely mean a slightly different product mix and different hours for the Duluth store.

Suburban Office Depot’s are typically open well into the evening. The chain’s store on the Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis opens at 7 a.m. and closes at 7 p.m. Busy times are in the early morning hours and lunch, rather than in the evening.

The Duluth store will employ 30 to 40 people. The store is expected to open early in the second quarter of this year.

Ted Thompson walks through the doors of the new Office Depot during it’s first day of business on June 23, 2000. The 26,000 square-foot store, located in the Holiday Center, will remain open this weekend, and hold its official grand opening on Monday. Office Depot employs 26 people. (David Rochkind / News-Tribune)

January 4, 2001

DOWNTOWN TO LOSE OFFICE DEPOT

By Bob Linneman and Mary Thompson, News Tribune staff writers

Just six months after opening, Office Depot announced the closing of its downtown Duluth store.

The store, along with 66 others in North America, is “underperforming,” the company said Wednesday.

The loss of Office Depot, which gave Duluth a 10-year commitment when it signed a lease with Labovitz Enterprises last January, will leave a gaping 26,000-square-foot hole in the Holiday Center.

Lauren Garvey, a corporate spokeswoman for Office Depot, based in Delray Beach, Fla., said stores will likely close at the end of March or in early April.

The Duluth store, which opened June 23, employs about 20 people, she said. About 1,400 employees companywide will lose their jobs.

Bruce Stender, president of Labovitz Enterprises, which owns the Holiday Center, said he was shocked by the news of Office Depot’s closing.

“I don’t know how you can call a store underperforming when it’s only been open six months,” Stender said, adding that a search will commence immediately to replace Office Depot.

“As far as I know, the store was doing well,” Stender added. “The general manager was pleased; at least that’s what we were told.”

The Office Depot store at the Holiday Center in downtown Duluth on Jan. 3, 2001, the day it was announced the store would be closing. (Bob King / News Tribune)

About noon Wednesday, 40 shopping carts sat unused outside the store. Only a handful of customers were inside.

Eileen Dunn, vice president for investor and public relations for the company, said projected earnings for the Duluth store were not high enough to merit keeping it open.

“Even though it opened only a short time ago, we weren’t getting the returns we needed,” Dunn said.

Office Depot moved into downtown Duluth amid much fanfare. City officials hailed the store’s arrival as a big step in revitalizing downtown.

Mayor Gary Doty conducted a news conference last January, saying Office Depot would be a key downtown tenant and could help attract other businesses.

Doty said Wednesday he was disappointed by the company’s decision.

“It seems to me they couldn’t have a good indication of how this store was going to operate in such a short period of time,” he said.

Doty said he preferred to focus on the positive aspects of the short-lived venture, including Office Depot’s estimated $1.3 million investment to renovate the retail space.

“It’s going to be easier for us to market the facility to other retail businesses,” Doty said.

The Holiday Center’s owners have strong incentive to find a new tenant.

They have six months to fill the space before they are obligated to begin making payments on a $450,000 municipal loan that paid for improvements to the center’s restrooms and public areas.

Payments on the loan were deferred as long as the center had a major anchor tenant. If the space remained occupied for 10 years, the loan would be forgiven.

Doty said the Holiday Center’s owners assured him Wednesday they would honor their payment obligations.

“We’ll work with the city and of course meet our obligations,” Stender said.

City Council President Greg Gilbert called loans and other incentives used to lure businesses such as Office Depot “one of the hazards of dealing with out-of-town companies.”

“As long as we continue to do things like that, we’re vulnerable to these kinds of shutdowns,” Gilbert said. “The company has no regard for the hardship it places on employees. I’m concerned for the people who had jobs there. I’ve talked to some of them, and these jobs meant a lot. To be cut off creates a significant hardship, so I’m sorry for that.”

Customers comb nearly bare shelves for sales items as Office Depot prepares to close its Holiday Center store on Feb. 28, 2001. (Bob King / News Tribune)

The Office Depot closings are a symptom of a general slowdown in the nation’s economy, said Chuck McDonald, who follows Office Depot for the Chicago-based investment firm William Blair & Co.

With the slowing economy, two-thirds of publicly traded companies have revised their earning estimates downward for 2001, McDonald said.

While the general economy faces a predicted slump, retailers that specialize in supplying small-business owners can really feel the pinch.

“Small businesses are living hand to mouth,” McDonald said. “When they get scared, businesses like Office Depot feel it.”

The chain of office supply stores, the largest office retailer in the world, said it plans to open 50 new stores this year, all in areas where its stores are well-established.
Office Depot is abandoning large markets such as Boston, Cleveland and Phoenix.

The company is encouraging the Duluth workers to seek employment at other Office Depot stores.

There are 13 Office Depot locations in Minnesota — all but the Duluth and St. Cloud stores are in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.

Managers and employees at the Duluth store contacted Wednesday declined comment, referring all questions to the company’s headquarters.

In addition to Duluth, an Office Depot store in Minneapolis is also being closed.

“We needed to do what’s best for the business and the shareholders,” Dunn said.

– end –

The next day, the News Tribune reported that Office Depot officials said they would honor the financial terms of the 10-year lease they signed; whether they ultimately did or made some other arrangement, I don’t know.

The space sat vacant until Brownie Furniture opened there in the the fall of 2002; it remains there today.

Jim’s Hamburgers, 1980

This Attic entry originally was posted in August 2008; I’m posting it again after seeing on the Perfect Duluth Day website that the last Jim’s Hamburgers location, on Superior Street in the West End, apparently has closed.

While apparently there is no absolute confirmation the cafe is closed for good, the windows are papered over. When I tried its last listed phone number, it had been disconnected.

So, for anyone who didn’t see this post the first time around, here’s a look back at Jim’s Hamburgers restaurants in Duluth:

November 27, 1980

Jim’s Hamburgers is crowded every day, so Jim and Jay Overlie stay open on Thanksgiving. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

JIM’S OPEN DOORS ARE A THANK YOU TO SOME FAMILIAR FACES

BY SANDY BATTIN OF THE NEWS-TRIBUNE STAFF

Time was, Jim’s Hamburgers was about the only place open on Thanksgiving. Jim Overlie kept his restaurants open on the holiday pretty much to serve his regular customers and anyone else passing through town – those with no place else to go.

There wasn’t any turkey and dressing, but the hamburgers and hotcakes were abundant.

Times have changed. Businesses have come and gone; buses that once brought hungry travelers downtown now arrive in western Duluth. And places like senior citizen centers offer hot holiday meals to the elderly.

But Jim’s Hamburgers still is open on Thanksgiving – as well as Christmas.

It’s a tradition that started in 1937, when Overlie first went into business. He worried about his regular customers, many old and without families, and about where they would eat holiday meals like Thanksgiving dinner.

“I always worked on the theory ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,’ ” Overlie, now retired, says. “A lot of our regular customers were retired people who didn’t have facilities to cook. People were good enough to give us their business all year around,” so Overlie figured he’d make sure those same people had someplace to eat on Thanksgiving.

Holiday business was a family project. Overlie’s son, Jay, who manages the four Jim’s Hamburgers restaurants, two on West Superior Street, one on East Fourth and the other at 502 E. First St., started working holidays as a boy.

“My daughter and son always came down on holidays,” Overlie says. “They’d rather come down at Christmas than stay home. They got greater satisfaction doing that than unwrapping presents under the Christmas tree.”

Waitresses would make cookies for some of their favorite customers and the elderly diners often would reciprocate with gift boxes of candy.

At one time, Christmas Eve was the busiest night of the year at Jim’s. Worshippers from nearby churches came in for after-service meals and last-minute shoppers thronged the place.

Jay Overlie stands in front of the Jim’s Hamburgers restaurant on West First Street. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)

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Jim’s Thanksgiving business has dropped off a bit. “There’s a few you always get, but it’s not like it used to be,” Jim Overlie said.

But the restaurants stay open on the holidays.

“It’s a hard thing to put in words,” Jay said. “It’s more of an obligation where customers appreciate the fact you’re interested in them, too.

“The customers recognize each other. They don’t always talk, but when one is missing, they notice. They care about one another.”

Even though he no longer works day-to-day in his restaurants, the elder Overlie expects to drop in at the three restaurants that will be open on Thanksgiving (the store at 414 W. Superior will be closed).

According to a News-Tribune article from April 1982, the Jim’s Hamburgers location at 414 W. Superior St. was sold off that month and became a restaurant called Bragg’s. That left three Jim’s Hamburgers locations – 502 E. Fourth St., 2005 W. Superior St. and 205 W. First St.

On June 10, 1995, the News Tribune carried news that the original Jim’s Hamburgers location, the one on First Street, had just closed. Jim Overlie had sold his restaurants in 1985. New owner Dick Christensen said the cost of required health and fire code improvements were too high at the First Street restaurant, which seated 14 at the counter and 24 in the booths, and which in its earliest days was called the Blue and White Restaurant.

At the time, Christensen also owned the Jim’s Hamburgers locations on Fourth Street and in the West End on Superior Street. Here is a photo of the Fourth Street location from December 1996:

And here is a photo of the West End location from February 2001, when its owners were fighting the city smoking ban:

The East Fourth Street Jim’s Hamburgers location now is home to Quizno’s sandwich shop, which opened in April 2006 (though Jim’s Hamburgers is still listed in the phone book at that address). That left the West End location of Jim’s Hamburgers as the only one still in business in August 2008 when this post was first written. It remained open in early 2011 (the last time I was in there), but as of February 2012 appears to have closed.

Old-school Taco John’s

January 18, 1976

This photo of a Taco John’s restaurant has no caption information other than the date – Jan. 18, 1976. But given the guard rail you can see in the background on the right, and the house in the background on the left, I’m thinking this is the Taco John’s on London Road – before it was expanded, of course. Do you agree? Or do you think this is somewhere else?

Wherever it was, a sign barely visible through the front windows appears to show a “Taco Tuesday” special of 25-cent tacos:

The News Tribune files are pretty sparse on information about when Taco John’s expanded into the area. What year did they arrive? Was the London Road location the first one in town?

Share your memories by posting a comment.