Pandemic Forces ‘Art in the Alley’ to Leave Downtown Duluth, Focus on Miller Hill Mall

The owner says the pandemic is pushing more people to the mall, and therefore her business.

DULUTH, Minn.- A longtime retailer in Duluth, Art in the Alley was forced out of their location on East Superior Street by the pandemic. The owner, now focusing her attention on sales at the Miller Hill Mall — where she says business is booming.

“The thing about being a small business owner, 13 years in may we’ve been through a lot. We’ve been through ups and we’ve been through downs, COVID was definitely a down,” owner Tami Lapole Edmunds said.

The empty storefront where the colorful, locally made art pieces once greeted people entering downtown on East Superior Street, now sits empty and dark.  “The end of 2020 is the end of the Art in the Alley Downtown Era,” said Edmunds in a video on the business’s Facebook page.

“The decision to close the downtown Duluth store was one we did not take lightly,” she said. “That was our flagship store, that was kind of our baby.”

Coming off the multi-year Superior Street Reconstruction Project, Edmunds said, the pandemic was the final straw.

“After three years of the road construction, and then sprinkle a little COVID on top, it just did not make sense,” said the artist. “We needed to put our efforts where the customers were.”

And where the customers were, was Miller Hill Mall. “The mall is busy, because people need to get out of their houses and just walk around and see other humans and it’s a mental health thing,” she said. “It feels normal.”

Edmunds and her husband already had a store there. In November, they opened a pop-up studio just across the way, for which they’ve renewed the lease, to keep “indefinitely.”

“So we have different artists work in that studio, my husband paints and does pottery over there, I’ll make jewelry over there,” said Edmunds. “So there are at times artists working in the arts studio and it’s right across.”

Moving the operation completely to the mall was a blessing in disguise, she said, with her 11 local artists working entirely out of one building.

“Everything’s done out of these two locations now,” she said. “The office space is here, we have our shipments to one location, we have our staff go to one location, so it’s, it’s great to be focused.”

“And focused is the word for 2021,” said Edmunds.

Traffic in the mall was steady Sunday. According to Edmunds, the colorful clothing on one side, and the handcrafted jewelry and art on the other side are magnets for customers.

“The one word that people use when they come into the store is happy, we have happy employees and it’s fun, everything we sell is fun,” she said, “and we need a little happiness and fun y’know during January in Minnesota, during COVID.”

Although her two mall locations are getting more traffic, Edmunds said it’s not crowded beyond COVID protocol. Safety is ensured with things like plexiglass barriers, and markers on the floor help with social distancing.

While the move has been great for her business, she said she misses being downtown.

But, she thinks that she may not be the only business owner who decides to leave after the double whammy of Superior Street Reconstruction and Coronavirus.

“If you take a drive Downtown Duluth, I mean, there’s still some places hanging on,” she said, “everybody did the best they could.”

But going forward, she is grateful for the continued community support, regardless of her business address.

“We’re ready for 2021 and wanna thank people for shopping local, for recognizing they need to support our small business, our small restaurants, all the people that are out here working on a Sunday in their own business. That’s who you wanna come and visit and see,” Edmunds said.

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