New Owner, New Vision: Three Downtown Duluth Businesses Forced Out

The City of Duluth Has Not Received Any Applications from Hall Equities

DULUTH, Minn. – During what’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, heartbreak this evening from three business owners in downtown Duluth.

Chinese Dragon is now set to close.

Hucklebeary and Old Town Antiques and Books, forced to relocate. All this news comes within less than two months.

“It’s like a family,” said Carol Jouppi, owner of Old Town Antiques & Books.

“I was born and raised in the restaurant business,” said Melisa Behrendt, a server at Chinese Dragon.

“It’s abrupt, it is not a good time personally with expecting a child,” said Emily Ekstrom, owner of Hucklebeary.

Amid the hustle and bustle, stress is now boiling through the roof of this white brick building housing three local businesses.

“FedEx came with an envelope and he had three. I thought that’s strange,” said Jouppi.

After owning Old Town Antiques & Books for 11 years, Jouppi thought the letter was a joke.

“It said that you need to be out of the building by Jan. 31, 2022,” said Jouppi.

After reading twice, reality sunk in, and sadness followed.

“I had always said to them that if I was going to leave, I’d give them a 90-day notice, and I would expect you to do the same,” said Jouppi.

Just steps away, a new chapter has been sloppily written for the owners of Chinese Dragon, and their daughter who also serves inside the restaurant.

“It’s been kind of shocking especially when you’ve been in the industry for 40 years, all of a sudden you have to go,” said Behrendt. “It wasn’t like you wanted to leave, it was kind of more like a kicking you out kind of thing.”

After more than 40 years in business, her parents decided to retire. The final day for your favorite foods will be on New Year’s Eve.

“The regulars have kind of been like family, you get to know them more on a personal level,” said Behrendt.

For Behrendt, its lifelong memories made with customers she’ll miss the most.

“I think I’ll miss the people because it’s fun to talk to them and hear about their work, their kids,” said Behrendt.

For middle sister Emily Ekstrom, owning Huckleberry for the past four years has been a dream come true, often coming with bumps in the road.

“Superior Street Reconstruction, gotta make a new plan, a pandemic hits, gotta make a new plan, going to lose your building, gotta make a new plan,” said Ekstrom.

Right now, the new plan comes at a tricky time for Ekstrom. She’s expecting a newborn within weeks if not days.

“If I’m not here, we’re closed on Mondays, if I get a package delivered, Carol takes it for me,” said Ekstrom.

As for the others, it’s the family vibe she’s going to miss the most.

“It’s very hard to see the building be torn down and turned into a parking lot,” said Ekstrom.

While the owners of the building, Hall Equities out of California, have yet to officially make plans with the City of Duluth, Ekstrom, Behrendt (bear-ant), and Jouppi wish the places they once considered like home would be turned in to something more vibrant for the vision of downtown.

“Downtown needs businesses, downtown needs energy and life, and the three businesses that are here right now bring that to downtown,” said Ekstrom.

“It’s Christmas, winter, and to try to find a place right away is not ideal,” said Jouppi.

Both Hucklebeary and Old Town Antiques & Books are looking for new spaces to move into.

As for Hall Equities, it’s the same company that bought up Duluth-based ZMC hotels in 2015 which includes properties like the Edge Waterpark. The news came to light back in 2017.

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