Duluth News Tribune

New Duluth Business Owners Keep Hope Alive

Clockwise from top left: Emily Richey and Brooke Wetmore of Great Lakes Gear Exchange; Giselle Hernandez (from left) Maria Olivares and Desiree Jenkins of Juice Pharm; Stacey LaCoursiere and McKenzie Kapsner of The Duluth Studio Market (News Tribune file) and Jessica Rossing of Movo Studio (Photo courtesy of Michelle Bennett / Wolfskull Creative).

New Duluth Business Owners Keep Hope Alive

Written By: Kelly Busche | Mar 30th 2020

Businesses of all types and sizes have been mandated to temporarily close in Minnesota to help curb the spread of the new coronavirus.

For new Duluth businesses, the closures come during a busy time, when they’re renovating new spaces, opening storefronts and building customer bases.

Gov. Tim Walz has issued several mandates since COVID-19 began spreading in Minnesota. The orders leave only essential businesses, such as grocery stores and hospitals, open for businesses, while all others must shut their doors and figure out how to adapt.

Great Lakes Gear Exchange opened its doors in late November and then closed them — temporarily — about two weeks ago to ensure the safety of staff and the community. Since its closure, its owners have brainstormed ways to keep revenue coming in, said owner Emily Richey.

They landed on encouraging people to buy gift cards for later use, as well as listing some of its secondhand, outdoor items online and on social media, she said.

“We’re in a unique position because we sell physical items that are total one-offs. We’re a consignment store, so it’s not like we have 10 items of one thing and it’s easy to put them up online and sell them on a national market,” said Richey, who owns the store with Brooke Wetmore.

The owners recently hired three employees, which has been a difficult situation, she said. “How do we support our employees as best we can through this and (ensure) that our business is healthy so that they have jobs to come back to,” Richey said.

Richey said the Gear Exchange is in a stable position. The business didn’t have upfront large capital investments, such as product purchases or building construction, when it launched.

“We feel pretty fortunate for the amazing amount of people that have cheered us on for opening our business,” she said.

Movo Studio, which opened in June 2018, moved to a larger space in the fall. In response to the coronavirus, the fitness studio closed its physical space in incremental steps, said owner Jessica Rossing.

Now, with its space completely closed, classes are held entirely online. Movo is offering pre-recorded daily workouts and live sessions for subscribers, with plans to likely hold one free class a week on social media. Rossing is considering adding a $5 virtual drop-in class that would be held via Zoom.

“We will be switching over just to ensure that we can financially keep our actual brick and mortar open. We still have to pay rent, we still have to pay water and gas and electric, even though we’re not in this space,” she said. Subscription fees also help pay Movo’s employees that hold the online sessions.

Online subscriptions are $20, far less than its $115 monthly subscription that gives people unlimited class access.

“We need to be making at least, like, $300 a day just to cover up cost for the studio. And so it’s definitely a huge cut of what we would normally make,” Rossing said. “That’s kind of the hard decision right now. … What do I charge that feels fair to our guests?”

The studio is prepared for next month because of help from the community, but, after that, Rossing is unsure. Movo will have to keep its online subscriptions up to afford payroll for its online class instructors.

Rossing is keeping her eye on the silver lining: that online classes may encourage more people to work out.

“If this could be your little moment (to) move your body and destress, we’ve got you,” she said.

Giselle Hernandez (from left) talks with a visitor to the Juice Pharm while Maria Olivares prepares food and Desiree Jenkins assembles tacos in 2017. (News Tribune file)

The Juice Pharm relocated from its downtown skywalk location to a new storefront, called The Pharm, in the historic arts and theater district. They recently held a soft opening, and plans for a grand opening have been delayed for the foreseeable future, said owners Giselle Hernandez and Desiree Jenkins.

The move to a new space gave the restaurant more room to make full meals. Now, the Pharm must stick to its staples — smoothies and bowls — that can be ordered only through delivery and curbside pickup.

It has seen good customer numbers, many of who are frequent customers, they said, and are expanding its hours of operation next week.

They’re both confident the Pharm will make it through challenges associated to the coronavirus, and are looking forward to when they can branch into the full menu.

Stacey LaCoursiere was in the midst of renovating her new Lakeside storefront when businesses began closing because of the pandemic. Her plans to open the Duluth Studio Market, an artist marketplace and photography studio, will now be delayed by a month or two, she said.

When it opens, the marketplace will house pottery, jewelry, children’s gifts, illustrations, local apparel and more made by local artists, some of whom are now hesitant to enter into partnerships, LaCoursiere said.

The space will also house LaCoursiere’s two other companies: commercial branding company of L’Co. Creative and wedding and portrait photography company LaCoursiere & Co. The two will soon come together under one brand, The Duluth Studio Co., that will also be located in the new space.

Commercial shoots and people reaching out to schedule late 2020 wedding shoot have both halted. But she’s hopeful that they will be able to photograph its first wedding of the season, scheduled for the first weekend in June.

“Nobody wants to start planning a major production or a wedding … if they’re going to lose money on it,” LaCoursiere said. “In the service industry — for photographers, wedding planners, videographers (and more) — … we’re kind of seeing 2020 revenue just halted.”

Like others, LaCoursiere is encouraging people to buy gift cards for future photo sessions, whether it’s for themselves or someone else.

“We’re rolling with the punches, and that’s what you have to do as an entrepreneur,” she said.

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