Old City Hall collecting Superior’s art sceneOne hundred eighteen years after the Old City Hall was built, it’s still standing and Superior’s evolving arts scene is finding a home there.
By: By DANIELLE KAEDING, The Daily Telegram
One hundred eighteen years after the Old City Hall was built, it’s still standing and Superior’s evolving arts scene is finding a home there.
Jeff Heller has owned the building for 18 years. At first, he just wanted to do his part to preserve a piece of Superior’s history.
“I just wanted to make sure that it didn’t get destroyed. After that, I started thinking that it would be a good incubator for start up businesses,” Heller said.
A decade ago, he began to see artists being displaced in the Twin Ports. He said the revitalization of downtown Duluth into office space created a need for artists to find an inexpensive space for their creativity.
“I started looking at the other end of it and saying, ‘Well, rather than just going to the office, why don’t we create a space for people to do their work — create their art and create their goods. It’s kind of gelled into that.”
In November of 2004, the Red Mug Coffeehouse began its operations in a corner of the historic structure. Coffeehouse co-owner Kat Eldred said Heller’s ideas mirror her own.
“It’s kind of more of a passion thing. I’ve always been passionate about coffee. I’m very passionate about the arts,” Eldred said.
The building seemed to be the perfect place to realize that vision.
“People love that building. I just had somebody tell me how they love Red Mug’s atmosphere. There’s only a portion of it I can take credit for. It’s a historic building. The fact that I have people come in, elderly people from the community, who used to come down there and pay their bills — they have stories to tell. They remember what the building used to be, and they’re just so happy that it’s being used again in such a vibrant way and such a community way.”
Heller believes the future success of the businesses within its walls is dependent on that community involvement.
“I think that a lot of people who patronize Red Mug — the bakery upstairs and coming for the art openings and stuff — I think it’s important for them to keep that little bit of lifeline in the North End,” Heller said.
Business owners within the building feel the same.
“I feel like it’s my community service,” Eldred said. “The reason Red Mug continues to succeed and survive is because all three of us owners [of Red Mug] give a lot of time without compensation. It’s because we love the place, and it’s important to us.”
Dale Karsky started his business, Sustenance Artisan Breads, in the building in July of last year. He thinks the passion they put into their work is reflected in the community members who support them.
“There’s a big revitalization here in this town. Even in the little building I’m in here. The Red Mug down below here — they’re busy all the time. Then, there’s Karin Kraemer doing her pottery. People are just getting into art around here a little bit more I think. I hope with some more publicity between all of us, we can just get the word out and get people motivated.”
Heller said improvements to the building are being made in the upper levels. He hopes other opportunities for artists or businesses will arise there in the next few years.
“We’re talking about a music school and a language school,” Heller said. “We’re talking about a lot of different things that are not really offered to communities of our size that we can bring there.”
All three agree that new ventures with the building will require them to analyze the needs of the community or the customers they serve — down to the smallest detail.
“What we really need now is to get some financial help to get an elevator in the building to make it accessible to everybody,” Heller said.
Other than that, Eldred hopes that all of them can continue to provide the quality, creativity and sense of community people want.
“Community has always been important to me. I have very much of an activist background. I’m an artist. I’m a painter myself. It’s like when you go to Europe, and people really pay attention to how the coffee is made. It’s part of the culture. It’s part of appreciating quality over quantity,” Eldred said.
Karsky said the businesses within those walls are their own community that will help sustain them and grow as time goes on.
“It’s a very symbiotic relationship that all of us have here. I was very busy this summer, and all the artists said their business was up just because I was busier. That’s kind of nice when that kind of stuff happens. We all work together in this building,” Karsky said.
Danielle Kaeding is a Wisconsin Public Radio reporter and freelance writer.