Mount Horeb reaping benefits of expansion

MOUNT HOREB — There is more room for men’s underwear that provides, well, more room in the front.

In the women’s department, some shirts have extra buttons to prevent a Janet Jackson-like wardrobe malfunction. And just for good measure, the Wally Keller Memorial Tool Museum includes farm devices like a nipple wrench and a castration tool.

But the additional 2,219 square feet at the Duluth Trading Co. store in downtown Mount Horeb isn’t just fixing plumber’s butt. The 8,345-square-foot retail experience is also adding more fuel to the energetic vibe of this village’s troll-themed downtown that will also gain the Duluth headquarters in 2018 in a five-story building under construction a block away from the store.

There are few empty retail spaces, parking is at a premium and the other shops, restaurants, cafes and Grumpy Troll Brew Pub are reaping the rewards that many downtowns can only dream about.

“We are thriving. It’s hard to keep up,” said Melissa Theisen, executive director of the Mount Horeb Area Chamber of Commerce. “It means a lot to our community for jobs, the health of the economy, not only for our downtown but for our area. They’re marketing all of the time to bring people here.”

The expansion project at the Duluth store at 100 W. Main St. will culminate Saturday when part of Main Street is blocked off for a ribbon cutting. There will be speeches by dignitaries, an appearance by Duluth’s CEO, Stephanie Pugliese, and in keeping with the theme of the clothing line, two lumberjack shows, one at 10:30 a.m., the other at noon.

The event is the latest in the continued growth of Duluth that is bucking the trend in retail contraction, expanding across the country with brick-and-mortar stores. Since opening its flagship store in Mount Horeb in 2010, the company, known for its casual wear and work wear, has added 20 more stores and two outlets. This fall it will open six more stores in four states.

“Its tremendous success gave us the confidence to pursue our retail store expansion,” Pugliese said in a statement. “Mount Horeb has been very good to us, and we are proud to present our town with a newly renovated store and later with a new Duluth Trading headquarters building just a few blocks away.”

The expansion of the store began in February and became possible when Fisher King Winery moved out of the village last fall for a new facility in Verona. The winery space and a conference room that had been used by Duluth are now part of an expanded women’s department, while the original store space, built in the former site of the Mustard Museum, has more room for men’s clothing and hard goods like flashlights, mugs and small tools.

The project also doubled the number of bathrooms to four, doubled the number of fitting rooms to eight and added a second checkout counter with three registers.

The increased space means more room for more men’s underwear that range in price from $19 to $28 a pair and $54 flannel shirts. It will particularly help Duluth better serve its growing female clientele at the Mount Horeb store, which leads all company stores in women’s clothing sales, said Holly Deschenes, the store’s manager.

“We truly believe we’re a destination store,” said Deschenes, 35, a Brodhead native, UW-River Falls graduate and former horse trainer. “It really helps keep the downtown alive. We’re always sending (our customers) to different shops on the street and to different restaurants.”

‘A snowball effect’

At the Sunn Cafe, which opened in October at the corner of East Main and South Second streets, the lunch rush packed the 45-seat restaurant. Customers lined up for arugula and white bean soup and spicy panini and forced owner Cindy Curtes to take a break from her law practice down the street to help her overwhelmed staff. She’s already thinking of ways to accommodate the employees of Duluth’s headquarters when it moves to town next year.

“I think it’s an amazing thing for this town. Absolutely wonderful, but the whole town has been incredibly supportive,” Curtes said as she took a break from wiping down tables and counters after the crowd died down. “Our weekdays are busier than our weekends because of the working people who are here every day.”

Duluth Trading was founded in 1993 by two brothers from Duluth, Minnesota, selling tool organizers. In 2000, Duluth Trading Co. was acquired by Gempler’s outdoor supplies, which was then owned by Steve Schlecht. Schlecht had opened Gempler’s in Mount Horeb in 1985 but moved it to Belleville in 1997. Schlecht sold Gempler’s in 2003 to concentrate on developing the Duluth Trading business.

In 2015, the company raised $80 million in an initial public stock offering, and in June announced it had increased its first-quarter sales for 2017 to $83.7 million, a 21.9 percent boost compared to last year, the company reported.

One of the biggest announcements for the company came in December when it unveiled a $20 million project to move its corporate headquarters to Mount Horeb from Belleville. Duluth’s warehouse, distribution center and call center will remain in Belleville, where the company nearly doubled the size of its warehouse in 2016 with a 75,000-square-foot addition.

But the 108,000-square-foot, five-story office building adjacent to the Military Ridge State Trail and next to a food innovation facility under construction is expected to be home to 150 employees. They’ll further add to Mount Horeb’s downtown vibrancy and give Duluth an even larger presence there.

“They’re going to be eating and they’re going to be shopping,” Theisen said. “It’s a snowball effect. Other businesses are certainly being supported because of the increased traffic by the (existing) Duluth Trading store.”

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Barry Adams covers regional and business news for the Wisconsin State Journal.