Magnolia Cafe owner Yvette Maijala opened her doors in downtown Carlton in July and has been enjoying steady business since.
The Louisiana native fills a niche in the small town with her cozy cafe serving coffee drinks, healthy smoothies, sandwiches, soups and Bridgeman's ice cream. The cafe is one of several businesses that opened in Carlton recently.
According to Carlton Mayor Kitty Bureau, it's business as usual in the small town of just around a 1,000 people.
Bureau has lived in Carlton for almost 40 years and has watched the ebb and flow of local businesses. She said businesses have stayed fairly consistent over the years. When one business closes, another one opens. She named a few of the recent new businesses in town, including Magnolia Cafe, Creative Edge Design and Gateway Goods. Bureau notes she has the city business cards printed at Creative Edge Design; several other local business owners say they utilize the new printing place.
Bureau said she appreciates the variety and balance of businesses that call Carlton home, from the bike shop to restaurants, bars to groceries, kayaking to gift shops, along with salons, a wellness center, insurance and a bed and breakfast, just to name a few. According to Bureau, the Oldenburg House has recently made a few changes and offers weddings, jazz and blues music events as well as the B&B. The historic home is located between the entrance to Jay Cooke State Park and downtown Carlton. Oldenburg House also partners with other local businesses to help support them.
Part of the success of several of the local businesses can be attributed to the proximity of Jay Cooke State Park and the bike trails that meander around the area, including the Willard Munger Trail. Carlton touts itself as the "Gateway to Jay Cooke State Park."
"If they stop here once, they fall in love and want to come back," said Bureau, who enjoys biking the peaceful trails and taking in the scenery.
Teresa Kavanaugh — who owns the Streetcar Kitchen and Pub with her husband, Rob — agrees.
Streetcar waitresses ask customers if they have been in before and what brings them to the area. Many of the customers respond that they are visiting Jay Cooke or using the biking trails.
The Streetcar sits on the busy corner in downtown Carlton. The Kavanaughs are both originally from Carlton, even attending kindergarten together. The 1983 alums left the area after graduation, but moved back.
"Rob is an entrepreneur in his heart," said Teresa.
They noticed the iconic Char's Cafe building sitting empty for years after original owner and local legend Charlotte Zacher had passed away. The
Kavanaughs opened the Streetcar in October 2011 and have enjoyed a steady flow of customers, as well as a loyal local base. The owners use as many fresh, local ingredients in their restaurant as possible.
"It's a good thing for everyone," said Teresa. "We rely on each other."
Customers flood their restaurant before concerts at Black Bear Casino, according to Teresa. Many families stop in to eat after visiting family members at nearby Inter-Faith Care Center. Campers often come in from Jay Cooke Park to eat as well as admire the historic photographs of Carlton decorating the walls of the restaurant.
The Streetcar was still relatively new when the 2012 flood hit the area and closed Highway 210 from Jay Cooke to Duluth. Teresa anticipates that when the road reopens it will lead more customers to local businesses, including hers.
Bureau is also anxiously awaiting the reopening of the road connecting Duluth to Carlton. She believes the closing did negatively affect several local businesses.
Although there are a few storefronts for rent, Bureau is optimistic for Carlton's future economic growth with the addition of the new businesses.
A few local business owners suggested ideas for additional businesses to add to the mix, such as a small brew pub, stone oven pizza place or an antique store.
"We are picking up slowly," Bureau said.
She ticked off several new improvements that encourage tourists and bikers to the area. The bike trails have been cleared for easier passage and better signage has been placed recently to mark the trails more clearly. Maps are also available now. Bike to School Day encourages students to walk or bike to school on the paths.
Another Carlton alumna owns two businesses in town. Sheryl Davis has owned Sheryl's Golden Shears about 30 years and now co-owns another business with her sister, Alison Bowen.
The sisters opened a gift shop, aptly named Gateway Goods, last November. They had discussed going into business together for years and both enjoy crafts. They began visiting craft shows and inviting a few crafters to sell their items on consignment in their new shop.
It all came together when Davis moved across the hallway for her salon, which opened space in the same building for the new shop.
Most of the crafters are from northern Minnesota and all are from Minnesota.
"We give local artists a place to sell their art," said Davis.
She is excited about the variety of items, as well as the uniqueness of several of the crafts. Beautiful curved deer horns from whitetail deer, mule deer, elk and reindeer are made into useful as well as decorative bottle stoppers, campfire forks and even cribbage boards. Pine needle baskets are exactly what they sound like, large pine needles sewn together to form breakfast bowl-sized baskets with a large agate slice in the bottom. Meadowlands Chocolate is made without the use of preservatives and the unique flavors are not added, but a product of the region the chocolate was grown in.
There is also a small sample display of gift shop goodies set up at the Oldenburg House, which has asked Magnolia Cafe to cater some of their events.
Carlton Bike Rental and Repair is one of the businesses that took a huge hit after the 2012 flood.
"After the flood I had an 80 percent drop in business overnight," said owner Joelene Steffens. Steffens had visited Carlton to go white river rafting many years ago; she loved the natural beauty of the area and the many ways to enjoy it and decided to open a bike shop in town.
The business began as Custom Art Dimensions Framing and Steffens slowly built up the bike-shop side, literally buying one bike at a time as her finances allowed. Business grew rapidly as did her local supporters.
She loves the excitement, compassion and the communication between the local businesses as they learn to help and support each other.
"We lean against each other," Steffens explained. "Everyone is on the same page for a common goal."
Understandably, Steffens is very excited for Highway 210 connecting Duluth to Carlton through Jay Cooke to reopen. She said the road is a great training loop for those entering events such as the Ironman triathlon.
Steffens said the Carlton Disc Golf Sanctuary will be adding nine new holes to its course. There will be a volunteer day 8 a.m. to noon Saturday, Oct. 7, to clear fairways. Anyone interested should call the bike shop at 218-384-4696 to sign up.
"Carlton is a little gem," said Steffens with a laugh. "It just took a while to polish it."