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CJ's to close after 28 years; owners retire

CJ's of Cloquet officially observed their 28th year in business last Wednesday - and this will be their last. Owners Carl and Judy Dahlman announced their decision to retire from the business last month, and a stock liquidation sale is currently ...

CJ's of Cloquet officially observed their 28th year in business last Wednesday - and this will be their last.

Owners Carl and Judy Dahlman announced their decision to retire from the business last month, and a stock liquidation sale is currently under way prior to closing its doors.

The Dahlmans said the decision to retire from the business and put the building up for sale was not an easy one.

"It was a very, very, very difficult decision," said Judy. "It's hard letting our employees go [they currently have four full- and part-time workers] and we knew it was going to be hard on the community. We have a lot of loyal customers and I know it's going to affect them greatly."

When the Dahlmans made their annual trip back to Cloquet from their home in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, the second week in June, they had planned to have a big sale and clear out the basement of the approximately 20,000-square-foot building with an eye toward possibly streamlining the operation somewhat.

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"We honestly came back not knowing what direction we were going to take for sure," said Judy. "We knew we needed to make some changes because the collectible lines are slowing down nationwide. We had hoped to work with Hallmark on possibly doing something on a little more manageable scale but it didn't work out, and all the doors seemed to be closing for us to continue on. With the way events turned out, we decided that [retiring] was the best option left for us."

The Dahlmans hope to close out the sale of their inventory by the end of August so they can return to Idaho in time for the startup of their daughters' fall activities. They plan to progressively mark down merchandise until that time, and Judy added, "There's nothing that's not on sale."

The Dahlmans first started CJ's in 1983 in space now occupied by the Mail Station. Judy had worked for the Johnson Company prior to that time, starting at the age of 16 and staying on for five years. When she and Carl decided to open their own shop, they began with limited inventory and grew from there.

"I did a lot of crafts, and I'd sit in the back room and sew," said Judy.

They stayed in their original space for 10 years before buying the Johnson Company building further west on Cloquet Avenue, which Judy said had been sitting empty for about two years prior to that.

"We decided at that time to try the whole clothing, department store thing," said Judy. "Giftware and home décor has always been my main enjoyment, but we felt the community needed something along the clothing line."

They also ran a bridal store in their space for 12 years prior to deciding to get out of the clothing lines altogether.

"Carl and I talked about it for a long time because it was a huge decision to go with all giftware, collectibles and home décor," said Judy, "but we ultimately decided to make the changeover in 2003."

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When the Dahlmans made a personal decision to move to Idaho in 2004, they left the store in the hands of manager Sue Chapin and, more recently, Cece Ermatinger.

Since that time they've operated their Cloquet business from afar while Carl works as a handyman, school bus driver and a representative for a telecommunications company and Judy home-schools their daughters, Lanae, 14, and

Kylie, 7.

The Dahlmans now plan to put the CJ's building on the commercial real estate market for sale.

"We have a couple of parties that are interested in it, but nothing formal has been done about it yet," said Judy.

The Dahlmans said they will continue to come back to Cloquet to visit "and maybe even vacation!" added Judy, and they want to express how much it has meant to them be in business in Cloquet for so long.

"We just want to let the community know how much we've appreciated them," she added.

The closing represents not only the end of an era for CJ's, but the latest milestone in the longtime saga of the building, which was home to the popular Johnson Company for 40 years in downtown Cloquet.

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Kenneth Johnson, once manager of Roy Harnish's Federated Store (located to the west of the current CJ's store), eventually bought Harnish's business in 1952 and it became known as the Johnson Company.

To the east of the Johnson Company store was a multi-story building that housed Stewart's Furniture. On Thanksgiving morning of 1956, the Stewart's building caught fire and burned to the ground. It was later rebuilt as a one-story structure on the corner of 11th Street and Cloquet Avenue and when Stewart's decided to relocate, Johnson bought it and it became the new home of the Johnson Company. The department store, alternately referred to in the Pine Knot as "the hub of downtown Cloquet" and the "bonding element of downtown area businesses," operated there until 1991.

The building sat empty for two years until the Dahlmans purchased it.

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