Cloquet’s West End business district is one of the most historic parts of the city, but for years, it’s been a cluster of empty storefronts and shuttered retail stores.

During a press conference Thursday, June 27, city leaders announced an effort to revitalize the West End Business District by offering up to $175,000 in financial incentives to lure a brewery, taproom or cidery.

The West End has seen several businesses open or move to the area in the last two years, including Common Ground Coffee Bar & Deli opened in the Chief Theater building in January 2018 and, most recently, Skuteviks Floral moved into a new location on Broadway Street.

“Breweries and cideries are changing the areas of downtowns that have been forgotten and been disinvested into over the years,” Cloquet Community Development Director Holly Hansen said. “These are the most historic and beautiful buildings that are in our cities. For those reasons we’d like to attract a brewery or cidery to this area of our city to help revitalize our West End Business District.”

The Cloquet Economic Development Authority (CEDA) is seeking applicants to open a brewery or similar business in the West End and is touting up to $10,000 in the form of a Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development Small Cities Development grant and up to $165,000 in gap financing, or low interest loans, from the CEDA to help the business get off the ground.

CEDA vice president and At-Large City Councilor Lara Wilkinson acknowledged the trouble small shops face in today’s economy with online retailers like Amazon hollowing out malls and retail stores around the country.

At Large Cloquet City Counslor and board member of the EDA Lara Wilkinson speaks about revitalizing the west end of Cloquet. The EDA is hoping to find an interested party to start a brewery in one of the empty spaces in the west end. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal
At Large Cloquet City Counslor and board member of the EDA Lara Wilkinson speaks about revitalizing the west end of Cloquet. The EDA is hoping to find an interested party to start a brewery in one of the empty spaces in the west end. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal

“It’s a smart, proactive community that recognizes this reality and takes steps to capitalize on the kinds of commercial opportunities that still thrive in our economy,” Wilkinson said during the press conference. “We may no longer leave the house to get a box of Kleenex, but we do leave — for experiences. In the realm of experiences, online retailers can’t compete with local venues. Take a drive any evening to Moose Lake Brewery or the expanded Bent Paddle taproom in Duluth and you’ll see this commercial phenomenon at work.”

The press conference was held just outside the First National Bank Plaza at 207 Avenue C, which Hansen touted as an ideal place for a brewery — with 5,500 square feet of space available — but she also noted there are other buildings in the West End with the potential. The First National Bank Plaza has been empty since Avenue C restaurant closed in November 2017.

CEDA President Ross Peterson believes the West End could blossom with the presence of a brewery, similar to businesses have sprung up in Duluth’s Lincoln Park Craft District after Bent Paddle Brewing Co. opened in 2013.

“We’ve come to the conclusion — as a lot of other small communities are — the cidery and the microbrewery has really taken off and they’ve been good complements to the areas they’ve been developed in,” Peterson said. “Just look at the Lincoln Park area, how many businesses have located there — it really has developed some synergy down there to bring some other people and some excitement. We’d like to develop some excitement here in the West End because we think it deserves it.”

For more information or to submit a proposal, contact Hansen at 218-879-2507 ext. 4 or hhansen@cloquetmn.gov. Proposals should be submitted electronically and should not exceed 40 pages. It should include a cover letter, team members, relevant experience as well as business and marketing plans and the team’s financial capacity.