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Small biz owners get the business

Although time did not roll back to the 1980s when shoppers could get everything from hats and dresses to men's suits at multiple department stores on Cloquet Avenue, there were definitely pockets of local activity on Small Business Saturday.

Numerous shops and restaurants ran specials on a day which highlights the locally owned and operated side of commerce each year.

Mainstream Boutique, on Cloquet Avenue, saw a steady stream of customers. As they entered, each shopper was invited to choose a candy cane, marked with a discount ranging from 20 to 50 percent.

"We've had a good turnout," said owner Ryanna Clark. "We've had new faces and old faces, which is nice for our small business."

Although she recently opened another Mainstream Boutique in Hermantown, Clark chose to work at Cloquet on Saturday.

"Cloquet is my baby," she said, explaining that the stores do not carry identical product lines, so people can definitely shop at both places.

Repeat customer Hanna Nooyen, 18, was making a day of it. She had been to several small businesses in Superior that morning, and was on Cloquet Avenue by midafternoon. The 18-year-old said she was deliberately shopping at small businesses.

"They're local and I work at a small business," she said.

Not far away, Lamont Hines was working alone at Casino Pizza, a longtime local carryout pizza place with an expanding menu thanks to Hines and co-owner Tyrell Beckom.

He and Beckom recently purchased the basement-level restaurant, located at 7 13th St., from Gregg Wait - who bought it from previous owner Frank Gothard earlier this year - after 20 years in the food industry.

"We'd been looking," Hines said. "The opportunity came up and we were prepared and we jumped on it."

Although pizza (carryout or take-and-bake) is still a core menu item, the new owners are also making hoagies and hot sandwiches, chicken wings, Coneys, gyros, wraps, and nachos. They recently added Italian beef, Cuban and pulled pork sandwiches to the list.

They offered customers 10 percent off on both Black Friday and Small Business Saturday. Hines said he'd had a rush earlier in the day, followed by the usual lull before dinnertime. He was happy with the turnout.

If Clark and Hines both represent a new generation of ownership in Cloquet's downtown, John Buskala can lay claim to being Cloquet's oldest family business, Buskala Jewelry. It's been around since 1881, when John's great-grandfather started doing business on the front porch of his home.

"It's uncommon to have businesses like this for four generations," Buskala said.

The trained goldsmith was listening to the radio and catching up on fine jewelry repairs Saturday afternoon. He hadn't jumped on the Small Business Saturday bandwagon this year, due to a lack of staff. But he still greeted everyone who entered the store with a big smile and good conversation to go with a wide array of jewelry, watches, pens and knickknack gift items.

Holly Hansen, community development director for the city of Cloquet, helped small businesses get the word out in advance of the special day. Business owners told her this year was "substantially busier" than past years.

"Shopping small businesses is critical to retain businesses in our downtown storefronts and brick-and-mortar buildings across our city," she said. "I'm so glad to hear that the 26 participating businesses this year had steady shoppers on Small Business Saturday and hope that trend continues this holiday shopping season."

Of course, most small businesses are open year-round for shopping, not just one day of the year. Some of the other small retail businesses that participated included Fig Tree, Abundant Baby, Burger Shoes, Sara's Vac Shack, Outdoor Advantage, Garden Isle Bath and Body, MarksMan Trading Post and Bergquist Imports, along with local liquor stores, spas and hair salons, and restaurants.

Bearaboo Coffee owner Natalie Swanson said business was up 27 percent Saturday over a usual day.

"We had a great turnout of support with people actively participating in Small Business Saturday," she said.

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