Kelly Peterson uses curiosity and enthusiasm to connect with business owners.
January 26, 2023 07:00 AM
SUPERIOR — Make sure you wear comfortable shoes if you spend an afternoon with Kelly Peterson, executive director for the Superior Business Improvement District. Chances are, she’ll be roaming the district, visiting businesses.
“My focus has been learning everything I can about how to help people make their businesses better, and engagement,” said Peterson, who also serves as county board supervisor for the 10th District.
Much of her week is spent in meetings.
“The mayor keeps putting me on more committees,” Peterson said, which is fine. “I want to know everything, and I’m sticking my nose into everything anyway.”
Tuesday and Friday afternoons, however, are time for exploration. She grabs a pack of window clings and walks downtown.
“A lot of my meet-and-greets is just boots on the street, just going in and sticking my nose everywhere,” Peterson said.
The business owners, in turn, keep her busy.
“I’m not good at being bored. I go and visit people and talk to people and visit the stakeholders and they inevitably give me work to do,” Peterson said.
Kelly Peterson, executive director of the Superior Business Improvement District, walks along Tower Avenue on Tuesday, Jan. 17. Peterson said she tends to wear a brightly colored hat or scarf during her walks to help increase her visibility.
Maria Lockwood / Superior Telegram
Her Jan. 17 tour started in the Superior Entrepreneurship Center, 1401 Tower Ave.
Peterson trekked from her third floor office downstairs to visit Colin Zervas and Mckenna Dagger, the owners of Uffda Kombucha. The friends launched their kombucha business nearly four years ago out of the Superior Business Center after experimenting with home brewing.
“It started small. We were test batching. We had a 50 gallon barrel in Colin’s kitchen,” Dagger said.
Their dream of launching a business got bogged down in red tape as they tried to get licensed in Minnesota.
“We almost gave up until we met Jim (Caesar, executive director of the Development Association),” Dagger said.
“It’s why we came to Superior because we found the shared kitchen. Jim was awesome and then the licensors here were so nice. The Department of Ag in Wisconsin, it was like night and day,” Zervas said. “They answered your questions. They were super helpful and we were like, ‘OK, maybe this is doable.’”
Since then they’ve been serving up three regular flavors of kombucha, which is a fermented tea — raspberry, blueberry and mango — as well as seasonal flavors like apple pie and a summer mocktail line.
“We’re trying to be the every person’s kombucha,” said Zervas, who lives in Esko. “We want to make it accessible.”
They started creating their drinks in 5 gallon barrels, upgraded to 30, then 55 gallon barrels and still couldn’t keep up.
“Now we’re at 250 gallon totes,” said Zervas, who also works as a web designer for Giant Voices.
“We brew up to 600 gallons every two weeks … in the summer,” said Dagger, of Duluth.
They are in the process of expanding into a dedicated space at the Entrepreneurship Center, transforming an old break room into a brewery. They hope to move in completely by February.
“They needed more space and more ability to produce, but they’re really not ready to move out into the market, so this became an important space for them to do that,” Caesar said. “We hope that the business continues to grow and eventually they graduate out of here.”
Cans of Uffda Kombucha can be purchased at Goat Hill Marketplace in Lincoln Park, Duluth Kitchen Co. and Mount Royal Market; it also can be found on tap at sites like Bent Paddle Brewing Co. in Duluth, Twisted Pastries Coffeehouse in Superior and Bayfield Winery. The owners hope to expand to individual sales after the move.
“It’s something we’re really proud of,” Dagger said, and they welcome feedback. “It’s important to us people enjoy it.”
Another business settling into the Entrepreneurship Center is Just the Dip, which offers hydrodipping, a form of water transfer printing for three-dimensional surfaces. Owner Ty Kasper’s workspace held a display of items that he’s decorated with the process Jan. 17. The array included football helmets, gun stocks, hubcaps, a toilet seat and even a cow jawbone.
Kasper, a former welder, currently has a large stock of popular patterns for customers to choose from and a waist-high water tank to dip them in. Big enough for a kayak paddle, but not a kayak, said Peterson, who was interested in seeing if the process could be used to spruce up her BID bike.
Kasper said he plans to get a printer that will offer custom designs for clients, as well. Kasper, who grew up in South Range, said his dream job would be decorating helmets for the Northwestern High School football team.
Kasper started hydrodipping items out of his garage as a hobby. He was excited to find space at the center to stretch out and grow. Just the Dip moved in about a month ago.
“It was a real blessing,” said Kasper, who works full-time at the business.
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Just the Dip is situated in the center of a hallway. It is sandwiched between Super Roll, LLC, which makes large wooden board games and MMBay, LLC, a business that sells ethnic hair products.
The building is owned by the nonprofit Superior Business Center Inc., which falls under the Development Center umbrella, Caesar said. It serves as a third business incubator for the center, as well as a space to bring a host of business development programs together under one roof.
The main floor will be tailored to house flexible office space for rent. After 13 months, Caesar said, there are only one suite and two office spaces left without tenants. The last five of them have received Main Street Bounceback grants to fuel their businesses, Peterson said. Ideally, each will spend three to four years at the center before graduating out.
Down the street
Coat on, Peterson headed down Tower Avenue. Getting out and about, she said, is her favorite part of the job. She waved hello to people on the street, and stopped to make a face at Mark Connolly through the window at Field Connolly Insurance.
“We’re in Rotary together,” Peterson said.
She dropped by Angie’s Closet to check out the home decor section and talk with owner Angie Kiminski. They discussed Peterson’s new “Where in the BID is Kelly?” marketing campaign and the BID director found a jean jacket that was just her size.
The next stop was the back door of 1307 Tower Ave., formerly Bob’s Chop Suey House and AJ’s Tanning Salon. Peterson was met by building owner Rick Lampton, who gave her a brief tour of the main floor. He pointed out the hardwood floors, which were discovered under four layers of linoleum, and the stamped tin ceiling, which will be painted gold. By this summer, the 1912 building will house his wife Colleen’s gift shop, Weeping Willow.
“It’s my wife’s baby,” said Lampton, who owns Grizzly’s and 7 West Taphouse. “She likes to buy a lot of local, handcrafted items, small batch. You’re not going to see this stuff in big box stores at all.”
Weeping Willow is currently located at the 53 Business Center near Plato’s Closet.
“We outgrew it very, very quickly and we had an opportunity to buy a building and liked the investment side of it, and I like it being in Superior better anyway. We live over here and it just gives you the more small town feel,” Lampton said. “This type of store needs to be downtown. It has that feel to it.”
Lampton started renovating the building about eight months ago. The top floor will one day house the management offices for his restaurants. He’s been taking his time, remodeling with an eye on quality.
“To me, this is our investment, so when I want to sell this, I want it to be top notch and get top dollar,” he said.
The last stop on Peterson’s list was Sei Bella, a nail and hair salon run by Alyssa Totzke and Jennifer Lukens.
“It’s a full service salon,” Totzke said. “So we do hair, nails. And as far as hair, Jen offers hair extensions, color, cutting. She’s a hair wizard. I do nails and nail extensions and manicures and pedicures.”
The two opened their business in the former Black Fox Salon space, 1408 Tower Ave., about four weeks ago. Each brought clients of their own, and they expect to hire a few more people as they grow.
“Hopefully we’ll get someone in here who offers body waxing or facials or massage,” Totzke said.
They’ve put in new pedicure chairs and covered exposed plumbing; brand new shampoo stations have been ordered.
“We haven’t done a whole grand opening yet because we’re waiting for it to be done,” Lukens said.
The pair recently secured a state Main Street Bounceback grant to outfit their workspace.
“That helped immensely,” Lukens said. “We get baseboards and trimming.”
Peterson was happy to hear it, as the Bounceback grant program just ran out of funding. She encouraged them to apply for a sign grant through the BID, as well.
For Peterson, who stepped into her new role at the BID in August, it was a reconnection.
“Alyssa was the first person I got to sit in on with the Development Association and with Andy Donahue with the Small Business Development Center,” Peterson said. “She was the first business to reach out to me and I’m like sending an email, ‘Is this OK, can we set this up? And can I also stick my nose in it and see?’”
That same inquisitive nature brings Peterson out and about two afternoons a week, making connections throughout the BID.