North shore photographer finds permanent home downtown
A new art gallery showcasing the natural beauty of the region has found a permanent home just off the busiest corner in Downtown Duluth.
Photographer Ryan Tischer and his wife Aimee secured a lease at 5 W. Superior St. and will open a gallery and workshop in the space Nov. 16. Tischer works full time as a photographer based in Duluth’s Smithville neighborhood. In the past 10 years he has built a portfolio centered on iconic Lake Superior landscapes.
“We’re really excited. It’s exciting and terrifying at the same time,” he said as the couple prepped gallery walls for painting last week.
Tischer has exhibited and sold his work at juried art festivals and galleries throughout the Midwest. He used the same Superior Street address two years ago as a gallery during the Greater Downtown Council holiday pop-up storefront program.
“We liked (the space) then but we weren’t ready to open a gallery yet,” he said. “Now we are, so here we are.”
The Tischer Photographic Gallery is located in a building constructed in 1886 as the Norris-MacDougal Block, according to a downtown Duluth Commercial Historic District survey conducted in 1990. Major alterations over the years disqualified the property for historic status. The two-story building is currently divided at street level with 7 West Taphouse occupying a the space to the west. Apartments are on the second level.
Tischer plans to use the front of the building as a gallery to hang and sell his photography. The back portion will be used as a printing and framing shop, work currently being done in the couple’s basement, garage and home office.
“For the first time in my life I’ll have a separation of work and home,” said Tischer.
Ryan Tischer prints, mats and frames all his work. Aimee Tischer will keep the books and run the gallery office. Both are excited to be downtown.
“Things in Downtown Duluth are looking like they are on the up,” said Ryan Tischer. “I mean solidly. We wanted to get in on it before all the good spots are full and rents go up.”
“I’ll actually have to get dressed up now,” said Aimee Tischer.
In anticipation of the NorShor Theatre reopening, downtown Duluth has officially labeled Superior Street east of Lake Avenue as its Historic Arts and Theater District or “HART District.” Joe Nease will open the largest contemporary art gallery in the city Oct. 21 in a remodeled space at 23 W. First St.; and old standbys like Lizzards Art Gallery and Framing are thriving on Superior Street.
Still, Ryan Tischer said, it was a stint in the space during the 2015 pop-up storefront program that sold him on a city move. The program, now in its fifth year, offers retailers rent-free space in empty storefronts during the holiday season.
“We probably wouldn’t have made the jump to be honest,” he said. “The pop up was a really good tryout so we could see the space, see how foot traffic was, see what would sell; and we liked it.”
Greater Downtown Council President Kristi Stokes said the pop-up program has helped attract seven existing businesses to the downtown area including Antiques on 1st, Pichardo Boutique and Lester River Trading Company. Woodchuck USA used the program as a launching pad for what has become a nationwide, custom wood case retail operation.
“For some they realize it’s a great fit,” she said. “For some they find it wasn’t the right fit or downtown wasn’t the right place.”
Stokes said the program will be back in 2017 but higher occupancy rates have made it difficult to find empty storefronts.
“Everybody wants a Superior Street space,” she said. “But for some a skywalk location can be a good fit. We just have to make sure it works for them.”
Kathleen Busche, who owns 5-7 W. Superior St., has hosted a holiday pop-up retailer three times. She had mixed reviews for the program.
“Ryan was a great tenant,” she said. “I love him. I think he will really add a lot to Downtown Duluth.”
But she said other pop up tenants can misfire.
“Maybe they need to filter it better,” she said. “They need to make it very clear that the business should have an honest interest to seriously be downtown.”
Back in the gallery, Tischer demonstrated how a downtown location will help attract tourists and locals alike. He pointed out the front window at the Superior Street and Lake Avenue intersection.
“Traffic always gets stuck at that stoplight,” he said. “Those people can’t help but see our sign. Hopefully they’ll be inquisitive enough so when they stop downtown they’ll come and check us out.”
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