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Commerce on the River Posts

Commerce on the River: Superior Packaging Company

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OneRiverMN-Logo-FC-BadgeTom Franta started Superior Packaging Company in 1994 in his hometown of Minnetonka. Eventually he moved the business to Superior, where he was able to get his foot in the door with many companies by cold calling. The company’s product, called dunnage, or damage prevention, consists of materials that are placed in domestic and international shipping containers or boxcars to prevent damage to inventory by restraining any excess space.

SPC supplies companies such as Kikkoman, Del Monte and Seneca foods. Franta recalls his humble roots in his then-partner’s parents’ garage with no heat, using the alleyway to roll paper tubes to make packaging supplies and gluing them to cardboard to make pallets by hand. Today, Superior Packaging Company uses machines to do what he once did by hand. The company moved to its present location in West Duluth 15 years ago, when a larger facility was needed. This location is convenient for SPC as most shipping is done using common carriers on the highway.

Commerce on the River: Demolicious

Demolicious - Dianne Anderson

OneRiverMN-Logo-FC-BadgeDianne Anderson launched Demolicious in 2000, creating a public drop-off site for everything but the kitchen sink. Well actually, Demolicious will take kitchen sinks. It will take anything but household garbage, hazardous materials or chemicals. Anything else is fair game, but mostly the business receives construction waste. Clients can drop off their trash for a fee or rent a roll-off, which is a large waste container Demolicious will drop off empty and pick up when filled.

Materials get sorted and separated. Wood, for example, gets grouped together and ground into wood chips. What can be recycled is recycled. The business has many repeat customers, especially contractors who use it often, as well as one-time users who wish to discard things like old furniture.

Commerce on the River: Willard Munger Inn

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OneRiverMN-Logo-FC-BadgeIt all started when Willard Munger opened the Willard Munger Inn in 1950, before the Interstate Highway System and I-35 existed, when State Highway 23 was the main road into Duluth. Over time, proximity to the St. Louis River has come to mean more and more to the business as the health of the waterway has improved and outdoor tourism has grown.

Jeff Munger, grandson of the founder and current manager of the motel, recalls how his grandfather lived at the inn and woke up early every morning to tend to his guests until 1991, when his son Willard Jr. took over managing the operations. The inn has since expanded, employing eight people in the high season of summer.

Commerce on the River: Loll Designs

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OneRiverMN-Logo-FC-BadgeIn a manufacturing facility a few hundred feet from Stryker Bay in West Duluth, Greg Benson leads a company dedicated to making outdoor furniture “for the modern lollygagger.” Before launching Loll Designs, however, Benson built skateboard ramps. He started out in his neighbor’s garage and eventually worked with municipalities to design and implement custom skate parks. The excess materials turned out to make attractive and durable Adirondack-style chairs, and a new business was born.

“A lot of people assume that I must have been a skater, but really I enjoy hiking, kayaking, camping and being outdoors much more,” Benson says. He and his brother Dave, both University of Minnesota Duluth graduates, along with Tony Ciardelli , founded both Loll and Epicurean, a company that makes cutting boards and other kitchen products. They sold TrueRide in 2008 to a California company and took what they had learned and ran with it.

Commerce on the River: Nelson’s Guide and Charter Service

Charlie Nelson Fishing Duluth

OneRiverMN-Logo-FC-BadgeCharlie Nelson’s love of fishing started early. He spent much of his childhood catching fish near Cloquet, where his parents owned Big Lake Resort. After his parents sold the resort and bought a cabin on Island Lake north of Duluth, Nelson ramped up his quest for walleyes and spent countless hours in a fishing boat.

Through his 26 years of experience as a lieutenant colonel and an F-16 instructor pilot with the Minnesota Air National Guard, he developed a passion for teaching. Now retired, he has turned his knack for teaching and fishing into Charlie Nelson Guide and Charter Services. His website refers to him as “The Captain” whose passion for fishing is only surpassed by his love of flying.

Commerce on the River: Symphony Boat Company

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OneRiverMN-Logo-FC-BadgeMarcel LaFond grew up on Kraemer Lake, about 10 miles west of St. Cloud, where he spent nearly all his time around water and boating. His childhood home was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, which he believes inspired a love of timeless design at an early age. Those influences led him to found Symphony Boat Company three years ago in Duluth’s Riverside neighborhood, where he builds attractive and unique boats from aluminum, marine plywood, foam and epoxy.

“When the economy tanked five or six years ago I found that, like many other people, I was looking to reinvent myself,” he says. Ready to take a risk and follow through with ideas he’d had stewing in his mind for years, LaFond let fate steer him to the St. Louis River.