Stories of Wandering Duluth - Tourist and Marketer
Updated: Feb 12
Recently, I visited Duluth Minnesota to attend the Zenith Digital Marketing Conference 2017.
Last year, I attended Zenith 2016, not long after having graduated with my MBA in Integrated Marketing. While we learned various integrated marketing basics in school along with our business education, it is not until you enter the real world that the true work begins. Zenith was a part of that for me. To be surrounded by marketers and marketing language and the all the sub-culture attributes was like being a kid in a candy store.
Now that I have cut my teeth covering events for MIMA and working on the Irish Fair’s marketing plan, I ventured there again. This time, with awareness and experience under my belt. Rather than rush, I wanted to spend more time relaxing and integrating my time away from my day job.
I ventured out to “see the town.” So, downtown Duluth is not exactly hopping on a Wednesday night. In fact, by the time I checked in, most of the stores were closed or closing for the day. Snow was wafting down from the skies, as it had been ever since I stopped for bakery at Tobies.
I stayed at the Radisson, a round building known for their moving restaurant. It wasn’t open for the season yet. After walking around for a bit, I decided to stop in at The Blind Pig, a local café. Upon entering, the door attendant suggested I go see and try out the Rathskeller, an additional bar area in the basement below. He said, “Pick floor Minus One, not One. One is a creepy basement area used for storage.” Duly noted. Indeed, the elevator button was (-1) According to the website, this used to be the old prison.
The place was virtually empty when I arrived, except for two local regulars enjoying whiskey. As it turned out, it was “Whiskey Wednesday” at The Blind Pig/Rathskeller. I don’t normally do the whiskey but “when in Rome.” By my 2nd glass, I enjoyed a peaty number that tasted of burned gasoline – but it fit with the musty cellar and ghost stories. Yes, I even got to see the picture of one of the resident ghosts that showed up as a very distinct grey outline on someone’s photo (shown to me by the bartender on his phone).
One of the jokes tossed out was about a friend of the two regulars who lived up north near the border. “He’s practically Canadian, he lives right there on the border.” To which the bartender said, “Well, he probably just wants to jump right over about now and be Canadian.” Referring, I am sure to our political situation here in the States. Some talk about fishing and the weather.
After my time at -1 was done, I needed food, so I headed back up the elevator to floor 2 or was it 3. I ordered the house special, lamb Shawarma. On stage, a local band called WhiskeyTrail played country covers. I found my foot tapping and myself singing along. I only had few bucks left so my tip was small. I saw on their FB page that someone recently gave them $50. I felt a bit unprepared.
Course, I was lucky to be in Duluth at all. Building my career has been rough going. Volunteering my time, attending conferences with my own resources since my current role isn’t marketing related. Hearing a lot of “Nos.” It takes a lot of tenacity. I try not to eat too many ramen noodles, but I know that is a famous story of people wanting to follow a dream. Maybe it isn’t ramen noodles but small tips, or scraping up the money to take the next step and hoping it all works out.
I head out early – 7:30am. Since the hotel shuttle doesn’t start until 9am, I am on my own to walk to the Greysolon Ballroom – an event space near The Blind Pig. The weather is cool, a few snowflakes fall and the ground is wet but I am excited to be here.
After getting breakfast and coffee and settling down, Marty Weintraub - founder of AimClear - kicks off the morning’s Keynote by taking a picture of us all with his fisheye lens. From morning until about 4:30pm when everything wraps up for happy hour, we’re running around learning. Given that I am attending MIMA events at least twice a month, it is amazing how much I have learned and retained since the process started a year ago. Acronyms like SEO (search engine optimization) and AI (artificial intelligence) are familiar to me and that includes typical uses for brands.
When the day wraps up, we’re all ready for the after party at Blacklist Artisan Ales. , a new brew pub featuring Belgian-Inspired beer. A Canadian friend suggested the night before that I visit “Last Place on Earth.” When I looked it up, it was “permanently closed.” Turned out he was joking (I think). Why? Because the proprietor of the “head shop” was in jail.
Little did I know, until our group took the brewery tour that we were actually in the same space! One of the Duluthian’s explained that the previous owner had been investigated for some time for selling something called “Bath Salts,” which in theory could have been bath salts but when smoked or eaten or whatever someone crazy would do with those, were an illegal narcotic. Lovely. Seedy under-belly of Duluth.
Over the course of the evening, I met and talked with marketers, mostly from Duluth, but others were sole proprietors from the Twin Cities or students. I mentioned more in my previous blog. Katie and I ended up talking with one of the owners Jon Loss of Blacklist and his partner Elissa and getting into the nitty-gritty of beer making in the tour. From one type of chemistry to another, I suppose.
We discussed marketing strategy and ideas. It felt good to be here. Article about Black List
Went out for breakfast and ended up at the Holiday Inn’s restaurant near my hotel, so that I wouldn’t waste too much time. Nora, my waitress was nowhere to be found so the back-up helped and soon I was rocking and rolling with steak, eggs, pancakes and coffee. Took care of business and writing for several hours in the hotel lobby after check-out. Then I headed out to Namaste, a healing store.
Just my kind of place – candles, spiritual statues of gods and goddesses, healing books and crystals. The feeling in there was so amazing. If I could, I would have taken a few large crystals home with me. There were beautiful lava rocks and large columns. Immediately I was drawn to Quan Yin, a goddess I work with extensively in Transforming Blockages. In the end, I took a couple of candles for my altar and incense.
From Namaste, I headed across the freeway to the tanker boat. However, at 3pm, the last tour had left. Grandma’s, a known landmark restaurant on the pier, where happy hour was in full swing with ½ price drinks and cheap apps. For a tourist destination, it had its fair share of locals, and I felt out of place, maybe a little different. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the ambiance and the history showing in the old signage and photographs.
My final stop before leaving Duluth to head back to St Paul, was the local Starbucks. I drank my Mocha while charging my phone. A Somali man enjoyed his coffee while iPading in the corner and another guy listened to something on his headset while watching passersby in the window. Outside my view, the Duluth steam escaped from drain holes by the intersection.
I remembered the Blacklist owners talking the night before about how they used the steam to make beer and without it would require a much larger space and more equipment. The intersection of environment, city policy/resources and commerce.
All in all, I needed this experience of expansion in Duluth. A city full of stories, locals and seafaring folk who masquerade as brewmasters and computer geeks. The occasional marketer from AimClear, maybe. I may not know when my career will be full-time marketing, but what I do know is I love the process and where it is taking me. How else would I become so intimately connected to the thriving businesses and storytelling of this community?
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