October 26, 2000

Beginning of the Road

By Dane Sorensen


Life is dynamic whether we like it or not. Change seems to come in various speeds. Some changes, such as my receding hairline, come on very slowly. Other changes in life come on so quickly it may seem to be like a semi-truck is barreling down on you. Not that all change is bad. While working at the school I have enjoyed watching the kids growing up. It still is an amazing process to watch as they gain confidence, knowledge and height.

For my tribe, the big change is the transformation of Bear Paw Books. After four years of a valiant fight to turn it into a profitable venture, we have decided to make a radical change. It is sad to see some of the changes in Ely. Some merchants in Ely have been fighting the tide of change for years. Others, like Paul Pengal, recognized the need for transformation and have successfully saved the family business through transformation.

Ely has lost a lot of services that once were part of our business community. In the past we had a full service bakery, a family shoe store, and now we shall no longer have a full service book store. Thanks to changes on the Internet and the rise of Duluthing many of these retail businesses cannot survive in Ely. If you have teenagers, you know how impossible it is to satisfy their teen ideas for style. School clothes shopping means it is time to go Duluthing. Many people go Duluthing on a regular basis. My family is no exception.

The continual growth of the retail sector in Hermantown is proof positive that people enjoy driving and shopping. Malls, large stores and lower prices drive our retail tastes. Some people in Ely havenít bought groceries in their hometown for years.

As a result the business base in Ely has shifted away from serving the locals to serving the tourists. This is done by need and not by choice, for it is a difficult task to make a business work with so short a tourist season. Ely is not Orlando. Tourist density drops like a rock after Labor Day.

My wife has enjoyed the book business. It was fun to deal with a product that gives pleasure, knowledge and insight to its customers. The customers by and large have been thoughtful and thankful for the service she provided. Occasionally, some stressed out tourist, who has not had a momentís time to themselves in ten years, would ask for a book that they had heard about eons ago and would be upset that she did not have it on the shelf. The fact that the book has been out of print for five years never crossed that personís stressed out brain.

We enjoyed many of the benefits of having a bookstore in the family. Meeting interesting authors was fun. Seeing the latest books before its release date was neat. My favorite time was Thanksgiving evening. I enjoyed showing off my two violinists to the community. It was, also, always fun to talk to people you know, but donít get a chance to see very often. When the kidletís were younger I enjoyed having them in the 4th of July parade. It was great throwing out 40,000 pieces of candy and watching all the kids running about.

So with the upcoming liquidation of our current inventory we are looking forward to the new transformation that is in the works. We hope, with the new vision, we can enjoy both work and profits. As long as our elected officials maintain a crazy property tax system that has caused commercial property taxes to increase 20% a year for the last three years we felt we had to evolve to keep up. Overall, the new business is based on the old adage: ďIf you canít beat Ďem, join Ďem.Ē With that hint, let me say we are not planning another gift shop. Nor are we copying any other business in Ely. For details on this, you will just have to wait for change to reveal itself. After all, surprise is good, too.


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