Bayfield in winter | BusinessNorth Exclusives
With less than 500 full-time residents, the town of Bayfield on the south shore of Lake Superior shuts down as soon as the fall leaves drop for winter. During the warmer months, tourists and seasonal residents swell the city’s population exponentially, with more than 1.5 million visitors to Bayfield County from June through October. When all those visitors move, local business owners have to decide how to spend the winter months – do they close their shop until spring or do they stay open and move on?
Over the past 18 years, Lissa Flemming, owner of Silverwaves Jewelry, has learned that success in her business requires consistency, attention to quality, and positive intent. “Summer income just doesn’t meet my financial needs, so it’s not possible for me to close for the winter months,” she said. Last November, Flemming moved to a 1,200 square foot gallery in downtown Bayfield, walking distance from the tiny 300 square foot store she rented when it opened in 2016. The new location offers a more great exposure to foot traffic as well as additional production and office space. “While there is greater financial responsibility with the new gallery, I am excited about this new chapter for my business.”
Like most Bayfield businesses open in the winter, Flemming’s hours of operation are limited. “In winter, my workflow is different. I’m open four days a week, fewer hours a day, and I spend a lot of time building my inventory of handmade jewelry and working on larger projects that aren’t possible while serving customers for peak periods. She also fills teaching enrichment classes to students at Bayfield Schools and has taught in Northland College’s wellness program. “I love what I do, so why shouldn’t I be open all year round? ” she says.
Flemming’s new venture is an ambitious, state-of-the-art teaching space, Atelier 46.8°N, located down the street from the gallery, allows him to host workshops and provide the community a place of meeting, sharing and practical learning. skills. Its first workshop, held in February 2022, quickly sold out with 11 attendees, proof that locals want to come together and support off-season businesses. She has facilitated workshops for a business team building day as well as groups at Wild Rice Retreat and Bayfield schools and hopes to offer similar gatherings in the winter.
Believing in the power of working collectively, Flemming created the hashtag #Bayfieldcrosspollenation, in an effort to spread support for Bayfield’s businesses. For her business, “Cross-Pollination” uses locally made ceramic coffee mugs and tableware in her studio, serves dishes prepared by local chefs for her workshops and events, and uses local entrepreneurs for all of her shifts. gallery and teaching space.
Flemming’s neighbor on Second Street is Kate Clark, owner of the brand new Penny Print Studio. Described as a boutique and a classroom, Penny Print is a retail space and art classroom selling screen-printed items and crafts, and providing educational opportunities for locals and visitors. Clark and his assistant, Erin Raatz, screen print t-shirts, tote bags and homewares from a design library created by local artists. Penny Print will remain open year-round, selling local items and offering art classes for children, and eventually adults, in the classroom space adjacent to the retail space. Like Flemming, Clark believes that one of the keys to the success of his fledgling business is supporting the community by providing a year-round gathering place.
Sometimes the business model created a long time ago does not need much change. Bodin Fisheries, located along the waterfront on Wilson Avenue in downtown Bayfield, is part of Bodin’s Inc., owned by Bill Bodin and his four siblings, as well as two retail stores on Rittenhouse Avenue and Bodin’s Resort, all of which are open year-round. round.
When it’s two degrees outside and the lake surrounding Bayfield is covered in ice, Bodin Fisheries always offers fresh fish, harvested by intrepid anglers who find open water or set nets under the ice to bring in daily intakes. “We’re staying open because there’s a demand for fish, and we have anglers ready to go out and find them,” Bill Bodin said.
Busy year round, Bodin Fisheries works hard to meet demand from locals, tourists and regional mail order customers for fresh Lake Superior whitefish, trout, herring, burbot and salmon. Bodin Fisheries also sells house-smoked trout, whitefish and salmon, as well as frozen seafood. “We process fresh, wild Lake Superior fish daily for restaurants, grocers and distributors throughout the Midwest,” Bodin said. “As soon as the herring season ends in November, we move on to the winter holidays, and then Lent and Friday fish fries begin.” The pandemic has opened up the market for direct sales and curbside collection, especially for items like holiday smoked fish, he added.
The Fish House serves walk-in customers all winter. “People like to come in and visit,” Bodin said. “Of course, our sales volume decreases in the winter, so we keep our employees busy with maintenance and other projects.” Retaining valuable employees is a common reason businesses stay open during the off season.
Mary and John Thiel have built their successful decades-long business partnership providing year-round recreation, attracting visitors from across the region. They own Howl Adventure Center just off Hwy 13 south of Bayfield, as well as the Dreamcatcher sailing charter and Howl Downtown clothing store. As the former owners of a dog sledding business and a woolen clothing business, the Thiels are very good at meeting the needs of outdoor enthusiasts in the winter.
Five years ago, as they outgrew their downtown retail space, the Thiels noticed the expansion of biking and Nordic skiing trails near Mount Ashwabay and general increased interest for winter recreation. They decided to build the Howl Adventure Center as a place where patrons can rent or buy sports equipment, take lessons, and sip a beer around an outdoor fire pit after a day outdoors. “Our motto is ‘go play outside’,” said Mary Thiel, “and we mean it. We help people find fun outdoors, no matter their level of experience or the time of year. They do this by providing exceptional customer service, attention to quality, and a relaxed, welcoming atmosphere. Built into their new center is Adventure Club Brewing & Taproom, owned and operated by their nephew, Matthew Gerdtz. A wintry visit to the bar might find people gathered indoors around high tables or sitting outside around a crackling fire drinking local beers and ciders after a day of snowy fun.
Their winter clientele is relatively diverse. “There is a large community of people with connections to Bayfield that extends well beyond those just five minutes away,” said John Thiel. Duluth and the Twin Cities are great draws for day or extended winter visits, weather permitting.
The Adventure Center has had four successful years. Winter events like Book Across the Bay saw 4,000 participants in 2021 race from Ashland to Washburn across frozen Lake Superior. Fat tire bikes bring more people to the area to explore the new dimension of winter recreation.
There have been challenges for the business throughout the year. Retaining staff has become more difficult and juggling the vagaries of winter weather is, predictably, unpredictable. The future, however, looks bright for winter iterations of the Thiels’ efforts.
Each of these Bayfield businesses shares a commitment to serving the year-round residents of the city’s tourist economy, helping to keep the heart of a city active. The town’s two bookstores, Honest Dog Books and Apostle Island Books, also remain open year-round, along with other stores and restaurants, to create a more stable workforce and stronger community.