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Knitters unravel about Mount Royal shopping area

DCN Correspondent

Yarn in hundreds of different colors lines the winding shelves of the small shop. The store has a few customers wandering around, some picking out supplies, others admiring the knit hats and sweaters on display.

In the back of the shop, about half a dozen women sit on couches and chairs, all meticulously working on their individual knitting projects, some occasionally leaning over to admire the work of someone else or to ask for some advice on their own projects.

The Yarn Harbor is one of many shops in the Mount Royal Shopping Center that is located close enough to the University of Minnesota Duluth campus that many of the stores at any given time can be seen full of students.

Many of the knitters in this group are regulars who have lived in the area for a majority of their lives; they have become familiar with some of the changes that have taken place in the shopping center over the years.

Now on its third owner, Kathy Thomas, Yarn Harbor is about to hit its 10th anniversary. Thomas said that there are always classes going on, and free knitting anytime during store hours.

“It’s nice to do something you have a passion for,? Thomas said. “It’s just so rewarding to see the finished projects.?

Ellen Altman, one of the knitters, can think of plenty of stores that have come and gone throughout the years. One of the biggest changes that occurred, that gets many of the women talking, pertains to what used to be in the building that now holds the Pioneer National Bank.

Before it became a bank, the restaurant “Somebody’s House,? known for its variety of burgers, stood in its location. Despite the size of the restaurant, it was one of the biggest attractions for the shopping center area.

One popular item on the menu was the “Dareburger,? where customers were challenged to eat a hamburger that had the ingredients of vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, nuts and whipped cream. Some tried it, others didn’t.

“It was a great little burger restaurant,? Altman said. “It was a good business and the chef was well-known and featured in the newspaper.?

But like the yarn shop, the restaurant went through many different owners over the years: Partners Richard and Beatrice Ojakangas and Mr. and Mrs. Edward Alspach opened it in February of 1967, but by 1971, the restaurant was sold and switched over to two others before it closed in 1985.

With the changing buildings came the changing landscape. Altman remembers when some parts of Woodland Avenue had elm trees that would arch over the street.

“Some streets remind you of the way it used to be,? Altman said. “I think the trees were removed because of a mix of Dutch Elm disease and the need to widen the roads to accommodate the added vehicles.?

Some of the other concerns that are tied with growing communities pertain to the larger businesses taking over the smaller “mom and pop? type stores, which seems to have happened in Mount Royal.

Jody Ondich, another one of the frequent knitters in Yarn Harbor, thinks that the newer parts of town tend to have the chain restaurants, while the older ones still have the smaller, independent stores.

“Chains kick out other stores,? Ondich said. “There is a hardware shop that we go to on purpose, even though it’s more expensive. We want them to be there.?

Whether or not changes in the shopping center were made to appeal to the college crowd, a lot of the stores such as Bixby’s Café and Bulldog Pizza and Grill are usually full of students.

“It’s smart for businesses to cater to students and be aware of them and know what they want,? Altman said, her fingers moving quickly as she knits.

Mount Royal continued to change over the years. On June 13 of 1999, there was a grand opening of the newly designed Mount Royal Shopping Center, with a big celebration that included a clown, some live bands a picnic and a ribbon cutting.

“It was a good idea,? Altman said, referring to the change. “The whole neighborhood comes here. I go to Mount Royal and always see people I know and I never get out fast enough. There’s such a great combination of stores.?