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Native art gallery pops up in Lincoln Park

Among the wonderful "pop-up" shops that are open in Lincoln Park this holiday season is the AICHO (American Indian Community Housing Organization) Native artist gallery at 2301 W. Superior St. This gallery is open from noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays through the month of December.

There are some beautiful works of art to be seen at the gallery: Native paintings, prints, jewelry, clothing, books and notecards, all made by regional artists. When I stopped by last week I bought some nice gifts, including wild rice and maple syrup from local American Indian small businesses. I can hardly wait to give them as Christmas gifts and plan to stock up for birthdays, too.

The Native artist gallery is in the building on the corner of 23rd Avenue West and Superior Street that AICHO recently purchased. This building has a lot of happy memories for me. I was in it often, from I was a little girl through young adulthood, as were many people who shopped for groceries, produce and sundries at LaPanta's corner market, also known as Bud's.

From the early 1950s through most of the 1970s the building was owned by the LaPanta family. Their store was a well-known community landmark: cheerily lit, busy and open late at night. The large room right on the corner held the canned goods, staples, refrigerated cases of milk, cheese and meats and a large assortment of the kinds of things that people hoped that they might find at the corner store after everywhere else had closed: safety pins, shoe polish, dish towels, socks, spiral notebooks, can openers, pens, shampoo, etc.

The large room to the left was the produce room, with what might have been the largest fresh-produce department in town. That room had a garage door that opened onto Superior Street. On summer evenings the garage doors were opened and the brightly lit greenery was one of the prettiest and friendliest sights I remember from the West End, which is what Lincoln Park was called until it was renamed in 1996.

LaPanta's/Bud's closed in the 1970s, one of the last of the corner stores in Duluth. Since then several businesses have been in that space, most recently a laundromat and a beauty salon.

Driving by, I have often thought that the building is in such a nice spot, right on Superior Street in the friendly West End where there is always easy parking. What a great place that corner would be for a community-oriented business, I thought, remembering how so many of the customers seemed to know and like each other at LaPanta's.

And then AICHO bought the building. Their plans are for future housing upstairs and community-oriented business on the ground floor. Their first endeavor is the pop-up Native artist gallery, right where LaPanta's had their spectacular produce department. Plans for the near future include a coffee shop and, eventually, perhaps some other small shops and offices. I think the LaPanta family would love to see the building in new hands that are working to make the place as attractive and inviting as it was during the corner store days.

When I visited the Native artist gallery recently, I enjoyed the nostalgia of standing in the LaPanta family's produce room. I admired the transformation of their corner store into a place that will renew that spirit of community that I remember so well. I will be doing some more Christmas shopping at the gallery on the next several Saturdays, as well as at other pop-up seasonal shops in Lincoln Park. Hope to see you there.

Monthly columnist Linda LeGarde Grover is a professor of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth, an award-winning writer and a member of the Bois Forte Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. Email her at lgrover@d.umn.edu.

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