New owner for Gunflint Mercantile

Rhonda Silence

Chelsea Lueck, new owner of Gunflint Mercantile, looks right at home in the cozy little dry goods and candy company. 
Staff photo/Rhonda Silence Chelsea Lueck, new owner of Gunflint Mercantile, looks right at home in the cozy little dry goods and candy company. Staff photo/Rhonda Silence The Gunflint Mercantile Dry Goods & Candy Company is not a name that may be instantly familiar to North Shore residents. The cozy little store that sits next to Chuck’s Barber Shop in the red brick building on First Avenue in downtown Grand Marais is frequently referred to as the “candy store.” Others know it as the store with the cool long-legged moose mascot. But now the Gunflint Mercantile may be known by a new name—Chelsea’s store. At the beginning of February, Chelsea Lueck became the proud new owner of the Gunflint Mercantile Dry Goods & Candy Company.

The cheerful young woman took a circuitous route to the candy store, starting in her hometown of Danube, Minnesota, a town 100 miles west of the Twin Cities, with an even smaller population than Grand Marais—500. She started her career in retail sales working at a drugstore and then an Army-Navy store.

She first visited the North Shore in 2002 and then again in 2003 to visit her brother who was working up the Gunflint Trail. “I thought it would be really nice to live up here,” explained Chelsea in an interview over the sparkling clean fudge counter. “In a sailboat on the harbor,” she added with a grin.

However, she took a detour to college at Bryant University in Smithfield, Rhode Island to major in business and marketing communication. Rhode Island was a long way from home, but she said she was intrigued with the area after her family vacationed there when she was a little girl. “I thought it would be neat to live there,” she said, “on a sailboat.”

However, she found herself thinking more and more about Grand Marais. “I’m a Minnesota girl; I wanted to come back. I thought…I could live on a sailboat in Grand Marais.”

She didn’t end up living on the water though. She moved to the end of the Gunflint Trail in 2009 and went to work for Mike and Sue Prom in their store and office at Voyageurs Canoe Outfitters. Much as she enjoyed working for them, she told them that she someday hoped to have her own business.

She wasn’t sure how that was going to happen until she made a serendipitous visit to Gunflint Mercantile, “the candy store.” Talking with then-owner Lois Suck about the store, she learned that Suck was interested in selling the mercantile. “I started coming down the Trail and hanging around, learning all I could,” Lueck said, dazzled by the fact that her dream to own a business had come true.

She spent much of January learning how to make the many varieties of fudge offered at the Mercantile. At press time, she was practicing the art of truffle making, because she will be keeping all the delicious homemade items. She said she would continue to ship fudge around the country.

She will also keep the hearty soup and stew mixes and the interesting bean and rice offerings such as Haba beans and Himalayan Red Rice—perfect for cabin meals.

However, she does plan to make some changes. She wants to add a larger variety of candy, in keeping with the history of the shop as the “candy store.” She also plans to offer more desserts, such as homemade cheesecake and chocolate mousse. “I want to make this into the Sweet Shoppe,” she said.

And she plans to brew some of the coffee on hand at the mercantile. Visitors will be able to sample Caramelized Praline, Cranberry Cream, Swiss Chocolate Almond or one of the other special flavors of coffee as they browse.

In addition to sweets, Lueck will be doing a little bit of sewing for the mercantile. Her mother knits and crochets, so she will have some of those handcrafted items for sale, as well as her own specialty—aprons and oven mitts. She already has a nice assortment to choose from.

Most of all, Lueck said she wants the mercantile to be a place where people come to “just hang out.” In the summer the store will be open seven days a week, but for now her hours are 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. with the store closed Tuesday and Wednesday.

Some of her first customers will certainly be the Proms and other friends from Voyageurs. “I am sad to leave there,” Lueck said. “They are like my family. But they understand that I need to take advantage of this opportunity.”

Indeed they do. Sue Prom wished her protégé well, recalling that one of the first things she said when she arrived at Voyageurs Canoe Outfitters was that she wanted to own her own business. Prom said Lueck’s expertise would be missed at the outfitters but would serve her well in her new adventure. Prom proudly said, “Just two short years later her dream has come true with the Gunflint Mercantile.”

Now if she can just find a sailboat to live on….

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