The History and Future of Maurices in Duluth

If you’ve visited Downtown Duluth recently you’ve seen it… large steel beams & radiant blue glass rising up from the western edge of Duluth’s cityscape – a new building taking shape in the heart of downtown. An entire block of W. Superior St. between 4th and 5th avenues west is under redevelopment by a long-time Duluth business. Maurice’s new 200,000 square foot, 11-story headquarters is nearly completed and its construction has been a fun project to watch. In anticipation of the (nearly) completed building and their planned move into the new facility next month, we decided to focus this article on Maurices’ history in Duluth.

Looking back at Maurices’ Duluth History

By Kyle Chisholm

This story begins in 1902 when Maurice Labovitz was born to Romanian immigrants and long-time merchants who, at the time of Maurice’s birth, lived in Minneapolis. As fate would have it, the Labovitz family relocated to Duluth in 1907 and years later, Maurice would establish the now famous Maurices clothing store.

Maurices History Hat Advertisement

This Maurices advertisement appeared in the Duluth News Tribune on October 14, 1946. (Photo Credit: Maurices)

Fast-forward a few years to 1931 and the Maurices grand opening on March 28th. Despite dark economic times in the United States and The Great Depression impacting the lives of so many Americans, Maurices’ new store on the 200 block of W. Superior Street in Downtown Duluth would survive the tumult… in fact, at a time when many businesses were failing, Maurices experienced success in their first year with “The Finest Fashions without Penalty of Price”.

According to the folks at Maurices, the store produced approximately $49,000 in sales during its first year and the company showed a profit of $4.12 – equalling just over $65 today. Nicely done!

Growth would continue and by 1950 Maurices had stores in Duluth, Superior, and Virginia. In 1955, Maurice’s son, Joel, took over and ran the company until 1978 when the Brenninkmeyer Family – a Dutch business family which owned and operated various stores across Europe and North America – purchased the Maurices brand. Maurices was reportedly considered the “crown jewel” of the Brenninkmeyer holdings and proved to be a profitable addition to their portfolio.

Under Brenninkmeyer leadership Maurices was quite successful and a well-known favorite of the family’s businesses. The Brenninkmeyer family also loved Duluth which is why they consistently placed their company president here. They also reportedly used Maurices as a training ground for future company leaders.

Despite the company’s great successes, however, there were a few minor setbacks here and there. In 1980, for example, a head broke off the sprinkler system’s main supply pipe in the ceiling above Maurices in their retail location at the Normandy Inn Building. As reported by The Duluth Herald, store manager Richard Levey discovered the store flooded with about 3 to 4 inches of standing water on the floor. The store would be closed for a three-day cleanup. There was no public estimate of damage to property or merchandise but it must have been quite a mess.

Maurices Flood 1980

Looking over the damage caused by water cascading from a broken sprinkler system pipe in the Maurices store at the Normandy Inn are, from left, Nick Blotti, head engineer at the hotel, and firefighters Rich Mattson, Mike Gamache and Ken Rish. (Photo Credit: Duluth News Tribune)

In 2005 the Brenninkmeyer family decided to divest their U.S. and Canadian holdings, selling Maurices to Dressbarn. The merging of the two stores later led to the creation of Ascena Retail Inc. – a 7.4 billion dollar company comprised of 8 brands: Dressbarn, Maurices, Justice, Lane Bryant, Catherines, Ann Taylor, Loft, and Lou & Grey. The folks at Maurices told us that approximately 1.1 billion of the company’s net worth comes from Maurices and its 950 stores.

Looking Forward at Maurices’ Future

In 2012 another, more devastating, flood hit Duluth and with it almost 100 million dollars in damage across the city. In the aftermath of the flood, Duluth was in need of some good news. It got it. Shortly after the flood, the Atwater group announced that a 300,000 square foot commercial development was planned for the 400 block of W. Superior Street (the former site of the KDLH and Palladio buildings). Tenants were kept secret at the time, but it was later announced in September that Maurices would be the anchor tenant. A Business North article in November reported that Maurices current headquarters, at 105 W. Superior St., was quite “discombobulated” so with expected growth and the handling of Ascena’s payroll and accounting, a move to a larger space was “absolutely necessary”.

Originally, the building design called for a 300,000 square foot building capped with a 16-floor tower. However, in January 2014 the project was downsized to 200,000 square feet and the tower concept was abandoned to better match the City’s unified building code and surrounding structures. Even still, the redesigned 11-story structure dominates the entire block and is now the largest downtown commercial development in Duluth’s history. The new building gives Maurices the space it needs for its 500 employees and operations… with room to grow.

Maurices Building design concept street view
Maurices plans to begin moving into their new headquarters next month. This is definitely an exciting time for the company and for the City of Duluth. This is history in the making.

For more information on Maurices’ new headquarters visit the Maurices Pressroom Page.

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If you’re interested in learning more about Duluth’s rich history, please check out our Duluth History Bus Tours or click on the calendar below to book your Experience.

[ESPRESSO_CALENDAR cal_view=”basicWeek” event_category_id=”history-bus”]

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