For nearly half a century, the Clearview building has been at the center of Lutsen life, home to many of the businesses and local personalities that make the community unique.
What started as a simple general store and post office in the 1940s, has since been expanded and developed over recent decades by Jeff and Anna Latz into what it is today—“downtown Lutsen.” Now, after 40 years of steady growth and community enrichment, Jeff and Anna have sold the building, passing on its legacy to local residents Dave and Chris Homyak.
“It was great to have Chris and his dad purchase the whole building,” says Jeff. “We’re glad it’s locals, they have a lot of good energy and so many great ideas.”
“In some ways it has been hard to let go,” adds Anna, “I mean, this business has been with us for so long—it’s our baby! But we’re just so thankful to see it passed on to Chris and Dave who we know care about this place just as much as we do.”
Born and raised in Rochester, Minn., Jeff first visited the North Shore in 1975 while on a fishing trip with friends.
“At the time, I was fresh out of college,” says Jeff, who graduated from Arizona State University. “On the way back from the trip we drove past the ski hill, and I said ‘you know, let’s go up there and check it out.’”
While checking out the ski hill, Jeff noticed a “Help Wanted” sign on the door, so he picked up an application, turned it in, and was pretty much offered a job on the spot.
“After thinking about it for a couple of weeks,” continues Jeff, “I thought ‘ah what the heck’, I wasn’t doing anything, why not work here for the winter? And then of course when the winter was over, I wanted to see what a whole year (in Lutsen) was like, which led into the next year, and then the next, and soon I was hooked.”
Jeff worked for the ski hill from 1975-1979, before moving on to work for a local carpenter for a couple of years. Then, thanks in part to the encouragement of his good friend Doug Nordahl, Jeff decided to purchase the Clearview building when it went up for sale.
“The general store had been around for a long time before I bought it,” says Jeff, “but stopped operation in 1965. Then, another couple opened it in 1980, but wanted out by 1981, so that’s when I stepped in, and it’s just been one thing after another after that.”
When Jeff first purchased the Clearview building, the whole place was still heated by a wood stove and there were no indoor restrooms in the general store.
“I used to chop wood all day between customers,” recalls Jeff, “and then in 1997, when we added indoor bathrooms to the store, that was a pretty big deal.”
Meanwhile, Anna was busy running her own business, Heavy Duty Sewing, with her business partner and lifelong friend Nancy Cihlar.
Together, Anna and Cihlar started Heavy Duty Sewing in 1979, working out of Anna’s basement that was, at the time, part of the Rose Running property. After 10 years of growing the business together, Anna bought out Cihlar’s share of the business, and continued running Heavy Duty Sewing on her own until deciding to downsize in 2017.
But it was in 1983 that Anna and Nancy expanded Heavy Duty Sewing into the Clearview building, thanks to the first of Jeff’s many additions to his newly acquired property.
“Our first addition,” says Jeff, “Was Heavy Duty Sewing and Great Gifts; Great Gifts being Cihlar’s next business after Heavy Duty.”
“After that, we continued filling the space, expanding the building to where Fika Coffee is today, which at the time was a liquor store,” continues Jeff, “and then we added the overhang across all the buildings…”
“Now here’s a little local humor for you,” adds Anna. “The story goes that Jeff was working on the overhang every day, but no one in town would let him work, they’d constantly stop him to chat.”
“And then,” continues Anna, “they all had a bright idea—‘say, why don’t you put that overhang all the way across?’”
“And of course, that’s exactly what I was trying to do,” says Jeff, “I was just too busy visiting with everyone to get it done.”
Despite the unavoidable distractions associated with operating a community store, Jeff and Anna loved how the business allowed them to engage with their customers, and the lasting impact that they were able to have on the community.
“Running and living above a community store,” recalls Jeff, “was a very, very unique experience. I wouldn’t trade it for the world, I don’t think any of us would.”
“It was a great life,” agrees Anna.
In addition to adding a whole second story to the original Clearview building to help meet the communities need for affordable housing, the Latz’s developed all of the buildings next door, building the Credit Union and its numerous expansions, as well as the building next to it. As if all of that wasn’t enough; Jeff and Anna went on to start a number of other businesses over the years, some with partners and others on their own, including a boat rental service, a candy distribution company, and a vending amusement company.
As Jeff and Anna move on to a more relaxing future, they walk away from the Clearview building with enough stories to fill a book and memories to last several lifetimes.