By Candace Renalls
Duluth News Tribune.
Talbrey Benson-Goupil was headed for law school in 2011 when she found something that interested her more.
Running an outdoors apparel store.
Fresh out of college, she was living in Grand Marais and managing the Waters Edge Trading Co., a small outdoors clothing and gift shop in Tofte.
“Waters Edge is where I fell in love with the outdoor industry,” Benson-Goupil said. “I found that more enticing than going to law school.”
A few years into the job, she decided to open her own store. That has led to the recent launch of Urban Forest, an upscale outdoors apparel shop at Sugar Maple Crossing in Hermantown.
The 25-year-old entrepreneur aims to provide quality, fashionable outdoors wear and footwear for men and women that can go from everyday life to the trails. That includes brands like Kuhl, Toad & Co., Marmot, Lole and Teva.
“We have a lot of the same brands as Trailfitters, but they do more techie gear,” she said. “Ours is more on the lifestyle side, more fashion-driven. Ours is more for going paddle boarding or hiking after work.”
She describes her prices as higher end, with shirts ranging from $40 to $80 and sweaters from $50 to $150. The store also offers the work of area artists, including jewelry and paintings.
Urban Forest isn’t a franchise. It’s Benson-Goupil’s creation, including the name.
“I was playing around with different words relating to city life and urban areas,” she said. “I wanted to combine them with an outdoor theme, which is the goal of the store. I came up with Urban Forest.”
The change in direction in Benson-Goupil’s life isn’t too surprising. She comes from a storekeeping family. Her grandfather owned Midway Service in Grand Marais from the 1940s to the 1970s, and her uncle has owned and operated Buck’s Hardware Hank in town for the past 30 years.
Although Benson-Goupil grew up in the Twin Cities, her family would visit Grand Marais once a month, and she would spend summers there.
“I had the best of both worlds,” she says.
As a youngster, she was drawn to her uncle’s hardware store, long before she started working there at age 16.
“She was after me to work in the store when she was young,” said her uncle, Buck Benson. “When she was 6 years old, she wanted to be down there. I allowed her to do small chores around the store, hang out and be part of it.”
He recalls his niece, at age 9, setting up a stand outside the store so the store would be part of the town’s annual Crazy Daze Sales.
“She’s really bright and a hard worker,” Benson said. “I have a lot of faith in my niece. I know she will be successful, no matter what she does.”
Still, for Benson-Goupil, becoming a first-time business owner has been quite the two-year journey.
She sought help with her business plan from the University of Minnesota Duluth Center for Economic Development and the Northland Foundation.
“Getting support and money from banks and different organizations was the hardest ordeal,” she said. “I didn’t have capital, I didn’t own my own home. Eventually, I got support from my family — my last resort — to get the bank side rolling.”
With family members providing the down payment and working with the U.S. Small Business Administration, she got a business loan from US Bank to cover her startup costs of nearly $150,000.
She considered a couple of Duluth sites for her store, including Chester Creek Gardens and the Shops at BlueStone. But she ended up taking the last available storefront at Sugar Maple Crossing, signing a 10-year lease.
The 2,800-square-foot storefront is part of a recent 14,000-square-foot addition to the strip mall at Miller Trunk Highway and Sugar Maple Drive that nearly tripled its size.
“More than anything, I fell in love with the space,” she said. “The windows are awesome for an apparel shop. And it’s right on a highway, which is really nice.”
At 4 miles northwest of Miller Hill Mall, rents are more reasonable than the mall area, noted Joe Peterson, the mall’s co-owner.
“Just over 20,000 cars drive by, so it’s a very high traffic count,” he said. “The only place higher is Miller Hill Mall.”
Sugar Maple Crossing also houses Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, Country Financial, Fastenal, CrossFit Duluth and Consolidated Communications, with Burger King and Domino’s Pizza in a separate mall building. A Kwik Trip is across the street.
“It’s awesome to have (Urban Forest) in the mix,” Peterson said. “We would like to see that kind of retail more and more.”
Buildout on the store started in August with a completely unfinished space. All the plumbing, electrical and heating and cooling systems had to be installed, as well as other finishing work.
“I got lucky, my fiance is a contractor,” Benson-Goupil said of Jim Baird. He and her father, Paul Goupil, did much of the work, with the landlord installing the plumbing, interior walls and painting the exposed ceiling.
The work was wrapping up when the store opened on Oct. 9.
Benson-Goupil’s four years managing the Tofte store served her well. As manager, she also was a buyer so she knew brands and the quality of their lines.
“I had a lot of relationships with sales representatives from different companies that would be typically closed to most people,” she said.
Once the store opened, business started out slow, hampered by the absence of a store sign. But store traffic has been picking up, and the LED store sign was installed Thursday, announcing its presence. Benson-Goupil also has started to advertise and to hold store events like ladies’ and men’s nights.
“I’m trying to bring a little bit of excitement and events to Hermantown that you typically find in downtown Duluth,” she said.
So far, the response to the store has been positive.
“A lot of people are excited that there is something that is not a big box store,” she said. “It makes me feel I actually brought something to the area people desired and wanted, something for people who live in Duluth and not just the tourists.”
Eventually she would like to open another store or two.
“I’m not going for a franchise, but it would be nice to have a couple other locations,” she said.
Details about the store
Urban Forest, 4960 Miller Trunk Highway in Hermantown, is open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays. A men’s night will be held 5:30-8:30 p.m. Tuesday at the store, sponsored by Bent Paddle Brewing Co. and Dickey’s Barbecue Pit.