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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Ely’s economic renaissance warming up this spring

Renovations of vacant buildings lead to new business ventures


ELY – The economic renaissance continues in Ely even over the winter months. Another ribbon-cutting ceremony, hosted by the Ely Chamber of Commerce, was held last week for a new business in the city’s growing downtown corridor.

Charles Zeugner and his accounting firm now occupy the coveted corner office on the second floor of the refurbished James Drug building at the corner of Chapman Street and 1st Avenue East.

The historic landmark building has recently been at the center of attention by Alley A Realty, a downtown renovation firm owned by John and Tanner Ott. The building is actually just just one of many development projects around town.

The Crapola World Headquarters opened late last year on the north side of the building. Another 1,200 square-foot retail space is currently undergoing a front facelift on the Chapman Street side and should be ready for lease sometime in May, according to Tanner Ott.

He said another first floor office in the James Drug building is on the cusp of opening soon. “I won’t reveal who that is,” Ott said, “I’ll leave that up to the new business when they are ready.”

Charles R. Zeugner, CPA is a tax and accounting firm that works with individuals, small businesses, and not-for-profits. For the first year in business, he was located in the basement of the Frandsen Bank Building. “I appreciate the support I received from the bank in establishing my business,” he said, “and I hope this location will help me to grow my business.”

With the recent opening of First Avenue Massage by Christine Kloppenberg, there are six offices available for lease in the upstairs area. Common restrooms and a small kitchen area are available. Ott said leases are available for about $350 per month.

Ott said the green space adjacent to the east side of the James Drug building will be designed and developed into a pocket park.

Other projects

Insula Restaurant is building a steady business in the former Vertin’s Café at the corner of Sheridan and 2nd Ave. East. The exterior of the building is currently undergoing a facelift. “There will be a new storefront on Sheridan Street,” Ott said. “ “We are looking for something similar to its 1920s-1930s facade. We are also exploring putting some windows back in on the avenue side.” Future plans call for a possible expansion of the restaurant on the north side of the building.

Work continues on the expansive State Theater and Salerno building renovation. “Crews are continuing their work on new plumbing and wiring on the inside,” Ott said. “The art deco themed apartment above the lobby is also currently being rewired and will have new plumbing.”

Alley A Realty could have the theater and building ready to lease by the end of 2017. “We are still searching for a tenant to lease the two-screen theater,” he said. “Some sort of tenant will have to sign on before there is regular programming in the theater, but I’m sure there will be some sort of event when the building is complete.”

“A new website,, created over the weekend, includes lots of great historic and project info,” he said.

“We are working with the State of Minnesota and the U.S. Department of Interior to restore the exterior and interior to its original condition,” he said. “Our vision is a multi-purpose independent theater that will show films and also have the capability of accommodating musical events, weddings, and small live theater performances. By incorporating the adjacent Salerno Building on the corner, this independent theater operation can house an additional but smaller screening room for smaller audiences, as well as a spacious casual food/concessions component and social area that will accommodate customers before, during, and after movie screenings.” 

The vacant Ford Garage building, located at the corner of Conan Street and 1st Avenue East is another recent acquisition of Ally A Realty. “We will secure it and make the property safe,” Ott said. “This includes things like building a new wall on the west building, installing better locks on doors and covering all windows. This will start as soon as weather permits.”

The historic renovation firm is still searching for a daycare operator for the AFU building at 111 S. 4th Ave E. across from Washington Elementary School. The building has about 2,000 square feet of space. The landmark was built in 1933. “We will be installing a new heating system,” Ott said. “This is a great location and the building has lots of character. It is the right size and layout for a daycare.”

Northern Grounds, located in the former VFW building on Sheridan Street and Central Avenue, has been well received since opening late last year. The upstairs space is about 1,800 square feet. “It has bathrooms, a lobby, and a ballroom,” Ott said. “The ballroom has refinished tin ceilings and a maple floor. This would be great for a fitness/yoga group.”


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