A project that has been four years in the making opened as a new Third Street business earlier this month.
The Dressy Moose Emporium, owned by Denise and Eric “Erickson” Kulig, is open Saturdays and features art made by the couple as well as other Borderland talent. Erickson, as he is known by, is the creator of the four “seasons” sculptures at the Falls Public Library.
“Art is both of our passions,” Erickson said. “Having a store like this made sense.”
“I’ve always been an artist and always thought having a shop would be pretty cool,” she said. “This has always been the plan, we just didn’t know how it was going to come about.”
Creating a future
The plan started budding about seven years ago when the couple moved to International Falls after Erickson was laid off from his Twin Cities-area job as an electrical engineer. Burned out by city living, the Kuligs decided to make their home in the one-bedroom cabin they had owned on Rainy Lake for several years prior.
With enough construction experience on his long list of skills, Erickson began building the family of four a home on the same footprint as the cabin.
As they began making Borderland their home, the couple said they had dreams of reinvesting in the community.
“We began looking at investment opportunities,” Erickson said. “We wanted to take what little retirement we had, invest in a building and pursue some of our artistic dreams.”
While working other jobs and putting hours in on other projects, Erickson said when the couple had any free time, they looked at local buildings available to purchase.
Surprised at how reasonable prices were, the Kuligs agreed the vacant building at 323 Third Street was the opportunity they’d been waiting for.
“This came up, and we just pulled the trigger on the deal,” Erickson said. “There was so much potential in the building and we saw it and we were really excited about it. I always say you’re either part of the problem or part of the solution. We wanted to be part of the solution.”
With keys in hand, the building was far from move-in ready.
“The building needed so much renovation,” Denise said.
The couple rolled up their sleeves and got to work.
First, they cleared out and fixed up the upstairs space which is home to The Workshop, owned by Kari Gansch.
“We wanted to get Kari in there right away,” Denise said. Gansch’s business has been in the space since January 2017.
Once Gansch was settled in, Erickson divided his time between his artwork, finishing the family’s home and working on the building.
The building’s project to-do list was long. Painting, ripping up flooring, removing wall paper and installing original light fixtures were just a few tasks facing the couple.
“See why it took four years?” Denise said with a laugh.
When the COVID-19 pandemic laid off both Erickson and Denise from their jobs earlier this year, the couple looked at the opportunity as life handing them lemons.
“We decided to go make lemonade,” Erickson said.
Following the layoffs, the couple were in the building 12 hours a day, seven days a week.
“Those were longs days of uncovering ceiling tiles then painting them, ripping up paneling, tearing carpet out, scraping off adhesive, there was so much to do,” Erickson said.
Denise likes the look and feel of the 1920s and envisioned colors to go along with that theme.
“Unbeknownst to me, a lot of the colors in here were what I already picked out,” she said. “We wanted to keep some of the original look.”
Naming the store
So why the Dressy Moose Emporium?
Years ago, the storefront was home to The Specialty Dress Shop and later the Moose Lodge. The Kuligs felt honoring the two names made sense.
“We were kicking around names and because everyone knows this as the ‘Moose building,’ we knew it was always going to be the Moose building, so we decided to work that in,” Denise said. “And then we decided to work part of The Specialty Dress Shop name in to it, too.”
The jury is still out on whether it was Erickson or Denise who came up with “emporium” to round off the full name. Both took credit for the term and quietly pointed to themselves when the other wasn’t paying attention.
“I thought of ‘emporium,’” Denise said, kicking off a friendly disagreement.
“No, I think I had emporium,” Erickson said.
“No, it was me,” Denise said, continuing the conversation.
“We’re going to argue,” they said at the same time, laughing.
The pair compliment each other nicely as husband and wife of nearly three decades, but also as business partners, and are excited for plans to come.
“When it gets warmer out, the whole front will be painted,” Denise said.
They also want to incorporate art classes on site and offer rental space for local artists to work.
“That way they can also use equipment we have here,” Erickson said, suggesting use of a pottery wheel as an example. “They can rent their own space and their mess can be here.”
The Dressy Moose Emporium will also feature artwork by other local artists.
“The emporium part of the name is that it’s a potpourri of things related to art,” Erickson said.
The couple expressed gratitude to the community for the support given to the new shop since it opened Dec. 12.
“We didn’t really know what to expect,” Erickson said. “On the first day, we sold more than half our stuff.”
“We were busy from 10 a.m. when I sold the first pillow, to 3 p.m. when I finally got to sit down for a quick lunch,” she said. “The last person walked out the door at 5 p.m.”
Erickson called opening day incredible
“We are just so thankful for the support,” he said.
The Dressy Moose Emporium is scheduled to be open Saturdays, but Denise said, “If the open sign is on, come on in.”