Twin Ports Sales - Duluth

Twin Ports Sales existed for many years on South Lake Ave, about where the I-35 Freeway is now. It was owned and operated by a Jewish Duluthian named Izzy Isadore Alpert. The business closed in 1961 or 62, I think, due to the construction of the freeway taking their building. Information courtesy of Andy Goldfine.

I think Twin Ports Sales may have sold jewelry and housewares, but am not really sure. I don't even remember if they were a wholesaler/distributor or a retailer. It was purchased by and absorbed into the Goldfines retail store business in the early 1960s. Information courtesy of Andy Goldfine.

Isadore "Izzy" Alpert (1910-2006) was a son of Lena Batonic Alpert (1892-1940) and Isaac E Alpert (1871-1942). According to his obituary, Izzy was "An innovative entrepreneur, Izzy started the first discount store in Northern Minnesota, Twin Ports Sales Company." More information on Izzy and the business can be found in his Eulogy written and presented by his son Mark.

Issy's son Mark Alpert provided "a little more background on Twin Ports Sales" in December 2021. His words are provided below:

"My Dad had a news stand in the old Duluth Depot sometime after returning from working post Central High School Graduation ('27) in L.A. in the late '20s. I believe he had some coin machines in his place of business. He built a coin machine route (pinball machines, and slot machines when they were legal, along with punchboards (both devices where you could gamble and win $, but a business he always though was parasitic). He also had jukeboxes in various bars and restaurants around the Duluth and the Iron Range.

"After Governor Luther Youngdahl ended the legality of slot machines (which I referenced in my eulogy), my Dad dumped them for small change and kept the pinball machine and jukebox part of the business. As I believe I also wrote, he used to give bar owners fancy display boards to showcase the items that people could win if they scored enough points in a pinball machine game (rods & reels, steam irons, electric frying pans, toasters, etc.). Around 1950-52, he was operating out of a building that is now occupied by Sammy's Pizza, on 1st street, corner of 1st avenue west. The part that is closest to the avenue (where the buffet is now located) was where he had the work space where machines were serviced (and I used to play on them whenever I could, to the consternation of the mechanics who were eager to get them fixed and back 'out there.') The part where the ovens and booths are was where Twin Ports Sales started.

"In the front part of that space (where the ovens and counter is), there was about 700 sq. ft. of showroom, where he had the "premiums displayed" for bar owners to choose what they wanted as prizes for their lucky customers. Dad read about E.J. Korvette's success in selling items like these prizes (and more) at discount prices, to capitalize on pent-up demand after WWII, without the need for extensive advertising, and high-cost salespeople. If priced well, he reasoned that these items would be ones that Duluth/Superior customers would like to buy at good savings value. So he opened the showroom to retail customers, marked the items down significantly from their 'retail prices,' and used some of the space in the back half of the building to warehouse the inventory.

"The strategy proved quite popular, and demand was greater than the 700 sq. ft. showroom could handle. So he either bought or rented a building on the opposite side of Lake Avenue (between Joe Huie's and the Aerial Bridge), and put in a showroom in the front, and a warehouse for inventory in the far back, with some offices for his staff, and the catalogue people (yes, he had a catalogue and mail-order business for several years, with discounted merchandise). Twin Ports Sales Co. sold jewelry, watches, all kinds of 'hard goods,' TVs. record players, transistor radios, sporting equipment, tires, all at discount prices, and I worked on the sales floor from ages 10 through college (except for one summer when I got my first 'real job' at Pete Hildre's gas station on 15th Ave. E. and Superior St.). The front showroom was expanded several times, to handle increased demand, and eventually, he bought the building next door, and in the early '60s, arranged for leased departments to add 'soft goods' (clothing, etc.), and a restaurant upstairs, with a total of about 28,000 sq. ft. (Incidentally, when we analyzed the most productive departments in terms of sales per sq. ft., it was the popcorn machine in the lower level that was the highest.)

"In the mid-'60s, the highway department condemned the Twin Ports Sales buildings, and my Dad accepted an offer from the Goldfines to bring his jewelry and other 'hard goods' departments and staff over to Goldfines By The Bridge (one of the several discount houses that were opened after Twin Ports Sales, e.g., Goldfines, Shoppers City, and Target. He and Monnie and Erv had always had a good relationship, and his only condition for agreeing to a Twin Ports Sales division of Goldfines was that he wanted to keep employing his key personnel, and Monnie and Erv kindly said that they were part of the reason they wanted Dad's operation to join them.

"That was typical of Monnie and Erwin, as I learned more and more about how smart and decent both of them were, when I worked with them at the organization my Dad and they (along with Joel Labovitz) had founded that became ZMC Hotels. (I did mostly marketing research and presentation to managers my statistical analyses of the customer satisfaction surveys that they were using to improve guest experiences.)

"My head and heart are full of stories that illustrate both the insights and compassion that filled the discussions we had in our partners' meetings. As a Marketing Educator, I had wondered how many executives were smart, and also honorable, and it was a joy to be in meetings where the Goldfines (and my Dad) personified both. And we had fun doing it."

courtesy of Mark Alpert - December 2021

27 September 1946 - American Jewish World

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