Craft Culture: ‘Heirloom’ packs, handcrafted at Duluth’s Frost River

Creating a durable beighborhood

Photo by JaneCane Photography /

Frost River’s storefront // Photo by JaneCane Photography

Lincoln Park is a formerly depressed area in the western portion of the city that’s slowly being revitalized. Abandoned storefronts are being bought up and transformed by passionate entrepreneurs starting businesses like breweries, bakeries and restaurants. The area is now being referred to as a “craft district” because of the emphasis on quality, handmade goods.

“It’s interesting to see this resurgence and focus on craft again,” Benson says. “People are realizing there are lots of ways to make things, but once you really dig into it you can see the difference in the product.”

Benson says there’s a sort of “craft synergy” in Lincoln Park, particularly with neighbor Bent Paddle Brewing, which is located just across the street from Frost River’s back parking lot.

Photo by JaneCane Photography /

Frost River growler carriers, pint glass sleeves, and coasters // Photo by JaneCane Photography

The businesses cooperate in a couple of different ways. Frost River produces a growler pack that’s sold in Bent Paddle’s taproom. The businesses also partner for a Beer & Gear Charitable Program, which combines a growler pack and a customized glass growler with fills for charitable donations like silent auctions and other fundraisers.

Frost River gets regular traffic from Bent Paddle customers, so much that it had to move its shipping operation to accommodate people wanting to enter the retail store through the back door on West Michigan Street.

The focus on craft and authenticity is working. Frost River has grown considerably over the last five years, from 12 to 32 employees. Benson was pleased to be able to hire back many of the knowledgeable Frost River staff who lost their jobs when the first owner decided to close up shop.

Frost River has grown from 12 to 32 employees over the past five years // Photo by JaneCane Photography

Frost River sells to wholesalers and to individuals, and through their retail and online stores. Two-thirds of the company’s revenue now comes from the online store and its handmade goods are exported from Duluth to the rest of the world. Benson says the 12,000 square foot building offers the company ample room to grow. “We intend to grow this thing as much as we can find customers.”

That said, Benson is keenly aware of maintaining quality through growth and staying true to the brand. Don’t expect the company to create a line of products for golfers, for instance. “You have to know what you’re doing and also have a purpose behind what you’re doing,” he says. “It’s not just about chasing revenue.”

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Photos by JaneCane Photography

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