To the naked eye, Perry Framing sits on East Superior Street in Duluth, Minn. looking like a simple frame shop. The walls are lined with pictures and paintings accompanied by custom-made wooden frames of various colors. The back wall is covered with sample corners of frames that one can purchase, and on a small dog bed sits a tiny white dog with beady black eyes named Mitzi.
On the phone is the owner, Penny Perry. She is not talking about frames, rather she is giving the caller on the other end of the line a recipe for cranberry pie. Scenes like this are “pretty typical around here,” says Penny after hanging up. After 33 years of running Perry Framing, Penny says that the store has turned into more than just a shop that offers frames, but a calming atmosphere that welcomes all.
Originally from Spooner, Wis., Penny has been at Perry Framing in Duluth for 36 years and been the owner for 33 of those years. Penny became the sole owner after her older sister, who started the shop in 1975, passed away. After attending the University of Wisconsin-Superior, Penny has worked for herself.
“There are costs to it,” she said. “But it's easier to weather than being around people every day in a cubicle.”
Aside from making a living selling frames, Penny says she offers other services. Penny says that in the past she has used a barter system between her and her customers, citing an instance in which she made a frame in exchange for acupuncture treatment, but this just adds to the “family atmosphere,” she said.
After just a few minutes Al Kosters, an acquaintance of Penny's for close to eight years, enters the shop. Kosters has come to borrow Penny's van to run errands in exchange for a tank of gas. Among others, Kosters is a regular visitor to the shop who comes for conversation and in some cases “therapeutic assistance throughout the day.”
“It's a good energy place,” said Kosters. “I feel good after I walk out of here.”
Along with making frames, Penny makes music. She plays the fiddle, guitar, and some upright bass and she also helped start the Lake Superior Fiddle Contest, which is no longer running. In addition to music Penny creates her own paintings which are displayed at the Zinema. Penny's love for the arts doesn't stop there. She helped Duluth become the first city in Minnesota with a Poet Lauriet Board.
As a self-proclaimed “hardcore DFL-er,” Penny is a member of the Duluth Downtown Waterfront District and of the Downtown Duluth Council and also helped Linda Krug in her race for city council.
“Downtown is as much a neighborhood as it is a an area,” Penny said. “It's very connected.”
According to Kosters, Penny's calming influence applies also to animals, especially her own dog Mitzi.
“Mitzi was an abused dog,” said Kosters of the nearly 12-year-old canine.
He described Mitzi as sluggish and drained of life when Penny first received her, but has since made a turn-around.
“She acts like a 3-year-old,” said Kosters. “She's a ball of fire.”
From Wednesday to Saturday, Penny can be found at her frame shop making and selling frames, but more importantly conversing with friends and guests who think of the shop as a “melting pot” like Al Kosters.
Penny thrives on the interaction with her friends and customers throughout the late half of the week.
“It’s always been a great place for anybody to come,” said Penny. “Some days I warm up the same cup of tea four different times and never get to drink it.”