Duluth city, business leaders celebrate guilty verdict against Last Place on Earth
By Mike Creger / Duluth News Tribune
City officials and downtown business owners were joyous after a Minneapolis jury found Last Place on Earth store owner Jim Carlson guilty on most counts early Monday afternoon.
“We are feeling relief that the long, painful problem in our community is over,” Mayor Don Ness said in a news conference called an hour after the verdicts were announced.
Carlson was found guilty of 51 of 55 charges in U.S. District Court for allegedly selling misbranded drugs and money laundering. Getting this verdict was a long process, Ness said.
“It’s the culmination of over two years of this community combating open sales of synthetic drugs in downtown,” Ness said. “The process worked. If someone is set on harming our community, there will be consequences.”
City Councilor Sharla Gardner, who represents the area of downtown that included the head shop, said she expected the verdict.
“It was only in Mr. Carlson’s world that there was a belief that he wasn’t committing a crime,” she said. “Our vision of downtown will be realized and we can move forward in our city without having this cancer to deal with.”
Duluth Chief of Police Gordon Ramsey said thousands of hours were spent on issues related to Last Place on Earth.
“This impacted a lot of families and a lot of people,” he said. “This case was worth the time of all of us.
“People are going to jail for their actions.”
Mark Fredrickson has been the most vocal downtown business owner when it comes to the negative effects Last Place on Earth customers have had in the area. And with good reason: Fredrickson’s ShelDon printing company is next door to the shop.
“I’m thrilled for downtown,” he said.
Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce President David Ross said he often worried about the case because of “how brazen Mr. Carlson has been” when it comes to denying his culpability.
“I wondered why he was so confident, that maybe he knew something we didn’t.”
The 51-count guilty verdict erased any of those notions, Ross said.
“This is very reassuring that maybe he or his attorney weren’t as smart as they thought they were.”
“It is a tremendous day for our community,” Ross said.
He said city, state and federal officials showed great discipline in charging Carlson and his co-workers knowing that the case would probably set national precedent.
“We wanted to lead the way,” Ross said. “This is extremely gratifying.”
Ross said sales downtown along with police reports show that Last Place “had a negative impact that once closed, reversed itself.”
Eric Faust is an Old Downtown investor who is banking his success on the Last Place on Earth disappearing from the scene. His Duluth Coffee Co. opened in the past year across the street from the head shop.
“It’s a great thing,” Faust said of the convictions. “It’s a big step forward and a breath of fresh air for (Old Downtown),” he said.
He said the area, home to several new food and entertainment businesses, can now “turn the corner” without interference from the shop and its customers.
“We’re working to make the whole area better, and getting rid of that place is a key piece,” Faust said.
A recent survey conducted by the Greater Downtown Council found that local businesses, property owners and employees found downtown safer and more appealing in recent months, partly because of the closing of Last Place on Earth.
Forty-five percent of respondents said downtown was more inviting and appealing, 39 percent said it feels safer and 30 percent of business owners surveyed said retail sales have increased. Forty percent said pedestrian and walk-in traffic has increased.
Greater Downtown Duluth Council President Kristi Stokes said the closure of Last Place on Earth has resulted in significant positive changes.
“And that will only get better,” she said. “Justice has been served. This means our downtown businesses can get back to doing what they do best: providing a great experience for their customers and clients.”
While the verdicts handed down Monday don’t necessarily mean the end of Last Place, it will continue to be shut down as it has been for the past three months.
“It’s been great,” Fredrickson said of the atmosphere downtown. “People have made big investments in the area and to have that cancer in the middle of it has been terrible.”
He said the verdicts are not only a win for businesses and customers on Superior Street but also for those who were buying synthetic materials.
“It’s not just about commerce but also the human cost.”
Fredrickson said the decisive nature of the verdicts, guilty on most counts, shows that “there doesn’t seem to be much wriggle room” when it comes to appeals.
Ness said the case will set a precedent.
“There is now a pathway forward,” he said. “We’ve created a path for combating synthetic drugs in this country.”