Monday, July 18

Duluth’s Oldest Hotspot

Quite often, I find myself thinking about ways to improve Duluth’s tourism industry. Not that it needs it, because it’s thriving. However, there’s one market we’re not tapping: the rejuvenating, healing powers of the local sauna market. The greatest, and oldest sauna in Duluth is the locally owned Duluth Sauna, owned by Hugh Wilson.

Wilson is part of a long-running sauna family. Before immigrating to the US, Wilson’s family owned saunas in Norway since 1628, when they opened the first family sauna in Lillehammer. Duluth Sauna opened in 1902 at its present location on Third Street – and Wilson is proud to be a fourth generation owner-operator. He believes that there’s a good reason for this. “It’s a good job, mostly because I’m able to sauna and work at the same time. Some folks think it’s creepy to get a fresh towel from a naked guy that’s been in the sauna with them, but they’re probably just reacting to the strange naked woman tattoo on my belly.”

To gain business in the sauna industry, Wilson has employed unusual promotions. “The best received, and why we’re talkin’, I think, is the one where I have a bus a-waitin’ outside and I take groups of sauna-goers down to Lake Superior. The powers of them there lake, well, there’s healing in those waters.”

Local physician Dave Smith explains: “Sounds like a load of kreuk to me. But then again, there are some minerals in the water, and the lake’s quite cold. It’s quite possible that some aches and pains could be seem healed simply because the body has gone into shock.”

It remains to be seen whether the Duluth Tourism Board will pick up on the sauna-tourism trend. Personally, I think they should. Duluth sauna is only one of six locally based saunas providing healing treatment to numerous people a day. I use the men only side, but there’s a family section, and usually a women’s section. Not only that, but most saunas have stopped the practice of confiscating your clothes at the door – you’re now often able to change in a changing room. There hasn’t been much movement in regards to saunaing naked, though. It’s standard – and why shouldn’t it be. There are some things you just shouldn’t change.