Cloquet, Minnesota is a city of about 45,000 located in northern Minnesota on Interstate 35, about half an hour South of Duluth and two hours North of Minneapolis/St. Paul. It was once a sizable logging town, taking advantage of the natural woodlands and St. Louis river (which feeds Lake Superior), but after a major fire in 1918 destroyed much of the surrounding woodland, and much of the city itself, the logging aspect moved farther away from the city. Cloquet quickly rebuilt, and fast-growing birch, aspen, and pine have replaced the original trees in the area.
Cloquet's most prominent landmark used to be its water tower, with the city's name painted across it. Unfortunately, due to age, cost of repair, and asbestos content, it was dismantled in 2004 after a new, larger water tower was built a bit farther from the city. That same year, Cloquet celebrated its centennial.
Not surprisingly for what used to be a logging town, Cloquet's three major industrial employers rely on the surrounding bounty of pine forest for their raw materials. There is also rail access that goes through the town, although most of it is just passing through, carrying taconite from the Iron Range to the Twin Ports of Duluth, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin. Its main road is US Highway 33, which crosses Interstate 35 and bridges the St. Louis river.
Sappi: Sappi is a paper mill, and the largest employer in Cloquet. They make paper from a huge outdoor pile of wood pulp which they keep filled from a near-constant stream of independent logging trucks which haul pine into Cloquet from logging areas outside the city. And when I say huge, I mean it. This pile of wood pulp dwarfs the trucks that feed the wood shredders which keep the pile going. It's got to be at least 50 feet tall by 300 feet long, although I never measured. Sappi used to be Potlatch, but they were purchased by the South African company a couple of years ago in a capital only buy-out. This means Sappi bought only the property, building, and equipment, so all the employees had to re-apply for their positions and the labor contracts with the unions were re-established from scratch.
USG: United States Gypsum is famous for Sheetrock brand drywall, but this factory makes ceiling tile. This factory used to rely directly on the lumber industry back when it was owned by Wood Conversion Company, and to a lesser extent later when it was bought by Conwed and converted to a ceiling tile factory. In the 1980s the building was bought by USG, which continued to make ceiling tile but with more modern equipment and better materials. USG no longer brings lumber in, but a large part of the ceiling tile they make consists of recycled newspaper. Both Sappi and USG are located along the St. Louis river, and rely on the river for most of the water they use in their processes.
Diamond: Diamond Brands is famous for matchsticks and toothpicks, but they also make a number of other small, wooden products such as the sticks for ice cream bars. Like Sappi, Diamond brings in large amounts of lumber from the logging industry to make its products. Diamond mostly makes its products by peeling a veneer off of the lumber and stamping, milling, and lathing differently shaped bits of wood off the veneer.
Stores and Restaurants
Cloquet of course contains a number of banks, fast food restaurants, a small shopping mall, and all the other usual stores and shops one finds in any good sized town. Of particular note are L&M, a farm and fleet supply store, and the Super Wal-Mart. L&M sells all manner of farm and fleet supplies, as well as hunting equipment, replacement parts for trucks, tractors, cars, and major appliances, and home improvement items. The Super Wal-Mart was once a regular Wal-Mart, until they decided they needed something bigger and purchased the lot behind the original Wal-Mart to build the new store. How much bigger is the Super Wal-Mart? The original Wal-Mart was torn down and is now its parking lot. Of special interest is that the Super Wal-Mart has a gas station on its property, with the best gas prices in town. Additionally, you can save another 3 cents per gallon by buying your gas with a Wal-Mart shopping card.
Besides the fast food restaurants (Taco John's, The Steak Escape, Pizza Hut, Hardee's, McDonald's, Dairy Queen) Cloquet has a few nicer places to eat. Grandma's Bar & Grill is right across the street from the Super Wal-Mart, and has a particularly good lasagne and chicken tetrazini. They also have root beer on tap, the good stuff, not the kind mixed from syrup, CO2, and water. It used to be Blackwoods (a local chain), until (according to rumor) Grandma's (another local chain) threatened to build a restaurant close by unless they sold. Grandma's changed the menu and the Happy Hour rules, and most prefer it when it was Blackwoods (they had a great sirloin wrap). Wood City is another Bar & Grill, although this one is more bar than grill. When Wood City was built a couple of years ago, they started taking business away from Grandma's after people decided they liked it better when it was Blackwoods. The Hong Kong Restaurant is a very good chinese buffet located on the other side of the St. Louis river. Most famously, though, is Gordy's Hi Hat, the best place in Cloquet to get a hamburger, at least when they're open. Gordy's apparently does such great business from March to September, that they close for the winter while the family that runs it moves to warmer climates in the South.
DylanDog reminds me that Cloquet is also the home of the world's only Frank Lloyd Wright designed gas station/service garage, a Philips 66 located near the bridge over the St. Louis river on US Highway 33. It's a hideous, pea soup green building with one of Wright's trademark overhangs over the front, and a bulk propane tank sitting upright and designed like a rocket ship.
There's plenty to keep you busy in Cloquet, if you like the outdoors. Deer hunting with muzzle-loaders, bows, and regular rifles are all popular, as are both fishing and ice fishing in some of Minnesota's 10,000 lakes. There are a number of trails nearby for hiking, snowshoeing, and cross country skiing. It seems that almost everyone has an ATV, off-road motorcycle, or snowmobile for riding around during various parts of the year through northern Minnesota's vast woodland. Every Autumn, tourists flock to Cloquet's many nature trails to see the leaves change color to their dramatic oranges and reds.
In addition, there's Centerfolds Cabaret, a gentleman's club close to Wood City, and the nearby Fon-du-Lac Ojibwa tribe pulls most of its revenue from the Black Bear Casino (the profits from which also benefit their Native American cultural center and community college). If all else fails, Duluth is a much larger city only half an hour Northeast along Interstate 35.