By KEVIN NEVERS
A 63-year-old Chesterton tradition came to an end Saturday when the Ben
Franklin at 219 Broadway shut its doors.
Ken Baur, who owns and operates the store with his wife Pat, told the
Chesterton Tribune today that the decision to close has nothing to do with
any downturn in the craft market--or even with any hiccup in the Duneland
economy--but rather everything to do with the loss four years ago of his
special relationship with the Ben Franklin franchise when that franchise
went out of business.
Indeed, although the establishment of a Hobby Lobby in Merrillville and
one in Michigan City did cut into some of Baur's trade, Baur conceded, he
said that he had always considered that competition a "temporary setback" and noted that shortly after the store went into the craft line
exclusively sales tripled.
Instead, Baur said, the store was simply unable to run profitably after
Promotions Unlimited of Racine, Wis., bought the Ben Franklin name but
failed to offer--and never sought to replicate--the advantageous
relationship which Ben Franklin previously had had with its franchisees
across the country. "They really never understood how these stores
operated," he said.
Chief among the benefits for the old franchisees was the warehouse which
the Ben Franklin franchise ran in Seymour, Ind., and which Baur said it
stocked with the largest number of miscellaneous items of any franchise in
the country. That warehouse permitted Baur to keep a low inventory in his
store but still to obtain needed items quickly and inexpensively. With the
loss of that warehouse, however, Baur said that he was forced to maintain
a larger inventory and so--given Indiana's inventory tax--to assume a
larger tax liability.
But in others ways too the loss of the franchise hurt Baur. In the old
days, he said, the Ben Franklin franchise twice annually held a national
convention for franchisees at which some 6,000 vendors would make their
products available at "tremendous deals." In addition, the franchise
fielded a marketing team which built ads for franchisees at excellent
prices as well as developed and coordinated such promotions as the popular
bag sale, which Baur's store was the first to offer on the day after
Not only did Baur lose the warehouse with the sale of the Ben Franklin
names to Promotions Unlimited, he lost the aggressiveness of the
franchise, and in four years no new programs or promotions were ever
developed. In short, Baur said, under the new regime and as an independent
he simply never had the buying power or the flexibility made possible by
the strength of the franchise. "Being a franchisee has a lot of benefit.
It just wasn't possible to do this alone. But I didn't want to admit that."
Although Baur said he has felt for some time that he would have to close
the store, the final decision was made quickly and kept confidential until
he and his wife had had time to inform their 17 full-time and part-time
employees. The final straw was this season's extraordinarily high heating
costs, he added.
"It's been a very emotional time for
us," Baur said, and emphasized "how much we appreciated being part of the community for so
Baur's grandfather originally established the store in 1938 and ran it
until 1961, when his father took over the business. Baur himself began
working in the store in 1983 and in 1990 he and Pat assumed the reins.
Baur--who also operates The Frame Shop Inc. in Crown Point--said that he
intends to stay in Chesterton. Baur owns the building and said that he
hopes to find a tenant for it quickly.
The store will re-open at 8 a.m. Wednesday for an undetermined period as a
consultant organizes a closeout sale.