Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Framing Concepts to close; Downtown Chesterton to lose the Baur family business

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By KEVIN NEVERS

For more than three-quarters of a century, a Baur has been doing business in Downtown Chesterton.

And not only doing business but--once every generation, on average--reinventing it.

Walt Baur Sr. was the original entrepreneur. In 1938 he opened the Ben Franklin five-and-dime at 133 S. Calumet Road, in what’s now Indian Summer. In 1959 Walt Jr. bought out his father and, looking to expand the selection, moved the store three years later into the 10,000-square foot space of what had been the Aron Theater, at 219 Broadway.

There Walt Jr., later joined by his own son, Ken, continued selling the usual stock-in-trade of a five-and-dime--toiletries, shoes, stationary, household items--until, by the early 1980s, the rise of the big-box discount retailers had shifted the whole country’s commercial center of gravity from the downtown to the frontage road, from storefronts to strip malls. Mom-and-pop operations had no hope of competing against such aggressive economies of scale.

The Baurs responded boldly, with a sidestep and a counterthrust. They put the Ben Franklin well on its way to becoming a specialty store, by liquidating much of their traditional line and replacing it with arts and crafts supplies. Ken completed the transition in 1989, when he bought out his own father, and for the next decade he and his wife, Pat, did a pretty good business outfitting serious artists and crafters as well as kids (and parents) grappling with school projects, birthday parties, and rainy afternoons.

By the 21st century, however, Hobby Lobby and Michael’s were doing to Ken’s Ben Franklin what Kmart and Target had done to his father’s. So Ken sidestepped once again and doubled down on specialization. In 2001 he and Pat closed the Ben Franklin for good and opened--in the same space--Framing Concepts Gallery, where for 15 years they’ve been providing high-end customized framing and display solutions for art work, family heirlooms, and personal mementos.

Now, though, after 78 continuous years with a Baur storefront, the Downtown is about to lose an anchor. Ken and Pat are retiring, effective Sept. 30, and are looking to sell the building.

The time is right, Ken says. The books are apple-pie, they have had a good run in a niche business in a small town, and from the moment they swapped out Ben Franklin for Framing Concepts they’ve kept their eyes on the prize: 2016. “It’s been an unbelievably short period of time,” Pat says.

Most important: the decision to retire is their own and hasn’t been forced on them by circumstance. “We’re lucky,” Ken says. “It’s never become a daily grind. And we can pick and choose.”

Not that it’s been easy, though. Ken and Pat had to work hard at growing their client list. It took sweat and imagination. “You build up layers in a frame shop,” he says. “It’s not just residential jobs. It’s also commercial and interior decoration.”

The Baurs did try several years ago to sell the business and for a brief time thought they’d found the perfect buyer: someone in the framing industry, who knows it inside and out. But the deal foundered in due diligence, when the buyer determined that his overhead--specifically, the rent on the building--would consume too big a chunk of his profits. “Suddenly our owning the building was more of a problem,” Ken says. “It had always been a huge asset. For a framer the numbers just don’t work out and I don’t want to own the building if I don’t have business in it and won’t be living here.”

So--unless a white knight rides into town before Sept. 30--the business isn’t for sale but the building is. At 50’ x 1,000’--5,000 square feet--it’s half the size it was when Ken’s father bought the Aron, Ken having sold the other half, to the west. It would make a superb turn-key gallery space, of course, but also a restaurant or bar. Or it could be subdivided. For more information, contact the Baurs’ realtor, Michael Siwietz at michaelsiwietz@mccolly.com

Ken will be keeping his hand in framing. He’s written training manuals, conducted seminars at trade shows, and become an expert on point-of-sale systems for the industry. “I consult with framing shops all over the country and help them adjust their pricing so they can make money,” he says. “It’s a nice opportunity at this point in my life, giving back, helping struggling business.”

It’s an especially nice opportunity because, Pat adds, Ken can do it “wherever we are.’

And where will that be?

Someplace where the winters are warm, Pat says. “We’d like to be outdoors and active year ‘round.”

Framing Concepts will continue to frame projects until July 30. And a liquidation sale is currently underway, with 40 percent off all previously framed art and furniture. Also on the block: fixtures, tools, display props, and office supplies.

When Ken and Pat close their doors on Sept. 30, it won’t be the first era to come to an end in recent months in the Chesterton business community. Earlier this spring Terry and Beth Gassoway, owners of The Port Drive-In since buying it from Terry’s parents in 1978, announced their intention to retire at the end of the 2016 season. And in November 2015 Tom Smith, who’d been selling cars for 50 years--first for his father, Dick, who started Smith Motors with his own father, Harry; and then for the dealership’s new owners, the Connors family--also stepped away.

So Ken and Pat probably have a good idea what the Gassoways and Smith are feeling. “We’re one of the real American Dream stories,” Ken says. “My family’s been doing business in the same town for almost a century. One family, multiple generations. It’s just an amazing story, to have been so well supported and have so many relationships. We’re so fortunate to have been able to do this.”

 

Posted 5/19/2016

 

 
 
 
 

 

 

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