December 3, 2020

Ben Franklin closes its doors for last time

Linn Brown and all the other employees pack up the last remnants of Ben Franklin Monday Oct. 29th.Brown has worked at the store for 27 years. She said watching the store empty has been an emotional experience. She said more than anything, she’s going to miss being able to bring her grandchildren to the craft store for the penny candy.

“They’re taking a bit of Webster Groves history with them,” Brown said.

Owner of the store, Gary Hampel, has been with the Webster Groves store since the beginning, 30 years ago in 1982. Hampel’s family owned Ben Franklin craft stores throughout the area and when Hampel graduated from college he went straight to managing his own store.

Between a struggling economy and rising rent prices from Webster University, the owner of the land, Hample couldn’t keep the store open any longer. Greg Gunderson, Webster University vice president and chief financial officer, said in a September interview with the Journal Ben Franklin had been paying rent 40 percent below market value. The university unsuccessfully attempted to negotiate the rent in order to bring it closer to market value.

When Hampel couldn’t pay for the new rent from the university, he announced that the store would be closing.

“Customers have been coming back just to tell me goodbye, without even buying anything,” said Hampel.

The store has slowly been emptying out week by week until all that was left on the final day were a few odds and ends and some floral arrangement. Everything was on sale, including the racks the remaining items were displayed on.

“That’s it everyone. Let’s go to lunch,” Hampel shouted right at noon, announcing the final time Ben Franklin would close its doors.

Smiles, laughter and hugs were shared between the employees and final few customers. They left the store together to grab lunch across the street at Roadhouse.

“There is some sadness but some optimism for the future,” Hampel said.

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