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Home arrow News arrow Business arrow Baker City’s final Hallmark moment

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Baker City’s final Hallmark moment

Barb and Betty’s Hallmark closes, and all that’s left to sell are the shelves

Barb Ackerman, left, and Betty Dahlen recently closed their Hallmark store on Main Street in Baker City. (Baker City Herald/Kathy Orr)
Thanks for the memories.

Barb Ackerman and Betty Dahlen wrapped up their going-out-of-business sale March 13 and now they’re busy dismantling and selling the shelves, card racks and other remnants of Barb and Betty’s Hallmark Store on Main Street in Baker City.

“It takes quite a bit to take the store down. We spent the last four or five days tearing down the fixtures and getting them out,” Dahlen said.

The store is closed and all merchandise was sold at bargain prices by the March 13 official closing. However, the doors are open weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon and from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. for people to come in and buy fixtures from the store, which Barb and Betty owned for nine years.

During the going-out-of-business sale, Dahlen said customers got some real bargains on Christmas ornaments and other items, including the last of cards, which sold for 99 cents each.

“We were real pleased with the sale. We sold most of the merchandise,” Dahlen said. “We had lots of fun the last couple of weeks.”

Owners of vacant buildings along Baker City’s Main Street are looking at alternative uses for what was once considered prime retail space.

Lew Robbins, owner of the building being vacated at the end of March by Baker City Floral and Gifts, said he’s been advertising the building for lease or rent for a couple of months.

So far the only queries he’s received came from a group wanting to use it for a church, and a person interested in opening a coffee shop.

“It’s an ideal retail location. You can’t beat that location. That’s why Montgomery Wards picked it when they had a store in Baker City,” Robbins said.

The building is at 2020 Main St.

Robbins’ late wife, Darlene, ran the Montgomery Wards store for 15 years in the 1970s and early 1980s, and Robbins said he joined her in running the store when he retired in 1985 after teaching vo-ag 31 years — seven years in Heppner and 24 at Baker High School.

In the mid-1980s the Wards store moved from Washington Avenue to the building at 2020 Main St. that the Robbinses bought in 1989.

After Montgomery Wards went out of business in 1989,  the Robbinses bought the building and ran an Arrow Associated Stores business there.

“Like Monkey Wards, the Arrow chain fizzled and we went independent. When we went out of business in 1995 the Baker City Floral moved in,” Robbins said.

Jana Simpson, who is the second owner of Baker City Floral, is moving out at the end of March.

“It’s kind of sad, but when the economy goes bad keeping businesses going is a problem,” Robbins said. “Rent is just $600 a month. I was going to raise it before the economy went to pot.

“The way things are right now, I figure I better keep the rent right where it is,” Robbins said. “ I’ve owned the building for 20 years. I’d sell it if I had a buyer.”

In the past, Robbins said he insisted on a five-year lease. The March 31 closing date for Baker City Floral marks the end of Jana Simpson’s last five year lease.

“With the economy like it is, I’d start with a one-year lease until they got their feet on the ground,” Robbins said. “These are tough times. I think it is going to be slow for quite awhile, and I can’t get anybody to pay me a million-dollar bonus (like the guys at AIG).”

“I’m not going to fix it up. If somebody wants to rent it and change things around, that’s up to them,” Robbins said. “I told the church people they could put in a stairway or an elevator to make the upstairs really usable. They want to put some classrooms and offices upstairs.”

Dick Haynes, owner of the Main Street building being vacated this month by Barb and Betty’s Hallmark shop, said he has no plans to rent or sell the building.

Haynes said the building has a long history. The third floor is filled with shelves and rolling ladders left over from the old Sage Hardware. The ground floor was Robb’s Ladies Wear at one time, and Haynes said he operated a real estate office there before it was converted to a Hallmark store.

“It is the only building I own downtown,” Haynes said. He said he doesn’t need the money that would come from renting or selling the Hallmark  building, and he plans to set up a historical display in the window and let his heirs decide what to do with it.

Down the street, Andrew Bryan and his wife, Ann, recently moved the merchandise from their Sane Jane’s store into their Mad Matilda’s Coffee House and Modern Merchantile store. They have put the Sane Jane’s building next door up for sale.

So far, Andrew Bryan, who is the marketing director for Baker County Development, said he’s had one call from a party interested in buying the building and converting most of the space into apartments, possibly retaining a much smaller retail section on the ground floor.

“I think bringing residential back to downtown is the key to our future,” Bryan said.

“A combination of residential/lodging will drive downtown’s future in the next 10 years. The bottom line is redeveloping residential and lodging in the downtown area will save the integrity of the infrastructure.”

However, he said it’s difficult to raise the money needed to renovate the upper stories of historic downtown buildings into residential and lodging space to the degree necessary to attract more people to live downtown.

“We’ve come a long way with the historic renovation downtown. Now we need investors to come in and take the next step,” Bryan said.  

He said the large floor space and high cost of paying for enough merchandise to keep large retail areas looking full is another problem faced by business owners on Main Street and in some of the other buildings in Baker City’s historic downtown district.

“The problem with some of the downtown buildings is the square footage is off the chart,” Bryan said, adding that many of the downtown stores have 2,500 square feet of retail space, compared to an average of around 400 square feet typical at some of the national chain stores located in malls around the country.

With the large square footage comes big overhead costs for heat and lights and other expenses, he said.

“The overhead of those buildings is a challenge even in the best of times,” Bryan said.

Shrinking the retail space and re-engineering buildings to accommodate desirable residential and lodging space is one way to help make the downtown buildings more viable for retail businesses.

When more people live in the downtown area, those residents will provide a customer base for all of the services and area retail stores, Bryan said.

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