Ben Franklin Closure Evokes Sadness, Anger from Residents, Patrons
Some of the anger was directed at Webster University, the shop's landlord. University officials say they regret the store's decision not to renew its lease.
The Old Orchard Ben Franklin re-opened Wednesday with its going-out-of business sale and will remain open through mid-October — or until it sells the rest of its merchandise and fixtures.
Patch spoke with owner Gary Hampel on Tuesday, who said one of the reasons he decided to close the store was a substantial, non-negotiable increase in rent. However, he added that the sour economy and the fact that his store sells "wants," not needed items, also contributed to the decision.
Several readers expressed anger and disgust with the university in the comments sections in our stories. David Knight commented, "'Substantial and non-negotiable' rent increase says a lot about how the current Webster University administration operates."
Another reader, Maggie Sowash, commented on one of our stories, "Is this going to be the fate for all the tenants of Old Orchard Shopping Center as Webster University takes over other spaces?"
At the Webser Groves City Council meeting Tuesday night, university spokesman Greg Gunderson addressed the issue.
"We regret that Ben Franklin has decided to not renew its lease," said Gunderson, the university's vice president and CFO. "But Ben Franklin's current lease was 40 percent below the market's comparable rate. They turned down our original offer and a second offer we made. Currently, we're working with a realtor to find a new tenant with a focus on retail."
The news of the 30-year-old store's closure also elicited shock, sadness and memories. On the Webster Groves Patch Facebook Page, Cheryl Adkins Haney wrote, "So sad — we love that store!!! Best birthday gifts, craft supplies, and I will never forget the 40-plus years of Ben Franklin penny candies."
Residents For Webster Groves shared our story on its Facebook page. Alice D. Kraft MacDonald commented, "Sad to hear that another Ben Franklin is closing its doors... When I was growing up in Webster Groves — I used to call it the "Five & Diamond" store!"
On the Nerinx Hall High School Page, officials posted: "Just heard the sad news that Ben Franklin is closing in Old Orchard Center. They will be missed by the Nerinx community." That post received 24 additional comments.