News of the Old Orchard Ben Franklin closing has stirred a whirlwind of speculation on the reason behind the decision.
The strip center in which the crafts store is located is owned by Webster University. Some readers who have emailed Webster Groves Patch and who have shared comments on a previous story worry the business is closing because of the university's rent hike imposed upon Ben Franklin.
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There are also concerns among some readers that the university is trying to overtake the strip center as part of its 2012 Master plan. Patch has a call into the university for additional information.
Meanwhile, Patch spoke with Gary Hampel, who owns the craft store, this morning. He said there were several reasons behind his decision to close the store, which he opened 30 years ago.
"The increase in rent was substantial, and it was non-negotiable," Hampel said. "It's one of the major reasons we're closing, but it's not the only one."
He said the poor economy was also a major factor in shuttering the store's doors.
"My store is full of wants, not needs," Hampel told Patch. "With the economy, people are cautious on how they are spending their money."
Hampel also owned the , which closed last year. The closing of the Old Orchard location leaves only one brick-and-mortar Ben Franklin in the St. Louis area - .
Hampel said he was surprised with the outpouring of community support when he closed the South County location.
"Apparently, a lot of people were really connected to that store that I didn't even know about," he said. "We received a lot of letters expressing sympathy in regard to the closure."
Hampel said the Old Orchard store will open tomorrow at 9 a.m. with going-out-of-business sale, and that the store would remain open until sometime in October.