A view of the industry through the
eyes of a chain buyer.
Real Estate Woes
How a landlord drove an
independent out of business.
by An Ex-Ben Franklin Retailer (February 6, 2006)
(Note: The 1/02/06 issue of CLN contains a Special
When we were opening our Ben Franklin store in 1996-97 as a
franchise, corporate Ben Franklin filed for bankruptcy. Due to a
lease that was unbreakable, we went forward with our plans and
opened the store on our own. Not having a retail background, this
was scary, to say the least, since we had invested all of our
savings into the business venture. Even though it is challenging to
successfully operate a privately-owned retail store in today's
market against corporate stores, I feel a sense of accomplishment in
what we were able to achieve.
The reasons for having to arrive at the hard decision to close
the store was due to landlord issues. Being a small (18,000 sq. ft.,
15,000 sq. ft. of selling space) privately-owned business meant that
we didn't have the resources to continue to maintain a lawsuit
against our landlord, one of the largest retail landlords. Despite
the fact that we were paying over $18,000 a month in rent and more
in CAM (Common Area Maintenance) charges, they felt that they could
get more rent for the space although we had an option for an
additional 10 years.
After two years of legal battles and being told by them that they
could and would continue the legal lawsuit as long as I wanted, I
had to face the fact that even though we were right legally, I
didn't have the finances to continue. By the time we closed the
store, the receiving room had been without air conditioning for one
year; the frame shop, office, class room, and half of the sales
floor was now also without air conditioning – three of the five
air conditioners were not working.
Part of the shopping center had been owned and occupied by
Wal-Mart. We competed successfully against them for five years. When
they sold their portion of the shopping center and moved to a Super
Wal-Mart, over 40% of the shopping center was vacant.
The new owners turned out the lights to the parking lot for one
year, since they owned the land that the parking lot occupied and
they did not need lights for their empty stores. We had to change
our store hours by closing the store two hours earlier before
darkness. Of course our landlord advised we had to continue to pay
CAM charges even though we were not provided with exterior lighting.
The smaller, privately-owned businesses were able to continue
because they close their businesses early and therefore were not
affected by the lighting issues at night. The larger corporate
business, Payless Shoes, was able to hold on since they were not
just dependant on one store and they were able to bring pressure
against the landlord by getting him to install emergency lights in
the parking lot for one month during the holiday season.
I was the only larger business in the shopping center that was
individually owned, and without the financial backing like corporate
stores, I virtually had no voice.
We are just one store, but our closing has affected the vendors
that we dealt with and thus the industry. It is sad to see the
decline of the privately owned businesses. Having worked for a
retail corporation and then owning a privately-owned-and-operated
business, I know that the consumer loses out on customer service,
originality and innovation of displays, the choice of products
offered, and the caring that is there and shows when the store is
privately owned and occupied by that owner. There is no comparison.
I shall miss the craft business, the shows, the vendors, and the
friends that I made during my 8 1/2 years of ownership and being a
part of the industry. I wish the industry continued growth and I
thank you for the part you play in this. Now I must get on with
finding a "new" career! – An ex-Ben Franklin owner in
(Note: To read previous "Benny" columns, click
on the titles in the right-hand column.)