After 54 years on Broadway, Ben Franklin to close its doors
Judy Meyer has been in the retail business her whole life. In seventh grade, she worked at a store in St. Paul owned by her father, Carl Watrud, earning 25 cents per hour bagging Easter candy.
Now, at age 76, Meyer is permanently retiring and closing up her shop, the Ben Franklin store in downtown Alexandria. She hopes to close on Aug. 20 — 54 years to the day her father opened the store.
"I want to be done by Labor Day," she said.
Meyer said her father basically bought a hole in the ground in February 1964 after Hakes, a variety store, burned down. He built the Ben Franklin store from the ground up, she said, adding that her father once owned at least six Ben Franklin stores.
In 1967, Meyer and her husband, Jim, bought the store and have owned and operated it ever since. Their daughter, Jennifer Grueneich, has worked on and off in the store since she was old enough to work.
When asked why she bought the craft/variety store from her father, Meyer said, "I suppose he offered it to us and we (Meyer and her husband) were both working there, so it was just the right thing to do."
Meyer has witnessed a lot of change in retail business. At one point, the store had at least 10 employees. Now, there are three.
It seems, she said, that everyone is "so busy" and there's no interaction with people anymore. The way people shop has changed, she said.
"We survived Target. We survived Walmart, but we couldn't survive the road construction and we can't survive the Internet," Meyer said. Alexandria's Broadway street, which runs directly through the downtown area, was torn up and reconstructed in 2014.
"It's been hard to come back after the road construction," she reiterated. "We love the downtown area, the businesses and our customers. It was just time."
Meyer said she has thought about closing for a long time, and the timing was finally right.
"I told mom we needed to close," Grueneich added. "The subtle hints I was giving her didn't seem to be working. I told her we need to get a sign to put in the window announcing we were closing."
Meyer smiled at her daughter and said, "I forgot about that. But I did tell her I would have to find someone to make a sign."
While the two laughed and started bantering back and forth, Grueneich said, "I knew she never would, so I got one. It probably would've take her another five years."
Meyer chuckled, countering with, "You probably ordered it long before you told me we needed one."
Long-time customer Barbara Williams, who joined in on the conversation taking place at the counter, said she is "so sad" to see Ben Franklin closing.
"I've shopped here for so many years, I've become friends with all these wonderful ladies," Williams said. "Whenever I needed something, they would always get it for me. I am going to miss them."
Grueneich, too, will miss the customers and the bond of the downtown businesses whom she referred to as her neighbors.
Now that the decision has been made and the sign is the window, Meyer said she plans on selling the building after the store is officially closed. She said there are a couple of interested parties, but if neither work out, she will list it. She thought about renting the building, but said she would rather just sell it.
Meyer isn't sure how she feels about closing the store.
"Maybe the day I close, I'll feel sad," she said. "But right now, I am just trying to get through the process."
If she were to do it all over again, Meyer said she honestly wouldn't have kept it open as long as she did. She said she probably would have quit when she was 60.
At this time, Meyer doesn't have any plans for herself once the store is closed. However, Grueneich has plans to move to Montana to be closer to some of her children.
With her mom standing by her side, Grueneich smiled and said, "Mom's moving, too. She just doesn't know it yet."