BRATTLEBORO—It’s tough to walk away from a family business that has been part of the community for nearly a century, but on Dec. 27, Dennis and Debbie Baker announced that they had made that decision.
Baker’s Hallmark, located in the Hannaford Plaza on Putney Road, will close at the end of January.
“It’s time,” Debbie Baker told The Commons. “I’m 72 and Dennis is 74. We wanted to be able to close it in a healthy way while we were still able to do so.”
With the lease on the Putney Road store expiring at the end of January, and with no other family members interested in taking over the business, Debbie said the time was right for her and Dennis, who live in Dummerston, to say goodbye.
It marks the end of a Brattleboro institution that got its start in 1925.
With a $250 loan from his father, James Baker, Dennis’s father, started Baker’s Bookstore, a one-room newspaper, magazine, and stationery store, on Flat Street.
Two years later, Baker’s moved to the Main Street location that it occupied until 2011.
In its prime, Baker’s was the town’s source for out-of-town newspapers, one of the largest selection of magazines in southern Vermont, and all sorts of office supplies.
Stephen Baker, Dennis’s older brother, became the CEO of Baker’s Inc., in 1956. He expanded the business to include Country News Distributors, which handled distribution of newspapers and magazines for hundreds of dealers in southern Vermont and New Hampshire, and Baker’s Office Machines. He died in 2016.
Stephen’s son, James Baker II, operated Baker’s Office Interiors, which sold office furniture to customers throughout northern New England.
And, in 1984, Debbie and Dennis opened Baker’s Hallmark in the then-new shopping center on Putney Road.
Debbie said that closing the downtown store in 2011 and consolidating operations on Putney Road “was a good move. People want parking, and we have plenty of that here.”
While the Putney Road store stocked fewer office supplies, it had plenty of greeting cards, toys, Vermont-themed goods, and even sold the Baker Family’s maple syrup.
‘Just simply time to retire’
It would be easy to blame the closure of Baker’s on a variety of reasons, like the decline of readership for print media that cut into Baker’s newsstand business, the rise of big-box and online retailers that cut into its office supply business, and the decline in the number of office workers downtown.
Debbie Baker won’t play that game.
“I don’t want to point fingers at anyone,” she said. “It’s just simply time to retire.”
She’ll also miss employees past and present.
“This was a first part-time job for a lot of young people in Brattleboro,” she said, “and they kept coming back [for] visits even after they left us for other work.”
As for retirement plans, the Bakers plan to do a bit of traveling, but Debbie said that their roots are deep in Vermont and it is here they want to stay.
But, mostly, Debbie says she is happy that she and Dennis have the chance to do an orderly closing and say goodbye to their longtime customers.
She believes that Baker’s survived for as long as it did because it offered a wide variety of goods that shoppers couldn’t find at big-box stores.
That, plus a loyal customer base.
“Brattleboro has been very good to the Baker family,” Debbie said.