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Andersonville ‘Shop Local’ Staple Retiring, But Not Selling Out

By Adeshina Emmanuel | August 21, 2014 9:55am
 Jan Baxter.
Jan Baxter.
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Dnainfo/Adeshina Emmanuel

ANDERSONVILLE — A well-known "doughnut franchise" — Jan Baxter won't reveal which one — recently said it wanted to move into her Landmark of Andersonville shop after Baxter retires on Oct. 31.

"Have you ever been to the Swedish Bakery?" was her curt rejection, she said, holding back laughter as she recalled the encounter last week.

Baxter, 74 with a short crop of white hair and a frequent smile, is a 49-year resident of Andersonville and fervent believer in its "Shop Local" mantra, and local leaders say she helped revitalize the business community in the 1980s.

"I want more than anything for Andersonville to continue to be locally owned, and not let big boxes or chains in," Baxter said. "All of us have done everything in our power to keep them out — right down to being rude."

'If I Can't Buy it in Andersonville, I'm Not Buying it'

The Landmark, 5245 N. Clark St., includes Baxter's Trillium shop, which sells womens clothing, jewelry and accessories, a gift shop, two antique dealers and a full-service salon. Baxter bought the building a decade ago. She's keeping the building but looking for renters to fill the space she vacates.

The Landmark was previously at 5301 N. Clark St., where Baxter operated a business cooperative for 18 years featuring more than a dozen small businesses sharing space and costs. It functioned as a small business incubator and many businesses later transitioned into bigger spaces.

Baxter grew up on a farm in Westville, Ind., a small town near Valparaiso. She studied political science at Northwestern University but was more interested in business.

Baxter married in 1962, had two kids (one of them is former University of Southern California special teams coach John Baxter), divorced in 1965, and worked for Combined Insurance before quitting and opening a wholesale business in Andersonville — and ditching that to open the Landmark.

A trip to Londonderry, N.H., in the late 1980s first introduced Baxter to the idea of a business co-op when she visited an old house that housed one.

"Literally, the next day I got a phone call from a friend who was a lawyer and said he and three other man had bought a building at the corner of Clark and Berwyn, but they didn't know what to do with it," Baxter said. "So I explained my whole idea with great enthusiasm ... and they couldn't come up with anything better so they let me do it."

Painted Light Photos, the former Toys and Treasure and Ruff 'N Stuff Pet Center are three area businesses born at the old Landmark.

Andersonville, which began as a Swedish community, has been known for decades for its neighborhood-y, indie vibe, but when Baxter was first setting up shop Andersonville was a very different place. There were more Swedish stores, but it wasn't the thriving, vibrant small-business haven it is today.

"It started getting busy," in the late '80s Baxter said, noting the opening of the Swedish American Museum, bookstore Women and Children First and store Turley Road around that time. Andersonville also began morphing into the gay and lesbian-friendly community it is today.

Andersonville Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ellen Shepard said Baxter opened the Landmark when Andersonville "was in a period of some pretty significant disinvestment," and rife with empty storefronts.

"Jan went to different banks trying to get a loan and nobody would lend to her because she had never owned a store before and she wasn't a big business," Shepard said.

However, the local bank in Andersonville, the former Bank of Edgewater (before U.S. Bank bought it out) threw her a bone and "decided to lend local" and help fuel a resurgence in the community, Shepard said.

"And what happened," Shepard said, "is the Landmark of Andersonville ... helped to populate the business district."

Since then the phrase, "If I can't buy it in Andersonville, I'm not buying it," has become a popular one, Baxter said. These days, she said, "Andersonville is the greatest neighborhood in this city bar none. It's like a little town that got accidentally dropped into a big city."

How to not 'Become Old'

"There's a lot to running a store. A lot. It gets old after a while, and it's time to quit," Baxter said, explaining why she's closing shop.

"It's a little bitter sweet," Shepard said about Baxter's decision. "Jan has certainly earned her retirement, but we're going to miss her like crazy."

With a granddaughter at the University of Washington and another at Fresno State, Baxter wants to be able to visit them "and I don't want to have to go for three days." Baxter said she'd going to enjoy Thanksgiving and Christmas, see her granddaughters," and then, ironically, "think about getting a job."

Baxter is determined to not "become old."

"You can become old sitting around your house with nothing to do, I've seen it in people," Baxter said.

"I think I'd like to go to Nordstrom and sell. If they'd have me. I don't need to worry about the bottom line, I don't need to worry about the shelves or, 'did I order right? Did I order wrong? When do I put that on sale?' All I have to do is go in there and sell. I love doing it."

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