If you want to get a great deal on clothes for that concrete goose lawn ornament out in the yard, snag a Beanie Baby or any one of the hundreds of collectibles on their shelves, you’d better get to Jacob’s Ladder in Brookfield pretty quickly.
Because after 37 years in business on Ogden Avenue, Bobbi and Bruce Jacobs are retiring and the gift shop is going out of business.
“It’s been a good 37 years,” said Bruce during an interview at the shop last week. “I wish we could go for another 37 years.”
But the truth is, it’s increasingly tough for the couple to put in the hours to run the store. Bruce, who had hip-replacement surgery about a year ago, will turn 79 in a couple of months, and maintaining the property on the northwest corner of Ogden and Arthur avenues is a chore.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Bruce was out shoveling snow off the sidewalks in preparation for the store’s going-out-of-business sale. Everything’s 50-percent off.
“[Two weeks ago] he was out there four times,” said Bobbi. “It’s not that we don’t want this business; it’s just a lot of work.”
Exactly when the last day will be hasn’t been announced. But the couple has to have the building cleaned out by Feb. 1. After owning the building for the past 29 years — the store was located father west on Ogden for its first eight years — the Jacobses are selling the property. They close on the deal later this month.
While the business is still thriving, the last five years have been a difficult stretch. The economic downturn changed the way people bought gift items. In past years, customers who came in for something like a christening gift also walked out with a handful of collectibles for themselves.
But collectibles like Beanie Babies, Precious Moments and the like aren’t selling like they used to.
“For quite a few years collectibles were big,” said Bruce. “In the last five years, people don’t collect anymore.”
But the store’s vast customer base — Bobbi has a notebook containing the names and contact info of 1,000 customers the store has amassed through the years — has helped weather the recession.
“We’re lucky to have the customer base we have, or we wouldn’t have survived,” Bobbi said.
Those customers have been streaming into the store since Jan. 15, when the liquidation sale officially began. The traffic inside the store was heavier than the previous holiday season, said Bobbi, and customers have broken down in tears.
“[Jan. 15] was like a mortuary in here,” said Bruce. “At one time, I had 10 people in here crying. Our customers are like family.”
They’ve also been buying their parting gifts, including one woman who bought enough Christmas ornaments shaped like guitars to be able to give them to her husband one Christmas at a time until 2018.
“Ornaments are a big tradition here,” said Bobbi.
Before the Jacobses operated a store, they made and sold their own crafts at shows throughout the area. That’s where they met a number of people whose work they would eventually stock and sell in the store.
At one time, the store carried the work of about 120 independent craftspeople, including jewelry, dolls, wood bowls, clocks — things you couldn’t find in regular stores. In the end, they were carrying the works of about 20 craftspeople.
“People just aren’t as crafty anymore,” said Bruce, who began making wooden strawberries as a 9-year-old boy and selling them door-to-door. Bobbi made stuffed animals.
In 1960, the couple moved to Brookfield. At the time Bobbi worked for the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad and the Jacobses ended up buying the home owned by a co-worker’s parents. It’s just a block away from the store they would later buy in 1985.
The Jacobses have no intention of leaving Brookfield, though they do spend time at a couple of the family’s vacation homes in Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula. And Bruce will continue to do the yard work and snow shoveling at their home on Arthur Avenue.
“I’m going to miss it terribly,” said Bruce of the store. “A lot of the customers we have now who come in with their babies were kids when they first came in. A good percentage are just like family. They’re part of your life.”