Baker’s IGA celebrates 100-year anniversary

| January 26, 2018

Baker’s Foods is celebrating their 100th anniversary this year. Pictured is Eddie, a 1953 Chevy pick-up truck which greets customers in their Newcomerstown location.

COSHOCTON – What started as a little general store on the corner of Jewett Avenue and Miller Avenue in Dennison in 1918 is now a multi-location business that employs approximately 150 people and offers residents in their community a hometown location with familiar, friendly faces. Baker’s IGA is celebrating 100 years of business this year and Gary and Terrie Baker, owners of the franchise, have a year of events planned to mark the occasion.

Edwin L. Baker went into the grocery business with another grocer with the last name Hillyer in 1918 and started Hillyer and Baker in Dennison. Baker purchased the property on the corner of Jewett and Miller in 1918 and the two started a business that would last for years to come.

“I found an ad in the 1918 high school commencement program,” said Gary, who is the grandson of Edwin and is now the owner. “There was an ad in there for Hillyer and Baker Grocery Store.”

In 1920, there were 26 little grocery stores in the Dennison and Uhrichsville area.

“Having a store on every corner in 1918 would not have been an unusual thing,” said Gary.

In 1922, Baker and Hillyer split and became two separate grocery stores, the Baker store and the Hillyer store.

Gary’s father, Ed Baker, got into the business after returning from World War II where he had been in the Army Air Corps. He was shot down over France in 1943 and kept as a POW for two years until April 1945.

“He came back and wanted to either get started in business or start farming,” said Gary. “He borrowed $5,000 from a local sheep farmer and that’s how he got started. His dad came in with him in Freeport.”

In the 1930s, Baker’s in Dennison closed and in 1946, a Baker’s store opened in Freeport and was a thriving business until it closed in 2010.

Gary had always been involved in the Baker’s store, but became co-owner in 1974 along with his parents. That year, Baker’s opened a store in Newcomerstown in a building that was formerly a Kroger’s store which closed in March of that year. Baker’s opened in Newcomerstown that August and bought all the equipment from the Kroger’s store for $7,500.

“I remember the first registers were mechanical,” said Gary. “You tell that to a kid now and they have no idea what you’re talking about because everything now is electronic. But the mechanical registers, you actually had to punch in all the prices.”

Edwin passed away in 1972 and Ed retired from the grocery store business in 1983 which was the same year Gary and his wife Terrie purchased the business. They also opened their Scio location in 1983. In 1987, the Coshocton location moved into the Downtowner Plaza which was formerly the Buehler’s location and then a Plaza AG Foods for a while.

In 2004, Baker’s in Newcomerstown moved to the former Thompson’s IGA building and became Baker’s IGA. The original Newcomerstown store is now a Mediwise.

In 2012, the Bakers purchased the former Sugar Lane IGA in Sugarcreek and in 2015, added their fifth location in Mt. Vernon.

In celebration of their 100th anniversary, Gary has events planned during the year.

“We kind of laughed and said, we’re only doing this once, so let’s have fun with it,” he said.

In their Newcomerstown location as customers walk in, they’re greeted by Eddie, the 1953 Chevy pick-up truck, which is their mascot for the 100th year anniversary. Eddie, named after both Gary’s grandfather and father, will be making his rounds in parades in all five communities that have Baker’s stores.

Gary is also partnering with the Newcomerstown Chamber of Commerce for an annual golf outing. Chris Hart will be portraying both Edwin and Ed Baker looking back and also looking forward in the Baker’s store business at the Newcomerstown Museum in April. Gary is hoping to have Hart also do a show in Freeport later in the year.

Baker’s will also have pool parties in at least three of their locations during the summer and a Christmas cookie walk at each location where customers come in and chose cookies from a 20-foot table that will be put in a commemorative 100th year anniversary tin. Gary is also hoping to do a commemorative book with favorite recipes that will tie into the history of the store.

Throughout the 100 years in the grocery business, Gary said he has seen numerous changes.

“In my dad’s era, grocery stores didn’t carry cigarettes, ice cream, or potato chips,” he said. “Each time one of those items was added to the store, dad would get complaints from a local restaurant. Imagine a grocery store now without those three items.”

In Gary’s grandfather’s day, the grocer would take everything to the counter for the customer and when he moved to self-serve, people complained.

“When they found out they could walk around the store and actually look at other items than the ones they just came in for, they stopped complaining,” said Gary. “Then, in the 1940s, they got grocery carts and people complained about those too.”

Another change has been the electronic scanning and scanning a barcode instead of using a sticker or stamping the price on an item. Gary said Baker’s location in Newcomerstown was the second store in Tuscarawas County to start scanning in the 1980s.

“The biggest change since then has been segmentation,” said Gary. “Bigger retailers coming in and Amazon and Hello Fresh. Another challenge is the invasiveness of government telling you what you can and can’t do in your own business. I understand a lot of it is needed, but other parts of it are just paperwork for the sake of paperwork.”

Fast food also plays a role in the grocery industry as well.

“People don’t eat three home-cooked meals anymore,” said Gary.

However, he said it’s been a wonderful opportunity to serve the five communities where Baker’s is located.

“I’m following the same path as my dad and grandfather followed,” said Gary. “It’s been a wonderful opportunity to serve our towns, our communities, and to meet people. At the end of the day, it’s never a dull moment. We enjoy it and we wouldn’t trade it for the world.”

Some employees at Baker’s are now in their third or fourth generation of family members who have had their first job at Baker’s.

“Dad was always proud of the young people in the business and giving them their first job,” said Gary. “Some went on to become doctors or lawyers. I appreciate all the employees who have come to work for us over the years.”

One such employee is Dave Kenney who is the meat department manager in Coshocton. He started in 1987 and worked until 1992 when he left for 17 years to work elsewhere.

“I knew Brett (Baker’s IGA Coshocton manager) and he knew I was about to lose my job and he hired me back at Baker’s,” said Kenney. “I’ve lived in Coshocton my whole life and I’ve always been in this kind of business.”

Brett Bantum, manager in Coshocton, started working at Baker’s in 1989 when he was 16 years old. His first job was bagging groceries. When he graduated high school, he decided to take a year off before going to college, but Baker’s gave him the opportunity to become dairy manager at the age of 19, so he took the position. One year later, he was the assistant manager in Newcomerstown. At the age of 22, he had the opportunity to be the manager in Baker’s Scio location.

Bantum then left the company in 2003 to pursue other opportunities.

“I decided that I missed the business, so in 2004, I came back,” said Bantum. “I think the people you work with make it a great place to work. The faces change over the years, but you do establish a relationship with people that never ends. We see people come into the store as customers who used to work here, which is great.”

He hopes that young people looking for a job will give the industry a chance.

“Our industry as a whole has a hard time finding young people with the stigma about it,” he said. “It’s been good for me. It’s a nice career and I’m able to stay in the town I grew up in. Just keep an open mind about this business. This business will never die. It will always change, but it will never go away.”

Bantum said that 100 years of business is a big deal to a small business.

“Not a lot of companies get to this point,” he said. “The reason we’ve had this kind of success is because of the support of the people in the community. We care about the community and we get a lot of support from the community. We live here, our lives are here, and that means a lot to our customers. It means a lot to me too.”

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Category: Business

About the Author ()

I have been employed at the Coshocton County Beacon since September 2009 as a news reporter and assistant graphic artist. I am a 2004 graduate of Newcomerstown High School and a 2008 graduate of Capital University with a bachelor’s degree in Professional Writing. I am married to John Scott and live in Newcomerstown. We have two beautiful daughters, Amelia Grace Scott and Leanna Rose Scott.

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