Kraft closing Leavenworth shop to make way for 3-4 retail spaces

After 66 years in business, Kraft Furniture at 32nd and Leavenworth Streets is closing its bricks-and-mortar store. Owner Marc Kraft, shown perusing a 1960s-era Saturday Evening Post, will maintain an online e-commerce site to sell his inventory of collectibles, including about 70,000 magazines.

Starting Friday, if you want to buy a bin of shoelaces or what's left of the 54,000 hickory ax handles that Marc Kraft bought a few decades back, you'll have to order them online.

For nearly 66 years, customers have been dropping into either Kraft Furniture's original store at 16th and Leavenworth Streets, which closed in April 2011, or the showroom at 3170 Leavenworth, which opened in 2001, to check out the latest selection of mattresses, furniture and magazines, including 1960s-era issues of Life, Saturday Evening Post and Popular Mechanics.

Kraft took over the business in 1977 from his father, Leo Kraft, who founded the firm in 1947.

Kraft, 65, a former Omaha City Council member and current member of the Douglas County Board, is closing his store at 32nd and Leavenworth Streets Thursday.

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But he's not going out of business, he said, just heading into a more relaxed phase, “phase three,” in which his eclectic collectibles, an inventory that includes everything from ceramic figurines to vintage railroad baggage dollies, will be available for sale at his e-commerce site:

Kraft planned eventually to close his current store, but the timetable was accelerated when his business neighbor, Reyes Barrera, recently asked about leasing the 3,000-square-foot showroom and subdividing it into three or four retail spaces. Kraft, who owns the building at 3170 Leavenworth St., will continue to occupy and operate his online business from the building's storeroom and warehouse.

Barrera said it would be a month or two before the new 800-square-foot storefronts make their appearance.

“We wanted to add some more retail spaces for the Hispanic community,” said Barrera, 39, who operates the Boost Mobile store at 3107B Leavenworth St.

“I'm hoping to get a clothing store in there, some office tech services,” Barrera said.

Barrera described the stretch of Leavenworth as “a little gold mine right now.”

Derick Lewin, associate broker at P.J. Morgan Real Estate, said the area is on track — in five to 10 years — to become the point at which downtown and midtown meet.

“Developers are expanding outward from Midtown Crossing to Leavenworth and St. Mary's (Avenue),” Lewin said. “Several apartment buildings have been renovated around that area. When you've got the population, you're going to see the retail follow.”

As for Kraft, switching to online sales will allow him to spend more time with his family and wife Joan, travel, take a day off in the middle of the week and continue serving on the Douglas County Board.

Kraft, who started working in the family business when he was 9 years old, likes to describe his and his father's business as the predecessor to today's outlet and “seconds” retailers.

Both father and son would buy merchandise from going-out-of-business retailers who wanted to liquidate their stock, and from “train wrecks, insurance losses, bankruptcies and drug seizures,” Kraft said.

The inventory includes 70,000 magazines, produce carts rescued from an Old Market-area business (“they make great coffee tables”) and boxes of white Union Pacific commissary and porter's jackets.

As for the 54,000 ax handles, Kraft said he's sold all but 7,000, enough to have made a profit.

“I've made my money off them,” he said. “If I want, I can use the rest for kindling.”

Five generations, if you count Kraft's 5-year-old grandson “who visits the store,” have worked for the family business, he said with a smile.

“My father founded the business, my grandfather would come in and work, and my kids worked here,” Kraft said.

Kraft's son Chris stepped in to help from about 2001 to 2011, but Kraft said he never intended to take over.

Gustavo Garcia, Kraft's one employee, will miss the business.

“I came in to sell him a book and apply for a job. He didn't buy the book, but he gave me the job,” said Garcia, who has worked for Kraft for three years.

Garcia has a piece of the store hanging in his home — an old tractor part, turned into an objet d'art, that he said just “looks cool.”

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