By JAMES MITCHELL
Sunday Times Newspapers
TAYLOR — Bob Koester doesn’t think closing the landmark Gibraltar Trade Center operations at the end of 2014 means they’ll say farewell to customers near and far … at least not for good.
With many veteran vendors who sell their wares in Taylor ready to make the move to the companion Mt. Clemens location, the Gibraltar site president said many customers won’t be far behind.
“They’ll come,” Koester said of the public market enthusiasts who have browsed the aisles for years. “Maybe not as often, but they’ll make the trip.”
Koester said the decision was not — as many have speculated — an indicator that trade markets had lost too much business to online sales. Koester’s father — Gibraltar founder Jim Koester — has been retired for five yeas but owns the property at 15525 Racho Road, and recently confirmed plans to sell the acreage.
“He’s turned down many offers over the years,” Bob Koester said. “But the time has come.”
Although Jim Koester’s intent to sell the 80-acre property — including adjoining strip malls — has been confirmed, it remained uncertain that the buyer will be home improvement retailer Menard Inc., which reportedly announced plans for a Taylor location.
The announcement last month that Gibraltar Trade Center would close its Taylor doors at the end of 2014 was the end of an era to many exhibitors and customers, who wondered if the trade company had lost the online battle.
“The Internet has had an impact, with all brick-and-motrars,” Koester said. Along with brother-partners Dennis and Chris, the Koesters weighed their options before deciding to merge the two centers.
“The best way forward was to consolidate rather than find or build another place,” Koester said. ”
The Gibraltar Trade Center operations are known throughout the state — and beyond — as a weekend marketplace with a core roster of exhibitors and rotating specialty trade shows throughout year. Founded in 1980, business grew and the Mt. Clemens location opened in 1990. Today the company boasts draws more than two million visitors annually, with more than 200 vendors typically setting up weekend shops at both sites.
“Consolidating to one (location) brings the best of both worlds, in our eyes,” Koester said. “Putting all the vendors together with their diversity of product creates a unique market.”
Until then, Koester said weekend crowds indicate it will be a busy farewell year at Taylor.
“We saw the impact right away, the first weekend,” Koester said of customers who came for a final — maybe not last — look at the place. “We intend to keep running through the end of the year. It should work out, but a lot of exhibitors are sad to see us going, and so are the customers.”
(James Mitchell can be reached at [email protected])