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Baum's Bazaar

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Baum's Bazaar was the name of the retail store that L. Frank Baum ran in Aberdeen, South Dakota, in 1888 and 1889.

Frank and Maud Gage Baum moved to Aberdeen with their two eldest sons on 20 September 1888. Baum had planned to start a retail store, borrowing money from friends in the east, which he supplemented with bank loans. Five days after his arrival, on 25 September, an advertisement in The Aberdeen Daily News announced the coming establishment, describing its wares:

"...a magnificent and complete assortment of Art Pottery and decorated Table Ware, Bohemian and Native Glass Ware, Parlor, Library, and Table Lamps, Baskets and Wicker Ware, Toys in immense variety, Latest novelties in Japanese Goods, Plush, Oxidized Brass and Leather Novelties...."

The store opened for business on 1 October, in a building on Main Street owned by Charles and Helen Gage, in which the Gages lived on the second floor above. (Helen Gage and Maud Gage Baum were sisters.) The store was initially a success: sales for the first month totaled $531.16, an ample return for Aberdeen in 1888. In little more than a year, however, Baum's enterprise was defunct.

One factor was Baum's distraction during 1889. In order to promote sales of sporting equipment through the Bazaar, Baum helped organized the Aberdeen Baseball Club and its professional team, the Hub City Nine. Baum supplied the team's uniforms and gear, became the secretary of the venture, and essentially ran the club in addition to his store. The team won championships in both South and North Dakota that year, but proved unsustainable and went out of business after its first season.

The primary difficulty behind both the store and the ball team was the drought that caused failure of the local wheat crop in 1889 and 1890. The crop failure triggered what was essentially an economic depression that devastated the affected communities. During the coming winter, some rural families froze to death because they could not afford kerosene.

The Northwestern National Bank of Aberdeen foreclosed on Baum's mortgage and closed Baum's Bazaar on 1 January 1890. On 18 January, Helen Gage bought the "stock and good will" of the Bazaar for $772.54 at the foreclosure sale, and soon after re-opened the store as the H. L. Gage Bazaar. In private correspondence, Mrs. Gage later expressed the view that Baum's choice of goods was "impractical" for a frontier town. With a more conservative and practical approach, Mrs. Gage kept the Bazaar open for another twelve years. Some commentators express the judgement that Baum's store was undercapitalized from the start, and so had limited chances of success.

References

  • L. Frank Baum. Our Landlady. Edited and annotated by Nancy Tystad Koupal. Lincoln, NE, University of Nebraska Press, 1999.
  • Katharine M. Rogers. L. Frank Baum, Creator of Oz: A Biography. New York, St. Martin's Press, 2002.

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