In 1928, a Mason man with a Kean name and a keen sense for business opened a dime store downtown. And on Saturday, May 17, that store, Kean’s Hallmark, will celebrate its 80th anniversary. But the celebration isn’t all about age; it’s about change, too.
“Did they tell you about the farmers who used to shop here on Saturdays?” asked Judy Mohlman, an employee at Kean’s.
“Back then, when Kean’s first opened, the farmers worked such long hours during the week. They couldn’t go shopping. So, Kean’s stayed open late on Saturdays, and all the farmers would come in and shop,” she said.
Mohlman didn’t work at Kean’s during that time. In fact, she didn’t even live in Mason until 1964. But, she’s been shopping there and working there long enough to know and love the history of Kean’s.
The third-generation owner, who introduced herself as “Teresa Wren – it used to be Kean,” said all the employees know the history behind the store. And they don’t have to learn it by reading old articles or watching videos at orientation. They learn it all from conversation amongst employees and customers.
“One of the girls who works here with me had a grandmother who worked here with my grandfather,” she said. And chances are, everybody in town has someone in their family who has worked here at one time or another, she said.
“My family has been bringing me here since before I can remember,” said Sarah Pascal, 21, whose grandparents live in Mason. According to Wren, this is a common thing. “When people who live here have visitors, they bring them here,” she said, “They bring them to Kean’s.”
However, Kean’s doesn’t attract new and old customers or stay in business just because it’s old. “You can have an old store, and it could look like an old store, but to make it look really inviting and give you ideas of how things are supposed to look in your home makes world of difference,” said Wren.
Over the years, Kean’s has changed its products as well as its image to accommodate their shoppers. “My grandpa brought in Hallmark,” said Wren. “And then when Meijer came to town (1990’s), that’s when our dime shop turned into a gift shop.”
And the store did not look like it does now. Thanks to Mason’s downtown development grant, Wren was able to order a new sign, paint the building and install new windows after taking ownership in 2000.
In addition to this, she knocked out six built-in aisles that were installed when the store opened and moved the toys from the basement to the main level.
“We get complaints just like we get compliments,” she said. Some people don’t like the changes, but more people comment on how much they love it. And business is better now than it has ever been, according to Wren.
Carol Brooks, who has been a loyal customer at Kean’s and is now an employee, said she loves the changes. “I only see maybe one or two people a month who don’t like it,” she said.
“We’re definitely a specialty shop with some dime shop stuff mixed in,” said Wren. And she believes what stands out most about the store and what draws the new customers in is the beautiful displays.
The store has both a front and back entrance. Right next to the front door is a single cash register. Customers are greeted when they enter whether it’s by the cashier or the sign that’s visible upon entering the back door that says, “I love quilting!”
Because it’s so spacious inside, the store can easily be separated into sections.
The east side of the store contains all the dime shop merchandise still available. They have school supplies, children’s toys and an original dime store candy counter. “It’s not like Meijer where it’s just in tubs. It’s in the glass case, and we weigh it out for you. If you want half a pound, you’ll get half a pound,” said Wren.
On the west side, customers can find everything from the “desperately housewares” section to music, greeting cards and food and drink.
In the center of the store, customers can sit on a low, soft leather couch while waiting for fabric to be cut or to find out the meaning of life from a book with a wise looking frog on the cover.
Wren just finished the remodeling last month when she removed the last built-in aisle. For now, she’s not planning any other major changes. “But changes just kind of spur up,” she said.
At the moment, she is focused on the store’s anniversary. Kean’s will have live music, live radio, cake, door prizes, raffles and more. “It’s going to be a huge event,” she said. “I love my job, and I’m just trying to keep Kean’s going.”