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After 68 years, Blake & Ford says final good-bye

Posted: December 7, 2017 4:11 p.m.
Updated: December 8, 2017 1:00 a.m.
Martin L. Cahn/C-I

The façade of Blake & Ford, which closed earlier this year after 68 years of business. The shop first opened on DeKalb Street in 1949 and moved to this location on Broad Street in 1963. Today, the shop is opening up for one last time to sell off what remains of its inventory of office furniture and equipment.

Today, just a few steps up Broad Street from the main intersection with DeKalb Street in downtown Camden, Blake & Ford is clearing out what’s left of its inventory -- a final chance to say good-bye to nearly 70 years worth of customers.

Blake & Ford actually closed months ago, back on March 31. Owners Bill Blake and Bill Ford held a clearance sale June 1 and 2, but still ended up with a bit of inventory to deal with. Today marks the final opportunity to get deals on what remains of the office furniture and equipment the store has in stock.

In 1949, Bill Ford’s parents moved to South Carolina from New England after his father worked for Burlington Mills.

“They didn’t like it up there, so they got in the car and started driving south,” Ford said during a telephone interview earlier this week. “Camden appealed to them, so they set up shop on DeKalb Street next to the Sarsfield Hotel where the Wells Fargo is now. They started selling fabrics, sewing machines and even refrigerators before settling on office supplies and equipment.”

The Ford’s store would stay where it was until 1963 when it moved to its Broad Street location next to where the original Camden Chronicle did business. Blake & Ford would eventually take over the Chronicle building in 1988 and combined the two spaces into one large store.

“We finished the first renovation just in time for Hurricane Hugo. The storm tore the roof off and put a pear tree through the front window. Our second remodeling was after that,” Ford said.

He said his father was more of the risk taker. His mother -- still living at 97 -- was a bit more conservative, making the books work and seeing to it that the business steadily made a profit. Ford’s father died in 1981; his mother ran the business by herself for a short time.

“I was at a crossroads … and I decided to come home in 1985,” Ford said. “I was a teacher at a college in Waltham, Mass., and then at Queens College in Charlotte, teaching economics and finance.”

Deciding things would be better helping out with the family business, Ford returned to Camden. Since then, he’s seen some changes in the inventory.

“In the late 1970s, there were mimeographs and duplicating machines, but, slowly, they started introducing wet copiers and, now, they’re all multifunctional,” he said.

During the intervening years, he said he also saw little improvements, especially in how the inventory is marketed.

“We used to order by mail … and get the order back in about seven to 10 days,” Ford said. “Later, we started ordering by computer. We would put in an order by 4 or 5 at night and it would arrive by 2 or 3 a.m. It was innovative at first, but now everybody does it.”

With big box stores and online ordering posing challenges, Ford said Blake & Ford survived by developing its own niche.

“We had a nice clientele of about 10 to 12 very good customers who would buy all they needed from us,” he said. “Others would shop around and sometimes choose us. It was a nice living.”

So nice, Ford said, that it helped put him and his four siblings through college with the same happening for his own three children.

“It’s been a pretty good run,” he said.

Ford said the “timing was about right” of closing the store earlier this year, especially as he and Blake began making plans for retirement.

“I miss it, to be honest,” Ford said. “Sometimes, I’ve gone in and just piddled around for a couple of hours. It’s bittersweet. All my children are well past the age where they’ve made decisions about their lives, but they’ve told me Blake & Ford is like family to them. They’ve been helping out and say they’re going to miss it.”

Among the memories he holds is “all the kids” Blake & Ford hired during its 68-year-history, from delivery drivers to clean-up crews.

“They gained something from it as we did,” he said.

And Ford had one last message for former customers: “Thanks for your support. We will miss you.”

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