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PAXTON - After 135 years in business, a venerable Paxton furniture store will close this winter.

The decision to close Ford-Baier Furniture was an emotional one for his family, said Business Manager Royce Baier.

"It's more than depressing," said Baier, whose family purchased the business after World War II. "We've dedicated 54 years to this furniture store, our family."

A going-out-of-business sale of $200,000 worth of inventory begins this week. Baier said a closing date has not been set. He estimated a six-week time frame.

Baier said the reasons for closing the store, located in the State Street Mall at 201 N. Railroad Ave., are many.

"One is we just cannot compete with the big box stores," Baier said. "Furniture Row (in Bloomington-Normal) now has no interest to '09 and no payments 'til '07."

Baier said smaller furniture stores can't make such offerings. He has tried to interest financial institutions in similar arrangements without success.

He also said the big stores operate at a low profit margin, and that he has tried to sell only American-made furniture, which in most cases is more expensive.

The store realistically should have been closed five years ago, but it was difficult to let go, said Baier. Ultimately Baier said he let his mother, Millie, make the decision.

"It's probably one of the hardest things she's had to do in her life, but it's just a wise decision," he said.

The furniture store was actually started in 1870 by the Ford family. Baier's father, Maurice, bought what is now the Ford-Baier Funeral Home from Ralph Ford just after World War II. Two years later, he also bought the furniture business from Ford to keep himself busy.

For the first 20 years that the Baier family owned the furniture store, it was operated on South Market Street.

In the late 1960s, Maurice Baier bought what is now the State Street Mall from Fred A. Smith, who operated a lumber yard there. Maurice Baier had intended to open an antique car museum at the site, but opted in 1971 to move the furniture store there instead.

Now, the Baier family will continue to maintain offices in the mall, at least for the foreseeable future, to tend to paperwork.

The closing marks the second major change for the family in recent years. The Baiers sold their ambulance service two years ago to Gibson Area Hospital. The family still owns the funeral home.

Baier said he hopes to rent the 6,000-square-foot furniture showroom to another business, but doubts it will ever be a furniture store again. Baier said the industry has been on the rocks since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and recent hikes in natural gas prices will make it even more difficult for some people to afford furniture.

"I caught Sheila (Baier, my wife) and Cheryl (Beck) in here the other day looking out and wondering what it would look like (without a furniture store there)," Baier said.

The pair have each worked at the business for about 20 years. When the business is closed, two of its five employees will lose their jobs.

"It was just time for us," Baier said.

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