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Engler Block Closing Craftsmen Demonstrations, Changes to Auto Museum

One of Branson’s longest running craft shops is closing its doors and making way for a new attraction all about automobiles. The Engler Block craft mall is converting its space into a car museum, something owners feel represents the changing of the times. The following information was released through the Tri-Lakes Tribune:

“I’m printing the lease now,” said Bill Skains of Engler Block as he spoke of the recent decision to close the craft shops and convert to a unique car museum. The switch came as a response to the economy and the changing times in Branson.

The new attraction will be the, “Only museum of this type in the central United States,” said Skains. Visitors can view the automobiles and will actually have the option to purchase. He remarked that if you went into the Smithsonian Museum and wanted to buy some dinosaur bones, “They would escort you out.” Here, it is possible to drive away with the car you always wanted or that your father once had.

Skains referred to the area on Hwy. 76 between Dixie Stampede and Hwy. 65 as the “dead zone” and that the new attraction could help improve tourist traffic with items more akin to visitors’ interests and evolve the location.

It was not an easy decision to close the nationally known craft mall and Skains expressed “mixed emotions” and would have preferred to keep it open. It was a business decision to adjust to the changing times. He went on to say he wished all the crafters well and hoped for their success.

“The market is just not there for crafts,” he cited, and visitors are not buying crafts the way they once were. Engler Block hosted upscale items and was better known in Chicago, New York City, and Dallas than in Branson, according to Skains. The crafts in Engler Block were works of art, and many of today’s shoppers are looking more toward functionality and cost.

Skains gave the example of an Iowa woman examining woodwork priced between $500-$600. She made a comment she could buy it much cheaper at Wal-Mart. Overhearing, a California woman said it was art and said she could sell it for much more. Indeed, the California woman purchased the work and sold it for $1,500 in her home state, but most visitors to Branson aren’t buying art.

Citizens have expressed their sadness seeing the shops close, but Skains, not intending to be derogatory, asked a very poignant question: “When was the last time you shopped here?” People aren’t buying the items as they used to. “Times change,” mentioned Skains, “and perhaps it will come back into vogue.” He pointed out, “Disco was big in the ‘80’s, but it isn’t now.”

“It’s not right and it’s not wrong,” declared Skains, “It’s just what has happened.” Guests would enter and were impressed with items at Engler, but “We were not a museum; we were a retail shop.”

People’s needs have also changed, noted Skains, and many of the crafts “aren’t applicable.” He mentioned fire places with crafted mantels, candles for special occasions, unique glass blown items and how similar, functional manufactured items can be purchased at major retail outlets for much less. In these economic times, people are more concerned about maintaining health insurance than purchasing handcrafted art at a higher price. Skains stated, “People have got to do what it takes to survive.”

In addition, the Branson Landing “changed the structure of Branson,” remarked Skains. He noted that now people go there and spend four or five hours and don’t venture to his shops the way they once did. He repeated, “It’s not right and it’s not wrong; it’s just what has happened.”
The inability to get low interest loans and credit for small businesses has impacted crafters too, said Skains. Crafts are a business and vendors “have to have access to inexpensive capital.” He noted crafters living off cash flow and the difficulty purchasing product. “They don’t get a bailout,” expressed Skains, and cited the previous administrations lack of insight for the small business owners.

One vendor expressed he had his best year ever in 2008 at Engler Block. Skains articulated that wasn’t the case with all the vendors and that overhead for them was now higher.

Also, there aren’t as many crafters as there once were. Kids aren’t growing up to carve or blow glass, Skains indicated. “Times have changed,” he said again and that not only where there less crafters in the future but how computers with amazon.com and ebay have reduced store-shopping for the items.

According to Skains, the location was purchased in 1963 by his father-in-law Mid Harris. Harris built Lugenes for Lou Shaefer and Gene Keckler that made souvenir items. In 1985, Pete Engler began Engler Block.

Most leases for the vendors end Feb. 1. Two vendors stated they discovered the change to a car museum only two weeks ago. Rumors had been circulating since before December, but it was only recently officially finalized.

Skains said that it is necessary for businesses to evolve and that for crafts, “There is no evolution.”

It was discussed that the younger generation has difficulty associating with crafts and the way of life the items represent. The middle aged and older might remember grandpa’s works, but this generation has no specific recollection of that. This generation, however, may remember their grandpa’s car that will now be featured in the new museum and be available for purchase.

Information courtesy of Tri-Lakes Tribune