2019 Nominee Eight: Quonset Hut

On a summer afternoon in 1975, Mark Kratzer and fellow employees of The Barn sat in the United Bank drive-through lane and held their paychecks up for the teller to see. She gave the thumbs-down sign and they drove off laughing. Two years worth of bounced paychecks turned out to be the secret to his future business success.

For two years Kratzer and his friends worked virtually free as precious few paychecks cleared. They cleaned and built The Barn with their bare hands. It was a hippie mall just north of the sparkling new Belden Village Mall. While Belden’s new tenants sold nationally-advertised products, The Barn rented space to youth-oriented sellers of music, beads, hippie clothing, pipes and more. The tenants were long on dreams, short on the kind of money to pay the kids who actually did all the work. Kratzer subsisted on meager Social Security payments from two parents who died before he left high school.

As The Barn crumbled, the owners set up shop in an old quonset hut on Cleveland Ave. near 30th St., taking their young worker bees with them They soon moved to a small house down the street, but the name Quonset Hut stuck. As the business took shape, a new accountant told the owners they had to do something to make up for all the bounced paychecks and, suddenly the kids were partners with small equity stakes and yearly profit sharing checks. The store became the first Stark County outlet for Levis jeans and business began to boom. When the owner of the record store downstairs failed, the Quonset Hut found themselves in the record business and succeeded beyond all expectations.

Soon there were five Quonset Hut locations scattered across northeastern Ohio and over $9 million a year was pouring into the company’s coffers. Kratzer was finally cashing in on all his hard work. Then the quintessential counter-culture business found itself in a traditional business conundrum. All the owners wanted to retire, except Kratzer. In a series of meetings the partners worked out a deal whereby Kratzer and wife Robin would buy the name Quonset Hut, all the merchandise at the five stores would be liquidated and millions of dollars worth of real estate sold. The Kratzer’s took control of all merchandise that didn’t sell at liquidation and paid the partners a percentage of whatever they were able to finally sell. After over 30 years of work, Mark Kratzer fully owned the Quonset Hut, a Canton institution with virtually no assets. Thank goodness they had Robin’s Canton teacher salary to fall back on.

Step by step, Kratzer and Robin began to rebuild relying on good relationships with vendors Mark had worked with for years. With the music industry in disarray and CD sales plummeting, smoke shop products became their big sellers. They followed the old Quonset Hut formula offering hot products before big box stores grabbed the market. CBD transformed the business. Darts became a big hit, as did skateboards, metaphysicals, high-grade incense, clothing and more. Disc golf illustrated the secret to their success as Dick’s tried to get in the game with 150 discs while Quonset Hut offers over 3,000.

A team of committed, product-educated employees brought a level of service hard to find in modern retail stores. Their knowledge is especially valuable with CBD health-related products. Now in charge, Kratzer insisted on doing everything the right way. Involved in a number of highly-regulated businesses, government inspectors have become some of the stores biggest fans.

Twelve years after hitting “Restart” Mark and Robin Kratzer revitalized Stark County’s most unusual store, in a new, building at the corner of Cleveland and 38th Street. Together they purchased the building and worked with an architect to make sure the design met their businesses’ quixotic needs. Squiggly parking lot space lines perfectly set the mood. In many ways it was a huge risk but, really, it was really the continuation of the off-beat business path pioneered by a grown man who started his career as a parentless kid with a drawer full of bounced paychecks.