|Messenger photo by Rick Palsgrove|
|Chet Baker (left) and Jeff Baker of Chet Baker & Company stand beside a brick mural of Chet created by a Canadian artist with the support of Columbus Coal and Lime.|
A familiar Southeast area masonry business has closed up shop after 47 years of building good will as well as structures.
Chet Baker & Company, established in 1960 by Chet and Sally Baker, ended business on Aug. 31 for financial reasons.
"We have operated for all the years union, but it’s got to the point that it is very hard for the union to compete with the non-union labor, especially in the Columbus market," said Jeff Baker, who has run the company since his father, Chet, retired in 1987. "Chet Baker & Company has always had the reputation of quality work with top quality professional people. It’s just gotten to the point that, in order for us to even try to compete, we were going to have to have more production with lesser quality and dad and myself are not going to down grade ourselves like that."
Jeff stressed the company is not going into bankruptcy, but is closing for financial competitive reasons.
There’s mortar in the Baker blood as Chet’s father, grandfather, and three uncles were bricklayers.
"It’s something that when you finished you can stand back and look at and admire it," said Chet of masonry work.
Though it was the family trade, Chet did not start out as a brick mason.
"I was working at Owens-Illinois when it closed down," said Chet. "So I went to the YMCA and took an aptitude test. The test showed I could be a bricklayer. The man giving the test asked me, ‘Do you know any bricklayers?’ and I just laughed since my family were bricklayers."
Chet started Chet Baker & Company in 1960 with himself, a friend who owned a pick-up truck, a couple of employees, and his wife, Sally, who did the payroll paperwork.
"I didn’t have a truck, so my friend with the truck became the ‘& Company’ part of the company," joked Chet.
The company operated out of the Bakers’ basement for its first 11 years.
"We did commercial and residential work," said Chet. "One of our first jobs was the Baptist Church on Groveport Pike."
Jeff first worked for Chet as a young boy.
"When Jeff was 10 he grabbed a shovel and started working with the mortar," remembered Chet.
When Jeff was 16 he began working in earnest with his father during the summer.
"Jeff has always had good success with the other employees," said Chet. "When he was a kid he was a worker, a hard worker, and my employees appreciated that."
After Jeff graduated from Northeast Louisiana University with a bachelor of science degree in construction he came on board with the company.
"When I got out of college the foremen took me under their wing. They gave me a lot of help and advice," said Jeff.
At its peak in the 1990s Chet Baker & Company had 165 employees working on projects, big and small.
As it grew the company tackled bigger and bigger projects, including such notable buildings as: The Wexner Center for the Visual Arts, Mr. and Mrs. Les Wexner’s home in New Albany, Franklin County Office Tower, New Albany High School, Nationwide Arena (which used more than a million bricks), the renovation of Ohio Stadium, Riverside Hospital, Nationwide, Woody Hayes Center addition, and many, many more well known structures.
The company has won four national wards for its work, including the 1994 International Union Bricklayers and Allied Craftsman Award for its work on the Wexner home.
"The masonry industry in Ohio will never be the same," said Carl Damm of Lang Stone in an e-mail. "(Chet Baker & Company) was the very best…their record of excellence in craftsmanship is second to none. They were the standard everyone else tried to mimic."
Jeff said the relationships the company has had with its workers and the contractors it worked with were positive experiences.
"Over the years we’ve had a lot of loyal and dedicated employees. My dad always had the saying that ‘You’re only has good as the people who work for you,’ and I totally believe in that," said Jeff. "We have had a lot of great relationships with a lot of people and we have a great deal of respect for the people we’ve done business with over the years. I wouldn’t give that up for anything."
"Our goal was never to be the biggest," continued Jeff. "It was to do quality work and make money while doing our best."
Jeff said he has enjoyed the work, and, after wrapping up closing down the business, he will be ready to start a new phase of his life.