Last week, several dozen employees at the Newark, Ohio-based Longaberger Company received word that their employer would be centralizing — that is, the company announced plans to move its corporate home office from a freestanding building to space within its production facility in nearby Frazeysburg.
And with that, several dozen employees were forced to confront the grim — or perhaps joyful — reality that they’d no longer be showing up each day to work at the world’s largest basket.
Like a drive-thru donut shop shaped like a ginormous chocolate glazed or an ice cream stand that takes the form of an ungodly large soft-serve cone, there’s no mistaking what kind of business goes on inside the building that houses Longaberger's soon-to-be-former corporate headquarters: the business of baskets.
Founded in the early 1970s by the late entrepreneur and philanthropist Dave Longaberger in Dresden, Ohio, the Longaberger Company, if you’re unfamiliar, is a slavishly adored — and financially troubled, but more on that in a bit — purveyor of handwoven maple wood baskets. Longaberger isn’t just an American basket manufacturer but an American basket lifestyle brand complete with a Tupperware-esque direct sales component and a devoted following of collectors.
But seriously, Longaberger has got you covered in the basket department, whether you’re on the prowl for a bread basket or a picnic basket, a basket to hold your dirty laundry or a basket to hold your cat treats. Need a basket for your business cards? Or how about your apples? Longaberger sells ‘em both along with a range of commemorative state cake baskets.
In 1997, Longaberger made waves (and started to distract a whole lot of motorists) when it veered into architecture. Standing proud as one of North America’s most gloriously literal works of programmatic architecture — that is, a building that takes the form of a specific object, usually an edible or an animal, as a means of advertising — Longaberger’s corporate headquarters, aka Big Basket, is a bona fide Central Ohio landmark located roughly 40 miles northeast of Columbus along State Route 16.
Needless to say, you can’t miss it … just look for the seven-story, 180,000-square-foot woven basket — a “Medium Market Basket” to be exact, just 160 times bigger — complete with 84 windows, a central atrium and 150-ton handles that are heated in the winter to prevent icing.
Despite its perennial Instagram popularity, the Big Basket’s use as the home office for the very basket company that designed and built it, has, sadly, come to an end. The Longaberger Company is vacating the premises and relocating, as mentioned, to its nearby manufacturing campus, Longbaberger Homestead, where there's also a distribution center and retail outlet.
“I have listened and debated the topic of moving everyone under one roof," reads a company email sent to employees by Longaberger CEO John Rochon Jr. and obtained by the Columbus Dispatch. "I always agreed it was the smart thing to do but I always hesitated because I wanted to gauge the importance of the Big Basket to the sales force." He adds: “I now know why everyone has desired to move. The energy and (company founder Dave Longaberger's) spirit is on the floor with the basketmakers. Honestly, mine is too."
While it’s unclear exactly how many employees will be impacted by the move, the Newark Advocate notes that as of last year, 68 Longaberger workers reported to the Big Basket. When the building opened nearly 20 years ago when the basket business was decidedly a more brisk one, it housed 500. No further jobs are expected to be lost during the transition.
In 2000, three years after the debut of the $30 million Big Basket, Longaberger’s sales reached $1 billion and, in turn, the company was able to provide more than 8,000 local jobs. As reported by WKYC, annual sales have dropped to $1 million over the past decade. Companywide, Longaberger now employees roughly 230 people, including those left in the mostly empty Big Basket.
That said, moving everyone into one central location makes sense for the struggling artisan basket behemoth, particularly given that the company owes Licking County in the ballpark of $570,000 in back taxes.
While Longaberger’s hasn’t announced what exactly will happen to the Big Basket, the Dispatch notes that there is a potential deal to donate the building to the county. But in the words of Rochon, said deal "... may never get done."
The company is behind on its taxes, and if delinquent taxes aren't paid, the county has the power to foreclose on the property and offer it at a sheriff's sale, Licking County Auditor Mike Smith said.
‘At this point, the minimum bid would be $570,000 plus court costs," Smith said. ‘So you could own the Big Basket for less than $600,000.’
If no one wants it at the sheriff's sale price, the property would go to Licking County's recently established land bank.
Six-hundred grand for an office building that bears a beyond-striking resemblance to a picnic basket?
Sure, this may seem like a steal but consider the difficultly that future owners may have setting up shop in a building custom-built for a basket company. Would you want to visit your chiropractor or attorney in a building that looks like this?
While too early to say, an oversized basket-cum-office building may prove to be a tough sell although Rochon has claimed that the company has received, but turned down, a few serious offers. For now, Longaberger will maintain ownership of the building, leasing it out to interested parties at $12 a square foot.
If anything, the Longaberger Company’s move from Big Basket highlights the inherent issue with novelty architecture, particularly so-called “ducks.” While a bizarre building that’s stylized form symbolizes the business or product offered within makes total sense when you’re, let’s say, selling hot dogs out of a hot dog-shaped structure, finding an appropriate subsequent use for said building after its original occupant closes up shop can be, well, no picnic.
Here's hoping that the Big Basket is filled once again in the near future.
Via [Columbus Dispatch], [Newark Advocate]