CHICAGO – Newcastle Limited* has been retained by Rubens & Marble, Inc., to manage the disposition of its 82-year-old, 62,100 SF, two-story, commercial building at 2340 North Racine Avenue in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago, announced Michael R. Haney, President of the Chicago-based real estate firm. Newcastle Limited is a national real estate advisory and development firm serving not-for-profit corporations, institutions, investors, corporations and governmental agencies.
“This property represents the rare opportunity for hotel, institutional, residential or mixed-use development on a large site in one of Chicago’s most desirable neighborhoods where the demand for high-end condominiums, townhouses and single-family homes is exceptionally strong,” said Martin F. Jablonski, Newcastle Director and Project Manager for the disposition in team with Peter S. Tortorello, Vice President. The deadline for offers is October 29, 2004.
The building, known as the “Rubens Baby Factory,” is situated on a 32,185 SF parcel with visibility and frontage along North Racine, West Fullerton, and West Medill Avenues. The steel and reinforced-concrete facility, built in 1922, has a solid red brick façade and a poured-concrete foundation. It features 12-foot ceilings, loft-style windows, two interior depressed docks, floor loads of 250 PSF, and the structural capacity to accommodate additional floors.
The property is located in the burgeoning Lincoln Park neighborhood on the north side, just west of DePaul University and across the street from the Lincoln Park Branch of the Chicago Public Library. “Demographically, the surrounding area is characterized by an educated, highly skilled, white-collar work force with an average household income of $145,443 within a half-mile radius,” he said. According to Tortorello, the property, which is currently zoned M1-2 Restricted Manufacturing District, is adjacent to residential and business zoning districts. The disposition marks the end of a 114-year-old Chicago manufacturing business.
End of an Era
The building was designed to accommodate a bank-note printing company, but during the Great Depression, the printer went bankrupt. On November 16, 1936, the building was purchased to house Rubens & Marble, a company that specialized in the manufacture of quality infant’s cotton underwear since its founding in 1890. In 1912, the company was incorporated, and the name has remained the same for 92 years. In fact the same drawing of the building has appeared on the company letterhead for more than 60 years.
“The peak for our business was during the Baby Boom following World War II. At that time I am told there were 300 employees making baby clothes to meet the demand,” said Richard A. Rubens, President of Rubens & Marble. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the company averaged approximately 95 employees. Today there are 38 employees, but not for long. Rubens & Marble will close for good by Thanksgiving of this year.
“We can no longer compete. The imports coming from China are cheaper than I can manufacture them for. The quality? Not bad,” he said. According to Rubens, the primary downside of imports is the limited line. “Whereas we make baby underwear in all oddball sizes and styles, the exporters only make the most popular sizes and styles,” he said.
Other factors contributing to the demise of Rubens & Marble include his two sons’ decisions not to carry on the textile manufacturing business (but to become a doctor and a lawyer) and competition from volume discounters. “At one time, we sold to the big discount stores, but today we are national institutional suppliers serving hospitals across the country,” he said.
According to Rubens, by far the most significant factor leading to the demise of his business is the dramatic increase in the minimum wage. “The State of Illinois raised the minimum wage by $.35 per hour in January of this year. When we raised our prices to absorb the increase, we lost a ton of business. Now the minimum wage is set to increase another dollar per hour from $5.50 to $6.50 per hour on January 1st of 2005. It is the last straw. You can’t make money when your costs keep going up and your volume keeps going down,” he said.
Over the years the company has become a well-known neighbor in Lincoln Park. “We occasionally sell to the public from two desks piled high with baby clothes,” Rubens said. Along the way, it has even acquired a nickname. “Our building is located just down the street from the Oscar F. Mayer Grade School (2250 North Clifton Avenue). During the early 1970s, a little girl attending the school used to eat her lunch in the lobby of our building to avoid being taunted by the schoolboys. She referred to the building as the Rubens Baby Factory, and it stuck,” he said.
Rubens admits it is upsetting to leave a building he has been coming to since he was seven years old, but he’s not bitter. “Right now we are extremely busy serving our customers, but I am looking forward to traveling.”
If you drive by the building today, you will see a sign in the window that says “Rubens Baby Factory Store.” Come Thanksgiving, you may also see another sign: “Gone fishing.
About Newcastle Limited
Chicago-based Newcastle Limited is a national commercial real estate firm serving governmental agencies, institutions, not-for-profit organizations, corporations and private investors. The firm’s strategic advisory, development and investment services are designed to reduce project risk and maximize asset value. To learn more about Newcastle, call Mike Haney at (312) 252-1401 or visit the company website at www.newcastleinvestors.com.