The oldest business in Benton Harbor

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BENTON HARBOR — Ken Ankli’s business is nearly as old as the city it resides in.

In 2016, Benton Harbor celebrates its 150th year in existence, Brammall Industrial Supply turned 143 years old.

As the president of Brammall Industrial Supply, Ankli learned about his business’ history when he was asked to make a presentation a year ago at the Heritage Center.

That laid the foundation for a week of history for the business owner. Ankli is set to make a presentation for Pecha Kucha on Friday at The Livery. Prior to that, he spoke to a room full of hungry historians Thursday night inside the Morton House Museum about the inception of his industrial supply company.

Through a slideshow presentation, Ankli took attendees through the store’s beginnings.

Brammall has been run by an Ankli since Ken’s great uncle bought it in 1944. His great uncle ran the company until 1964 when his father took over at that point. After he died in 1999, Ken Ankli became owner and has run it since then.

The business’ earliest known location was on Colfax and Main streets. Brammall Supply now rests at 196 Water St.

As a distributor of industrial supplies, Brammall has been one of the main constants through Benton Harbor’s history. The early growth and success of Benton Harbor came when a ship canal was carved out of a marshy area that allowed farmers access to steam freighters. The canal, completed in 1862, led to the city’s growth.

Ankli said, like Benton Harbor, Brammall Supply went through a change at the turn of the century.

The seeds of the art district were planted in the 1990s, but it took Ankli years to see what was going on. Once Ankli saw a pattern and potential for the streetscape improvements in downtown Benton Harbor, he began to turn parts of their unused property into lofts and rented out space to others.

Ankli would go on to restore the old Hill Ice Cream Co. into the Quarternote Lofts, which turned the large refrigeration room that once held ice cream into a space for living.

“In our heyday we devoted almost 40,000 square feet to industrial and plumbing supplies. We sued to say, ‘If you couldn’t get it at Brammall, you didn’t need it.’ But turning some those buildings into lofts has essentially diversified our business. We have two businesses now, industrial supplies and real estate.”

Admittedly, Ankli said he didn’t always plan on taking up the family business.

He majored in forestry and botany at the University of Michigan. Upon graduation, a spot opened up for Ankli at Brammall. He resisted at first, but eventually grew to love the family business.

When asked for what his plans would be, Ankli was elusive with the Morton crowd.

“I’d like to do another improvement project somewhere along the line, but it’s too early to tip my hand,” Ankli said.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Sept. 16, 2016)
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