SOUTH PORTLAND — A business that sold Scottish shortbread to raise funds for a Maine Medical Center cancer unit has closed, its owner said, because of the sagging economy.
Granny Kirkwood’s Shortbread, founded in 2007 by Marshall “Jack” Gibson, baked its last biscuits at the end of December.
Granny Kirkwood’s goodies, which included at least six flavors of Scottish shortbread, were sold at supermarkets in Portland, South Portland, Cape Elizabeth, Yarmouth, Westbrook, New Gloucester, North Windham and Biddeford.
Gibson said his Wallace Avenue business was still growing and had a loyal following, but wasn’t growing fast enough to justify staying open. He predicted it would have taken another three years to turn the corner.
“Things were building, but our particular product was considered high-end,” said Gibson, whose shortbread cookies sold for $1.69 each or $19.95 per baker’s dozen. “I suspect the economy played a part in the kind of cookies (customers) were going to buy. You know, four cookies for $5.98 or a couple of dozen for $1.25?”
Gibson said he streamlined the business over the last year, reducing staff from five employees to three. He could have instituted other cost-cutting measures, but didn’t want to betray the original product. “I could have reduce the price by reducing the quality, but I wasn’t going to do that,” he said.
Gibson started Granny Kirkwood’s with the intent of donating all its profits to Maine Med’s Marshall L. and Susan Gibson Pavilion. Construction of the center was funded largely with a $2 million donation from Gibson after the death of his wife, Susan, who died of cancer in 1989. The shortbread company was named after Gibson’s mother-in-law.
Shortly after launching Granny Kirkwood’s Shortbread late in 2007, a crew of hikers decided to take the company’s shortbread on a climb up Washington state’s Mt. Rainer. They called the event the “Climb for
Once on top of the mountain, the crew enjoyed the shortbread some 14,410 feet above sea level, giving the fledgling company some much-needed publicity. The climb also raised $15,000 for the Gibson Pavilion, a 44-bed unit for adult cancer patients.
Granny Kirkwood’s was on the verge of locking down a deal with a national distributor, Gibson said, which would have put the company’s charitable shortbread on store shelves throughout New England and given the company the boost it needed to turn a profit. But the deal fell through.
“We were never at a point where we saw a profit,” Gibson said.
Gibson said he is grateful for the support of his customers and volunteers, many of whom were MMC doctors and nurses who gave their time to try and make the business work.
He said several companies have contacted him about purchasing his wife’s shortbread recipe and his baking equipment to carry on the Granny Kirkwood’s name. But Gibson is unsure whether he will take them up on the offer.
Regardless of what happens, Gibson, who said he is “breathing on” 80 years old, will continue to give back to the cancer center. That support, he said, will be both financial and personal.
“For 10 years now, I have been taking shortbread up to the patients at the Gibson Pavilion at the hospital and I will continue to do that,” Gibson said. “I’m never at a loss for a kitchen.”