Maryland's 'Bread Man' Jim Bowen Stocks Up On Hostess Products To Feed To Birds, Sell Online

11/24/2012 08:00 am ET | Updated Jan 24, 2013
  • Sara Blumberg The Capital
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Jim Bowen is known simply as the "Bread Man."

For the last 26 years, the Glen Burnie resident has stocked his car with as much Hostess bread as he could get his hands on, especially at his hometown Wonder/Hostess Bakery Outlet on Furnace Branch Road

His mission -- feed the birds.

"It used to be $2 for a cart of it. In recent years, it went up to $15 a cart," he said. "No worries, I'm still buying it."

In the last few weeks, Bowen's precious Hostess bread has come into trouble after Texas-based Hostess Brands Inc. said it would stop production after years of declining sales. Management missteps, rising labor costs and changing tastes culminated in a crippling strike by the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union.

A last-ditch effort to end the strike failed Tuesday night, and U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert Drain on Wednesday approved the company's request to shut down its business and sell the pieces to the highest bidder.

The news of the closure sent residents like Bowen into a tailspin, buying up as many Hostess products as possible to either sell online or keep as collectibles.

Bowen's home serves as a small tribute to the confectionery company. In addition to bread, his living room is decorated with Hostess signs, stickers and plaques. He also bought an assortment of Twinkies, Devil Dogs and CupCakes.

"The funny part is I never ate the sweet stuff," he said. "I had my first Twinkie two days ago -- wasn't a fan."

He said he never enjoyed sweets and has always tried to live a more healthy lifestyle that didn't involve things like Twinkies.

Bowen's daughter Jill decided to advertise some of their collectibles online, to see what response they would get. On Craigslist, she advertised the signs for $20 each.

"So far, it's been overwhelming. People are very interested in them, but we haven't sold anything yet," she said.

Jill said she's seen Hostess products go for much as $175 for four boxes of Twinkies.

"Now, that's just crazy," she said.

Bowen said the real craziness has been occurring at the Glen Burnie outlet store.

The store sold more than $7,500 worth of products, with one cashier working, on Nov. 17.

While Bowen is not an employee at the outlet, he does frequent the store at least two times a week and has a strong sense of loyalty to it.

"I had to come in and help, spent eight hours assisting," Bowen said. "At one point, we had to close the store twice so we could take a quick break."

By Thursday, the store had received its last shipment of products. The facility was half cleaned out as Glen Burnie resident Pam Samenig walked in to buy some boxes.

"My daughter asks for them every year for Christmas," she said while standing in line. "When she heard they were going out of business, she was frantic."

Samenig also was hoping to get CupCakes for her other daughter and was sad to see they were already sold out.

Doris Wise, of Pasadena, along with husband Tim, also made a stop at the Hostess outlet, walking out with nearly a dozen boxes of sweets.

"My son called and said he couldn't find Twinkies anywhere. We decided to surprise him for Thanksgiving," she said.

American Studies Professor Sheri Parks of the University of Maryland, College Park, said when lifelong products like Hostess go out of business, people start to become anxious about change.

"The idea that Twinkies are going away doesn't sit well with many," she said. "We start to become nostalgic for that thing that reminds us of part of our past."

Parks and her students have been watching the Hostess closure unfold for the past few weeks. She believes when things are said and done, Twinkies will come back -- just under a new name.

"It's kind of funny; I haven't had a Twinkie in years. I tried one the other day, and it was not the same experience," she said.

Employees at the Glen Burnie outlet said they don't anticipate closing down, but would not comment further.

The Hostess bankruptcy means the closure of 33 bakeries, 565 distribution centers, approximately 5,500 delivery routes, 570 bakery outlet stores and the loss of 18,500 jobs.

Bowen said when his Hostess bread finally runs out, he will go to the local dollar store to continue to buy it. He admits, though, it won't be the same.

"My pigeons expect better. I'm not going to abandon them," he said. ___

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