Michigan’s ‘Ben Franklin’ Stores: 1927-1970s
Michigan has sure had its share of five-and-dime shops, as I’ve mentioned in past articles, including Woolworth, Kresge, and D&C. Now it’s time for another old five-and-dime to get its due: Ben Franklin stores.
This famous chain had its beginnings in Boston, Massachusetts under the name Butler Brothers. The first Butler Brothers opened in 1877 selling the same stuff you’d find in dry goods and variety stores. They also sold by mail order which helped build their customer base to more than 100,000.
When the turn of the century hit, Butler Brothers was extremely prosperous. With prosperity and success comes the urge for more…so they attempted to get more. And they did. In 1927 they founded a new off-shoot chain of stores under the name “Ben Franklin”. Now the question: Why did they pick the name ‘Ben Franklin’? Selling their merchandise beginning at five cents and not much more, they were enamored with Benjamin Franklin’s slogan “a penny saved is a penny earned” so they gave ol’ Ben a tribute by naming their new stores after him.
Ben Franklins appeared throughout Michigan: up, down, across, and around the whole state. Someone you may have known probably worked in one. Not only were the Michigan Ben Franklins popular, but there were eventually 2,500 in the entire country.
As with the other afore-mentioned five-and-dimes, it was the major retail outlets stores that eventually pushed aside then little guy…Meijer, Kmart, Walmart, etc. With not much choice, Ben Franklin stores declared bankruptcy in 1996 and the 2,500 store total had dwindled to 860.
Ironically, the founder one of those culprits, Walmart, used to work in a Ben Franklin. Sam Walton got his start in retail by running one of the Ben Frank outlets. Using his knowledge from that experience, he founded Walmart, which later became one of the reasons Ben Franklin stores were shutting down.
The remaining Ben Frank stores closed in 1997 until they were bought by Promotions Unlimited. They began supplying for Ben Frank franchisers until they, too, went bankrupt in 2017. To this day, there are about 209 ‘Ben Franklin Crafts’ stores operating throughout the country.
The gallery below features 25 old Ben Franklin stores that popped up in Michigan. Maybe you’ll remember one or two of ‘em…..
Ben Franklin 5 & 10 Stores, Michigan