Retail stores are struggling in the midst of the pandemic, it’s clear that some may not survive being closed, but retail shopping in general has been in flux since the start of the 21st century and whole genres of stores have disappeared. For instance, who remembers the Ben Franklin in Roosevelt Center? Like any retail area, Center businesses have changed over the years, but one that we hear about most frequently at the Museum is the much missed Ben Franklin store.
It occupied the curved storefront, across from Beijing restaurant, for 30 years. Ben Franklins were a chain of stores across the country who seem to have been inspired by our country’s founder’s famous thrift. “A penny saved is a penny earned,” as the actual Ben Franklin used to say, and the stores were inexpensive five and dimes. Though they were known for having a great arts and crafts selection, as well! The larger chain was founded in 1877 as Butler Brothers in Boston. The name changed to Ben Franklin in 1927 and at the chain’s peak, there were 2500 stores across the country.
There had always been a variety store in the Center. One had opened as part of the original Greenbelt Consumer Services group of stores. In 1954, the US government sold the commercial buildings in the center to a private real estate firm, and in 1956, the cooperative stores, except for the grocery store, vacated. It’s easy to imagine that Greenbelters were happy when the Ben Franklin store opened in June 7, 1957. See a photo of the ribbon cutting and a grand opening advertisement in the News Review. The store was owned and operated by Harry Wiener who was in business with his brother. They owned two other stores in Waldorf.
While it was open the store sold everything from candy and toys to bathing suits and waste baskets. The Greenbelt News Review is full of weekly ads and specials and many residents who lived in Greenbelt in the late '50s through the '70s have fond memories of the store. Many five and dime stores closed in the '80s and '90s and Ben Franklin was no exception. Greenbelt’s Ben Franklin closed in early 1987 when its lease expired. The opening of Greenway shopping center had also impacted business. Many Ben Franklin stores nationwide were gone, too, by the 1990s as the national company declared bankruptcy. A company called Promotions Unlimited bought the name in 1997 and there are still a few stores operating in some small towns today. They also offer online shopping!
Many of us are nostalgic for the dime store experience and its still possible to find old tags and signs from the stores for sale by vintage dealers, like these tags that are available on Etsy (just click the photo go the sale page). Do you happen to have anything still in your home that has the Ben Franklin logo or a price tag
attached? If it’s something you’d like to part with, we’d love to add it to the Museum collection! We'd love to hear your memories about the store, too! Send us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.