Ben Franklin (company)

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Ben Franklin Stores
Founded1877 (as Butler Brothers)
1927 (as Ben Franklin)
Area served
United States

Retail focus Today[edit]

Ben Franklin Variety stores carry household items, sundries, seasonal products, crafts, food and snacks, health and beauty aids. Some stores also provide services like pharmacies or custom framing departments and some stores are also full-line grocery, drug, or hardware stores.

Ben Franklin Crafts stores carry creative products like needlecrafts, florals, wicker, paints, fabrics, yarn, and offer services like custom framing, craft classes, and the Ben Franklin Crafts Club.

Ben Franklin is a chain of five and dime and arts and crafts stores found in small towns throughout the United States, formally owned by Promotions Unlimited of Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin.[1] They were organized using a franchise system, with individual stores owned by independent proprietors. It was perhaps the first retail franchise, starting in 1927.[2] They are named after Benjamin Franklin, taking a cue in their merchandise offerings from Franklin's saying, "A penny saved is a penny earned."


The chain originated in Boston in 1877 as Butler Brothers, a mail-order wholesaler selling general and variety-store items. At the turn of the 20th century, Butler Brothers had over 100,000 customers in the United States. As variety stores were penetrating their market, the company founded the Ben Franklin chain in 1927, which was sold in 1959.[2] At Ben Franklin's peak, the chain had 2,500 stores nationwide.

Walmart founder Sam Walton started in retailing operating a Ben Franklin store. In 1973, Michael J. Dupey converted a Ben Franklin store to start the Michaels chain in Texas.

Ben Franklin Stores purchased Texas retailer Duke & Ayres in the early 1970s.[3] Duke & Ayres was a chain of 5 and 10 cent stores based in Dallas, Texas, with stores that were located throughout the state from approximately 1910 to 1990.

In the 1970s, Ben Franklin operated some Ben Franklin Family Center locations, which were larger discount store variations offering merchandise not found at regular Ben Franklin stores, such as clothing.[4] Other locations in this era were branded as B&C Family Center and included supermarkets.[5]


The chain had functioned largely as a wholesaler of variety and craft merchandise sold to its franchisees under the name Ben Franklin Retail Stores Inc. In the early 1990s, it began opening its own stores. Those stores were not successful, and their financial problems ultimately interfered with the chain's ability to deliver goods to its franchisees, 860 locally owned stores in 47 states.[6] The company went bankrupt and closed these stores in 1996–1997.

True Value owner Cotter & Co. sold its V&S Variety Store chain to Ben Franklin in 1995.[7]

Promotions Unlimited[edit]

Promotions Unlimited had stepped in as a supplier for many Ben Franklin franchisees during the corporation's descent into bankruptcy. It acquired the name of the chain in 1997 as the old corporate entity was moving into Chapter 7.[8] It had continued operating as a distributor for a few years servicing individual franchisees and advertising the products sold there through direct mail services and newspaper inserts. At that time the chain comprises about 209 craft stores and 123 variety stores, the latter being akin to five and dimes.

The company logo, a key giving off a spark, refers to Franklin's famous experiment to prove that lightning was a form of electricity using a key suspended from a kite.


  1. ^ "Roosevelt Capital LLC". Company Profile. Hoover's. Retrieved 3 January 2015.
  2. ^ a b Huttner, Sidney F. (22 September 2010). "Butler Brothers, Incorporated". The LUCILE Project. University of Iowa. Retrieved 3 January 2015.
  3. ^ "Duke & Ayers Variety Store". De Leon, Texas History. Retrieved 3 January 2015.
  4. ^ Brunclik, Paige (30 August 2013). "Ben Franklin celebrates 40 years in business". Oconomowoc Focus. Retrieved 3 March 2015.
  5. ^ "No title". CSA Supermarkets. 1972. p. E73. Retrieved 16 January 2016.
  6. ^ Kavita Kumar (8 September 2012). "Ben Franklin store, a throwback to the five-and-dime, finally closes". STLToday. Retrieved 28 September 2012.
  7. ^ "Cotter & Co. Cutting Back In Fixup Plan". Chicago Tribune. 13 January 1995. Retrieved 3 March 2015.
  8. ^ Schuyler, David (14 July 2006). "Racine's Promotions Unlimited rekindles Ben Franklin chain". Milwaukee Business Journal. Retrieved 3 January 2015.


  • Sandra S. Vance and Roy V. Scott "Butler Brothers and the Rise and Decline of the Ben Franklin Stores: A Study in Franchise Retailing." Essays in Economic and Business History: Selected Papers from the Economic and Business Historical Society, East Lansing: Division of Research, Graduate School of Business, Michigan State University 11 (1993), pages 258-271
  • Mexia Blackcats 1959: Duke & Ayres