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September 29, 2023

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Ben Franklin’s brings more than crafts, brings experience

When someone walks into craft store Ben Franklin in downtown Bowling Green, they are immediately overwhelmed with how much is packed into one space. There’s fresh, daily-made fudge up front, behind that are birthday cards. To the left of those, one can find small toys. Behind all of this is a bevy of arts and craft supplies. More carpet is hanging from the walls for sale than there is lying on the floor.

This sensory overload is all part of the experience; an experience that the appropriately named owner Floyd Craft has tailor made over his 38 years of owning the store.

Purchased by Craft in 1975, the store was once part of the larger Ben Franklin chain. While the store was typical of Ben Franklin stores in the beginning, Craft said he was able to buy from a larger variety of sellers than was normal.

This, he said, saved

the store.

“We would have never survived the first couple of years,” Craft said. “If we hadn’t been buying from a variety of other sources, we wouldn’t have been able to exist.”

This wide, loose selection of products is what the store is known for today. “Eclectic” is a word that comes to mind. The varied merchandise is what saved the store in the long run as well; the Ben Franklin chain died out in the mid-nineties, but the Bowling Green store

still stands.

“We’ve evolved into more specialty departments and we’ve done that because we’re trying to merchandise around the big box stores,” Craft said. “What they don’t specialize in or what they don’t do well, we try to do.”

It isn’t only big box stores like Wal-Mart or Target that Ben Franklin has had to adapt to. Stores like Big Lots and Hobby Lobby have affected Craft’s inventory too. Formerly heavily invested in floral, fabric and other products other craft stores are now invested in, Ben Franklin had to change.

“That’s where we’ve evolved,” Craft said. “Trying to find the next niche we can get into.”

While adapting to the competition is one half the store’s success, Craft’s emphasis on family is the other. Craft’s daughter Amy can attest to that. Amy Craft currently runs For Keeps, a gift store owned by Floyd Craft. She grew up working in Ben Franklin for her father and even today often finds herself being recognized by customers who remember the 10-year-old girl who rang them up at the register.

Amy, who spent part of her life living in Chicago, was drawn back to Bowling Green because of this personable quality. She knows what city life is like, and said that sort of atmosphere isn’t easily found in “anonymous” larger cities.

“I think it comes across to the customers when you have that,” she said. “It’s kind of nostalgic and I think people enjoy that.”

Craft seems to have been successful at cultivating an inviting, warm environment for customers. He’s still here, and it’s thanks to a simple philosophy.

“I think the country basically runs on family owned businesses,” Craft said. “Local family-owned businesses support a community much more than chain or national [stores]. And I’m not saying they’re bad, I’m just saying that when you have local ownership, you’re part of the community.”

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