We decided to explore a little before returning home. Bethel isn't all that far from our home, but we rarely get down that way. We were intrigued by the retro look of the downtown area, so we stopped to browse through some of the stores.
That's when things got weird. There was a Ben Franklin 5 and 10 store on the corner -- when I was a kid, a lot of people called it the "five and dime." Now, as far as I knew, Ben Franklin had been out of business for a long time. Several people I know used to work at their warehouses, and I thought they'd all shut down. Shows how much I know.
Here's what Ben Franklin looks like now, Main Street USA-style:
Here's what the stores used to look like - this is one in Pennsylvania:
I even found a YouTube video about a Ben Franklin store in Oberlin, OH:
First, the backstory - let me tell you about Ben and Me. Not the famous book by the same name, which I read about the time this story starts, but good old Ben Franklin's 5 and 10 store in Elk Grove Village, Illinois.
My family moved to Elk Grove Village on May 18, 1959, shortly before I finished first grade at Armstrong School in Chicago. I went to Rupley School in Elk Grove for about a month, and by the time I started second grade Ridge School had been completed.
The town was just being built by Centex, and there wasn't a lot to do. My family would drive out by the cornfields and watch planes take off by the newly expanded O'Hare International Airport, and my friends and I would chase the mosquito-spraying trucks, probably inhaling clouds of DDT.
We had no lawns, but there was so much clay in our backyard, I was able to make a rather nice ashtray for my dad for Father's Day and some kind of bowl for my mom on Mother's Day. The sidewalks were built above the grade, and when a torrential rainstorm hit, all the neighborhood kids had the unusual opportunity to swim in our front yards.
Besides the elks, our other claim to fame was in nearby Des Plaines, where our local hang-out was the first ever McDonald's.
That first year, a tornado turned the sky green on September 20 and damaged 16 homes. It was an interesting introduction to the town I lived in until I got married in 1971.
Back to Ben Franklin. The big shopping area back then was on Arlington Heights Road, and included the Maitre'D Restaurant, Suburban Drugs, Elk Grove Bowl and a Ben Franklin 5 and 10 store. Jarosch Bakery was also there - and it still is today. (I worked there when I was 16 and they made my wedding cake, so I have to give them a plug.)
Things were different back then, so it wasn't unusual for my brother and I to walk the two miles to Ben Franklin to spend our (sporadic) allowance.
It was always a tough decision. I usually saved up my quarters until I had at least a dollar to spend. Sometimes I bought books; Big Golden Books cost a buck - Quick Draw McGraw and Huckleberry Hound were among the ones I bought - and Trixie Belden, too.
Anyway, as you can see, Ben Franklin isn't a store to me, it's a piece of my childhood. So imagine how disoriented I felt when I walked into the Ben Franklin in Goshen, Ohio today and found I had stepped back in time. The first aisle had a big display of ladies' hair nets, in packaging that clearly hadn't changed since the 1950s. I think it probably was the original stock. Below those was a large display of flowered hankies, similar to the ones my grandmother used to give me when I was about six years old.
When we walked into another part of the store, I could practically hear the Twilight Zone theme playing. There were the boxes of model cars and airplanes my brother used to buy, and I swear some of them had been there since those days. There were paper doll books older than my daughter, and a child's ironing play set from the year my daughter was born: 1983. In the card section, they had vintage-looking cards and gift wrap so old they are back in style.
I love this store! I don't know how any store today can stay in business with a selection like this, but I guarantee I'll be going back there again -- with my kids, next time. I'm sure they would be as fascinated as my husband and I were by this flash into the past.
Thanks for the memories, Ben Franklin. And what a long, strange trip it's been!