I'm in love with Ben Franklin. Oh, I know what you're thinking: He's old and set in his ways. What could he possibly have to offer? Well, girlfriend, what makes him so lovable is that he always has what I need, whether it's a pincushion or a piñata, and he's easy on the pocketbook.
The Ben Franklin I'm referring to, of course, is the old-fashioned variety store, what used to be called a five-and-dime. The chain's been around since 1927, and Ben Franklins blossomed in virtually every small town in the country, and in multiples in larger places like Madison. Now, by and large they've been replaced by dollar stores.
The name is a tip of the hat to Benjamin Franklin, whose aphorism "A penny saved is a penny earned" represents the store's ethos. (Its logo is, appropriately, a key with a spark.)
The Ben Franklin that has stolen my heart is the only one left in Madison. It's located in the Lake Edge Shopping Center, a modest strip mall on Monona Drive, where it shares mall space with another old-timer, Monona Bootery (yes, it still has the indoor mini-merry-go-round) and delicious newcomer Crema Cafe. It's been in the same place for 53 years, which is one of its charms. Unlike the anonymous dollar stores, it's a true member of the neighborhood.
The store itself is a bit shabby, not like its glitzier counterparts in the big malls, but who's looking? After all, it's what's inside that counts. Among the wide variety of offerings: flannel-backed table covers in traditional red, blue or black checks ($5.50 a yard); school supplies; kitchen knickknacks; party favors, helium balloons and piñatas (the Cookie Monster goes for $13); hardware; Halloween decorations and costumes, including the Classic Cape, Mullet Wig and feathery blackbirds straight out of Hitchcock; white ceramic piggybanks ready to be decorated ($3 for the small piggy, $8 for the large oinker); paint-by-numbers kits "for ages 8 to 88" ($5).
The store carries a large selection of craft supplies and has an extensive sewing and quilting section. It's also a full-service frame shop.
So snicker if you want, but I'll have the last laugh. My boy Ben is my BFF.