Donna West and Dexter’s Ben Franklin – from our Downtown Dexter Issue (Oct 16)
There is nothing that fits the description of “Americana” more than an old fashioned “five and dime” store.
There was a time when almost every small town had a “Ben Franklin” store, a five and dime named after the famous American forefather who declared “a penny saved is a penny earned.”
Not many Ben Franklin stores have survived in our country, but one does in Dexter.
“This store, originally Weber’s Variety Store, was founded in 1909,” explained Donna West, now the store’s manager. Then in the 1930’s, she said, it became “Weber’s Ben Franklin.”
West said the stores are franchised, but now less than a hundred “Ben Franklins” still survive nationwide.
The store is still a “five and dime,” but specializes as a crafts source.
“And this store has always been in downtown Dexter, even on the same block, though the original store was probably only about half this size,” said West.
She started working at the store when she was just 18 years old, fresh out of high school. She hadn’t really expected to make it a career.
“I thought at the time I’d eventually move to the city and probably get an office job,” she recalled. But she stayed and hasn’t ever regretted it.
“I’ve been here 52 years now,” she smiled. “And I really never wanted to leave.”
“I started out as the candy girl at the candy counter” in 1962 she recalled. In 1972, she became an assistant manager and, about ten years later, the manager.
To this day, the store still is owned by the same family, after three generations.
“I can’t think of a family that could be better to work for,” said West, referring to Ernest and Joe Weber. She added that she has worked at the store through two generations of owners.
Because it has come to be recognized for its craft supplies, West said it is not at all unusual to have shoppers come from out of town. Why do they come to shop at a small store in a small town rather than a big chain store?
“Some people like to do their shopping on a smaller scale,” she explained. “We try to always greet people like family, and we’ve become known for our framing, floral, and fabric supplies and our prices are very competitive.”
Ol’ Ben would be proud.