Ben Franklin Apothecary Closing Marks the End of an Era

Ben Franklin Apothecary closing marks end of era
Ben Franklin 50th anniversary courtesy photo

The Duncanville community was extremely sad to learn their favorite pharmacy, retailer and community fixture, Ben Franklin Apothecary on Main Street, would close this summer. Owners Dan and Janice Jespersen sent a letter to their customers in June about the closing.

Excerpts from the Jespersen letter: “Having completed 50 years of service as a registered pharmacist and owner of Ben Franklin Apothecary, considerable thought has been given to what the future holds for Janice and I. The time has come to move into retirement mode so we can spend more time serving our family. We have been blessed beyond measure with four daughters, four sons-in-law, and 16 grandchildren living in Germany, Connecticut, Alabama and Texas.”

“It has been an absolute honor, joy and pleasure to be your pharmacy (since 1980). Our last day filling your prescriptions will be July 10. The pharmacy files and records have been sold to the Kroger Co., and can be accessed at their local store on Camp Wisdom. At this time we are keeping the general store, quilt store and deli open. We are offering a 20% discount on any over the counter products in the pharmacy. In the general store we are celebrating Christmas in July with sales, and in August we’ll have a storewide Retirement Celebration Sale.”

Ben Franklin Opens in 1964

Ben Franklin opening
Ben Franklin opening 1964 courtesy photo

The family-owned business got its start in 1964, when Wes and Ann Jespersen opened a Ben Franklin Store in Duncanville. The store moved to Main Street in 1969, and has been expanded and renovated several times at that location. Their oldest son, Dan Jespersen, opened the pharmacy in 1980. It soon became known for outstanding customer service that included deliveries to customers, and to health care and retirement facilities.

Along with the pharmacy, the general store featured a wide variety of household and seasonal goods, including unique Christmas ornaments. Quilting circles also depended on the variety of fabrics found in the Quilt Shop. Kitchens Deli has long been the preferred community gathering place for local families, women’s groups, civic leaders, and politicians (including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a 1976 Duncanville HS graduate who worked for Ben Franklin while attending school here).

Ben Franklin
Gov. Abbott holds press conference at Ben Franklin photo by Chris Waits

Thanks to the Jespersen’s son-in-law and former Ben Franklin Apothecary marketing director Kasey Cheshier for helping compile the following brief history of the pharmacy and store. The Jespersen family and their store has made so many contributions to the Duncanville community, it’s impossible to list them all.

Wes and Ann Jespersen

“In 1964, Wes and Ann Jespersen built a gateway to the past, where the family tradition thrived in Duncanville until this year. Ben Franklin (store #4545) first opened at 611 E. Camp Wisdom Road on October 22, 1964. Market surveys during that timeframe indicated that Duncanville needed a modern, well-stocked variety store. The town was too small for a major chain store, so a Ben Franklin five-and-dime store seemed to be the answer. The Jespersens purchased a Ben Franklin franchise, leased a building in Fair North Shopping Center near Camp Wisdom/Oriole Rd., and opened for business.”

At that particular time, Red Bird Mall was a horse farm; Camp Wisdom was two twisting lanes from Highway 67; Main Street was two lanes and the First National Bank had only two tellers. Every economic indicator said Duncanville was going to grow, and grow it did.

In 1967, a map from the Texas Highway Department was published that had a “red line” that went through the northern section of Duncanville. Interstate 20 was in the planning stages and construction was soon to change the entire trajectory of the town. After several public hearings, the route was set and most of the Fair North Shopping Center was consumed as the right of way. It was evident to Wes that the growth of that center was stymied, which required the moving of many businesses, including the Ben Franklin five and dime store.

Ben Franklin Moves to Main Street

Historic photo Ben Franklin
Historic photo

In 1969, a vacancy on Main Street became available. It was an old Patton & Hood’s Grocery store, and the Jespersens purchased the building through an auction. Ben Franklin moved to its current location at 302 North Main Street and has expanded several times due to the growing business needs. The first major expansion was in 1972 when the restaurant property next door was purchased to add an additional 3,000 sq. feet. The five-and-dime store continued to be a thriving family-owned business and became a hallmark in the city’s downtown district.

In the beginning, almost all Ben Franklin stores were individually or corporately owned by the operators. The former parent company, Ben Franklin Retail Store Incorporated, sold a franchise to the owner and agreed to furnish various programs, such as merchandising methods, wholesaler access and leasing help, if needed. The stores have their own individual operating status and their only connection is the use of the Ben Franklin franchise system and business friendships.

Ben Franklin Corporate

The parent company of Ben Franklin changed ownerships several times and ultimately filed for bankruptcy in 1996. Wes Jespersen actually broke away from using the corporation as a wholesale distributor in the early 1970s, and the demise of the parent company had no impact on local business operations. At one point, there were actually two Ben Franklin stores in Duncanville but under different ownership.

Ben Franklin Apothecary
Pharmacist Dan Jespersen courtesy photo

In 1980, a full-line pharmacy was added in the back corner of the facility to serve the Duncanville community. The space was rented and operated by Wes and Ann’s oldest son, Dan Jespersen. He was a graduate of Duncanville High School and recently completed pharmacy school from the University of Nebraska. Dan continued the family heritage of running the store by bringing his expertise back to his hometown. Upon the opening of the pharmacy, the word “Apothecary” was added to the business name. The addition of the pharmacy and Dan’s commitment to personal patient care contributed to healthy business growth over the years. He was recognized many times in regional “Reader’s Choice Awards” for the Best Pharmacist throughout his career.

Kitchens Deli Opens in 1995

In the 1920s, every drugstore had a soda fountain. It was common for small-town residents and big-city dwellers to enjoy carbonated beverages at local soda fountains and ice cream saloons. Soda “jerks” would have their recipe manual memorized and would be ready to serve up all sorts of popular drinks or remedies. The golden age of soda fountains continued until the 1950s and was thought to be a thing of the past. However, in 1995 Ben Franklin Apothecary further expanded the business and added onto the nostalgic atmosphere of their store. The addition of “Kitchens Deli” brought an old-fashioned soda fountain and deli to the business establishment. Over the years, the deli became a regular lunch spot for the community, and is well known for specialty sandwiches, jumbo baked potatoes, and its wide variety of desserts.

In 1999, Dan Jespersen purchased the entire business from his father and immediately began a complete remodel of the building. Now a staple landmark of the city’s Downtown District, a clock tower was added to the front of the store and the outside of the building was redone to improve the overall atmospherics. The remodel also helped improve access for customers from Main Street, enhanced the layout, made shopping easier, and improved the overall impression of the area.

Ribbon cutting for 2001 Renovations

The entire city turned out when the renovations were completed in 2001, and celebrated with a ribbon cutting and events commemorating the continued success and expansion of the family-owned business. Over the years, the store has strived to be actively involved with several projects to improve the Downtown Duncanville district. Steve Martin, President of the Duncanville Chamber of Commerce, recently noted that Ben Franklin Apothecary has been the anchor for Main Street revitalization initiatives.

Janice Jespersen helping at Ben Franklin
Janice Jespersen courtesy photo

The family heritage continued for many years as several extended family members worked at the family business at one time or another. At moments in the history of the organization, customers could have easily seen three generations of family members serving customers. Ben Franklin Apothecary won the Family Values Award from the Institute for Family Business at Baylor University in 2015. This award recognizes outstanding family firms who demonstrate a commitment to serve their community, industry and employees.

Ben Franklin Receives National Recognition

The store has also had its share of many other historic milestones and national recognitions. In 2015, the hometown store was recognized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as one of their Top 100 Small Businesses in America and received the Blue Ribbon Small Business Awards®, a program that recognizes companies for their success and innovation and for their contributions to economic growth and free enterprise. During its 50th anniversary celebration in 2014, the Texas Historical Commission (THC) recognized Ben Franklin Apothecary as a Texas Treasure Business Award winner, which pays tribute to businesses that have provided employment opportunities and support to the state’s economy for 50 years or more.

“From our research, we believe that this is the last Ben Franklin store in Texas. People have come from all over the state and beyond to take a trip back to the good ole days,” Dan Jespersen said.

Countdown to Closing

The days to visit the Duncanville landmark are now numbered. Community members, patrons of the business, and staff members share so many memories with the Jespersen family. Memories include visits to the candy counter, back to school bags, enjoying a Dublin Dr. Pepper at the soda fountain, Elvis impersonators singing in the deli, getting a flu shot, perusing the popular toy section, finding personalized Christmas ornaments, pictures with Santa, fabric, and prescriptions. While the era of five-and-dime variety stores came and went long ago as the age of superstores took over, Ben Franklin Apothecary continued to adapt and flourish for nearly 60 years.

Ben Franklin building
Ben Franklin courtesy photo

It’s time to wish Dan and Janice Jespersen a happy retirement, and to thank them—and all the staff members who ever worked there-for creating such lasting memories for the community. The pharmacy’s last day of operation was July 10, while the general store, Kitchens Deli, and the quilt shop will remain open until around August 31, (depending on remaining inventory).

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Jo Ann Holt
Jo Ann Holt is an award-winning journalist with 40+ years of experience as a writer and editor. She loves live performances, from country music concerts to Broadway musicals to community theatre productions. Holt also enjoys art and cultural festivals, and good food and wine. She’s toured Amsterdam, London, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, and various cities in Mexico but looks forward to visiting even more countries. She has traveled by boat, plane, and train, but especially likes taking long road trips across the U.S. with her husband, retired history professor Durhl Caussey. They enjoy meeting friendly people, learning about different cultures, and visiting historic sites wherever they go.