Saturday, May 17, 2008

Five and dime

The old O'Connor Drug Store/Ben Franklin Story/Goodwill location on Franklin Avenue in 2005

Some Flint memories from Rich Frost, Northern High School '72, now living in Avoca, Michigan:

I have some great memories of living on the east side in the '60s and '70s. The Franklin and Utah Street area where I lived was definitely working class, and there was a sense of community that you don't find in urban areas these days. You could sleep with the doors unlocked and your neighbors looked out for you. The neighbor across the street, for example, would mow our lawn on hot summer afternoons, and my mom would bake an extra cake or a pie for our neighbors to show her appreciation for all their help.

One of the great things about living on the east side was going to O'Connor's Drug Store and the Ben Franklin. I can close my eyes and still see the TV tube testing machine next to two pay phones to the right of the door as you walked in the front entrance of the drug store. (Yup, TVs once had tubes
and you needed a place to test the ones that went bad; O'Connor's was the place to go to test them.) If I walked through the front door and turned left, there was the counter that had the peanuts and cashews that they kept warm under a light bulb. I can't tell you how many times I purchased a ten cent bag of cashews from the O'Connor Drug store, usually on the same day that I purchased the next week's TV Guide at a bargain at just 12 cents an issue. I was surprised by an announcement one week that they were forced to do something that they didn't want to do — raise the price to a whopping 15 cents. Imagine a magazine feeling bad about having to tell their customers that they are raising the price of their magazine by three cents...that wouldn't happen today, would it?

If you had to pay your Michigan Bell telephone bill or your Consumer's Power bill, all you had to do was walk to the back of the store and the people at O'Connor's were happy to serve you. If you had to wait in line, you could always check out their great selection of paperback books and magazines that was near the bill-paying window.

Now, if you couldn't find what you were looking for at O'Connor's, there was always the Ben Franklin store next door. Naturally, the bins of candy were the first stop for any kid — chocolate covered peanuts and raisins, orange jells, those pink spearmint discs, jawbreakers, red and black licorice. Everything had to be weighed and priced before you took it to the counter to get rung up. Imagine being a kid and going to the Ben Franklin store and coming home with a twenty-five cent bag of chocolate covered peanuts. Those were the days.

And if it wasn't candy you were after, there was that great section in the back with toys! One side was filled with the "guy stuff" like balls and model airplane and car kits, and the other side had all of the "girl stuff" like dolls, doll accessories and toy dishes.

Another unique thing about Ben Franklin was that it was the only place where they sold the hits of the day by no-name, sound-alike artists that nobody ever heard from. The company was called "Hit Records" and they sold 45 rpm's with a black label. Each record was a two-sided hit and the sound-alike artists did the best job that they could to sound like the original. At just 39 cents a record, it was a bargain.


  1. There used to be a Ben Franklin on Flushing near Underhill Pharmacy and King Arthur's Pasties. Now there was a shopping destination!

  2. I was trying to remember where that was - I knew we used to go to one and that it was not on the East Side! Wasn't there also a store in that plaza that sold fabric? You could park out back and enter from there, too. The store itself was in the basement and at the top of the stairs there was a table where kids could sit and read (presumably since they'd be bored rummaging through fabric with their older siblings and mom...).

  3. O'Connor's Drug Store was the first place I practiced Pharmacy after passing the State Board in 1957. I left to get more schooling in 1958. Kent Brenholtz and Burt (make that Mr) O'Connor took me on and really taught me about the day-to-day pharmacy business. We filled over 100 prescriptions a day and there was never anyone more committed to seeing that the customer was treated fairly than Mr. O'Connor. Rich, I recall getting TV tubes for customers out of that tube testing cabinet and I ate too many of those peanuts too. I can't tell you how many water bills I collected for the city. Thanks for jarring those good memories.

  4. My Grandfather, then My Dad owned the Ben Franklin's here for almost 40 years. It was my Saturday job to restock the candy bins when I was 9 years old.

    1. I just purchased from what I was told your old store's wate and fate fortune scale. I would love to find out anymore history regarding it.

  5. Sure do miss the writings of Rich Frost, who passed away in 2016 at the age of 62. Gone way too soon. He loved Flint, and loved telling stories of growing up in his, and my, hometown. Like Rich, I grew up in Flint and had the honor to work with Rich in radio at WTAC in the mid 80s. In 1992 I moved to Georgia, but thanks to the internet, Rich and I met every Friday night on line to play Scrabble and talk about life. I miss those games, those talks, and most of all, that friendship. It's nice to be able to reread his writings.


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at