There was a time, before Walmart, before shopping malls, before the Internet, when Americans did most of their shopping at their local five and dime. In fact, Walmart’s founder, Sam Walton, got his start owning and operating a Ben Franklin store. Then he bought another one, and another one, until he had fifteen Ben Franklin stores. After that, he opened a Walmart and went on from there.
One of the charms of Mineral Point is that we still have a Ben Franklin store — one of the handful of small town variety stores that remain. The longevity of our Ben Franklin is a testament to the resilience and fortitude of Mary Bossert, who closed on the sale of the Ben Franklin just today and retires this week.
Mary and her late husband, Phil, bought the Ben Franklin in 1958. Before moving to Mineral Point, the Bosserts owned a Ben Franklin in Watertown, Wisconsin, but competition was fierce there with a nearby Kresge’s and a Woolworths.
From the outset, Phil was very active in the community and promoted the town whenever he could. When asked by The Cap Times in September 1963, “What might contribute to the economic growth of the Mineral Point area?” Phil had this to say:
Over the years, with Phil at the helm, and Mary helping out in the store as she could while raising their young children, the Ben Franklin expanded into an adjacent building. In the 70’s and early 80’s the Bosserts added a Montgomery Ward store into the operation. The Ben Franklin thrived as did the Bossert family, shown below with their sons Eddie, Rob, and baby daughter Sandy.
Phil served as President of the Chamber of Commerce for many terms, was a member of the Lions club, the American Legion, and was instrumental in the formation of the Mineral Point Historic Run on the 4th of July, which has been ongoing for 33 years. Mike Mitchell recalls, “Phil was everybody’s friend. He was involved in everything in town. I seldom saw him without a smile on his face.”
Mary remains grateful for the tremendous community support that helped her get through that time. Mike Mitchell states, “She never complained that Phil was taken from her at such a young age. She ran that store with a smile on her face.” Mary’s daughter Sandy describes her mom as “so brave to take over my dad’s dream, which he left her by no choice 30 years ago this month. Our Angel, my dad, always led her in the right direction. She managed to stay healthy, raise my brothers and myself, run the store and create a life.”
For the past 30 years, Mary Thomas has worked side by side with Mary Bossert to maintain the store as a reliable place to go when you need just about anything. A full list of the merchandise would be nearly impossible. It’s the go-to place for school projects, stocking stuffers, crafts, and more. For Mike Mitchell, “The store itself is a time warp that brings me back to my youth.” (Mike maintains his own time warp up the street.)
Visitors are enchanted by the fact that Mineral Point has a Ben Franklin. Mary Thomas said, “If we had a dime for every person who said, ‘I can’t believe you have a Ben Franklin’ then Mary [Bossert] could have retired a few years earlier.”
We all owe Mary Bossert a special debt of gratitute for keeping it going, six days a week, for fifty-five years.
Lucky for us, the new owner will continue to maintain the store as a Ben Franklin, with Mary Thomas as manager. There may be some changes along the way, but the name Ben Franklin will remain. In fact, Mary Bossert will be working there for just a little while longer during the transition.
Join the Bossert family as they celebrate Mary’s accomplishments and retirement on Saturday, November 1st at Tony’s Tap from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. What better way to celebrate local treasures night than to toast Mary Bossert.
– Contributed by the Hays with special help from Mary’s daughter, Sandy Bossert Andres and Mike Mitchell