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Lutz purchases Bemidji Ben Franklin

John Lutz, the new owner of the Bemidji Ben Franklin store, stands in the fabric section of the store. Lutz has owned Ben Franklin in Park Rapids since 1996. (Pioneer Photo/Laurie Swenson)

Bemidji's Ben Franklin has a new owner, one who is very familiar with the brand.

John Lutz, who also owns the Ben Franklin store in Park Rapids, bought his first Ben Franklin in 1976 in Carthage, N.Y., and went on to own Ben Franklin stores in Alexandria Bay, N.Y., and Rome, N.Y.

He purchased the Park Rapids store in 1996. He also previously owned Ben Franklins in Wadena, Walker and Detroit Lakes.

Lutz bought the Bemidji store Monday from Charles and Joan Randle of Roseau. Lutz' daughter Amanda Thomas will be in charge of the store. She is moving from Fargo to Bemidji with her husband, Rob.

Lutz lives in Park Rapids with his wife, Roberta, and daughter Lydia. His daughter Victoria is a student at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks and his daughter Andrea lives in Fargo.

He said Ben Franklin is a nostalgic brand that has shifted from variety stores to specializing more in arts and crafts, fabrics and hobby supplies, areas in which a small store can provide a superior level of service.

"It's just a nostalgic thing for people my age who grew up in the '50s and '60s," he said, "but it's no longer a dime store."

Lutz said he plans to revitalize the Bemidji store, cutting down on inventory in some areas and expanding others such as scrapbooking, beadwork, fabric and quilting, hobbies, fine art supplies and the frame shop.

"Move in the old, bring in the new," he said, noting that there will be discounts on some items that will not restocked.

Lutz, who grew up in Schenectady, N.Y., has been involved in retail stores as long as he can remember.

"I grew up in my father's grocery store," he said, adding that his father would ring a bell to call for his help when he'd get too many customers.