about joynes ben franklin

We’ve been a family-owned and operated business serving the local community and guests to our wonderful little harbor town since 1941 and we’re so happy that you’re here. Many people tell us that they haven’t seen a Ben Franklin around since they were growing up. We’re few and far between and certain that you’ve never been to one like ours! Read on to learn more about our story.

Photo provided by Cook County News Herald

The Beginning

The year was 1941. Howard & Rosemary Joynes had just recently graduated from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, and were newly married. They moved back to Howard’s hometown of Grand Marais, MN, and began leasing the P.E. Alm general store in the heart of downtown. They officially opened on Sunday, December 7, 1941 (Pearl Harbor Day) as Joynes Federated Store. According to the local news paper, they “announced plans for a complete modernization of the building, including a full new set of fixtures, shelving, display counters and show windows.”  

New Building

Howard & Rosemary’s hard work and business-savvy proved to be successful and by the 1950s, they realized that they had outgrown the small, red brick building they started out in. Construction began on a new building, which is where we are currently located today on Wisconsin Street, just across 1st Ave W. from the original site. They had the tan-colored bricks shipped in from Tennessee and Howard recalls hauling them out of the freight yards in Duluth himself and unloading them onto the building site in town – 3 truckloads full! By 1954, construction was finished on the new building, and it was then officially named “Joynes Dept. Store and Ben Franklin.” Joynes became part of the family of five-and-dime stores known in small towns throughout the nation. The old building became “The Bargain Barn,” selling close-out merchandise from the new store until 1981, when it was torn down and became the Joynes parking lot.

Photo provided by Cook County Historical Society

Joynes Family

Both Rosemary and Howard remained active in their business until they passed away, in 1995 and 2012, respectively. Shortly after Howard’s passing, their grandson, Jim, took over ownership of the store with his wife, Shanie. It was a serious undertaking as they each had their own careers in Duluth at the time, but they felt they owed it to the next generation to see if they might have a future in continuing the family business. When it became clear that the kids’ futures were headed in other directions, Jim & Shanie began to explore the prospect of a transition. For a tried and true, successful business located on main street, overlooking Grand Marais harbor, it wasn’t hard for them to find interested buyers. But they felt an enormous burden and obligation to uphold the family’s history and to preserve Grand Marais’ small-town-charm.

Then a spark ignited, literally. In the Spring of 2020, our town experienced a tragic fire. It destroyed three businesses, forever changing the landscape of the downtown business district, and forever changing the three business-owners’ lives. In the aftermath, a group representing many voices began meeting about redevelopment. The adjacent Joynes parking lot became part of the discussion. Ultimately, so did the Ben Franklin building. During these meetings, I kept hearing one voice stand out. This voice was optimistic, energetic, and committed to getting his business rebuilt and back up and running. His name was Tyler Dean, owner of White Pine North. Tyler grew up in Grand Marais, he and his wife Jessica are raising their family here, and they understand the challenges local business face. To make a really long story short, one day I asked him why he wouldn't just buy my business. Last Spring, Tyler joined our team as general manager. This arrangement paved a path toward possible transition. More importantly, it gave both of us the time needed to conduct due diligence, to make sure we had a perfect fit. I think it is.

On December 7, 2021, the Joynes family celebrated 80 years of owning and running their family business!

Dean Family

To back it up a bit, Tyler’s family moved to Grand Marais when he was 6 months old, so he considers the north shore “home.” He was a typical small-town boy, enjoying football, baseball & basketball, and has many memories growing up riding his bike around town, scrounging up change to be able to get a skizzle at World’s Best Donuts. He had a hard work ethic and a natural interest in business since he was a little boy, mowing lawns in the summer for neighbors and friends. He worked as a server at Naniboujou Lodge during his high school years, but after graduating, life took him to Pismo Beach, California, where he worked for a non-profit. After a number of years on the west coast, life took him even further, across an ocean to Switzerland.

Meanwhile, Jessica grew up in quite a different setting, as the child of Korean immigrants, in the suburbs of New York on Long Island. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, majoring in Biological Basis of Behavior, and went on after that to Switzerland to work in the same non-profit that Tyler did. You can guess how the story went from there. In 2015, they had a dream wedding overlooking Lake Geneva in Switzerland. And in 2017, they returned to Grand Marais, where Tyler went back to working at the historic Naniboujou Lodge, this time, as a manager. 

In January of 2020, Tyler & Jessica embarked on a new venture together and bought White Pine North from longtime owners and family friends, Jim & Jackie Larsen. And in April of 2020 was when that fateful fire occurred. During the weeks and months of uncertainty following (2020 was like that for most of the world), Tyler worked tirelessly, with help and support from the Larsens and many other friends, making plans to rebuild. But with the increased cost of lumber during the pandemic, it just proved impossible. Jessica worked tirelessly in other ways, and their family grew with the addition of two precious boys within a little over two years. 

Photo by Laura Muus Photography

A New Beginning

But finally, on January 1, 2022, Tyler and Jessica Dean became the proud new owners of Joynes Ben Franklin! Their first year, they brought in the wildly popular Boundary Waters Coffee, which was started years ago by the Larsens at White Pine North. And along with it, they had a new coffee bar installed (probably the only one you will ever find in a Ben Franklin!), complete with old-fashioned candy that you can scoop yourself, just like the old days.They’ve also renovated the east wall by adding insulation and modernizing it, along with the front window displays, with all new fixtures and shelving. Sound familiar? But while the Deans are excited to bring in some fresh, new updates, they know that the strength of their business lies in the years of dedication and hard work that the entire Joynes family have poured into both their business and their community. And they are both honored and committed to build upon the legacy that the Joynes family has created.

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