In the span of a few blocks, shoppers browsing downtown Franklin businesses can go from picking up home decor made from reclaimed barn wood to finding one-of-a-kind fashions to sampling fluffy buttermilk biscuits and scratch-made teas.
They can sample craft wines and beers, or work through their stress at the city’s newest yoga studio.
“We have something here in Franklin that is very unique because it is authentic and not manufactured,” said Janice Bullman, president of the Franklin Chamber of Commerce. “I used to hear people say ‘Someday, Franklin will be a destination.’ It is a destination.”
Downtown Franklin has become a regional hub for the unique, antique and locally-crafted. New businesses are opening every week, and open storefronts are at a premium. The courthouse square and adjacent streets are filled with bistros and boutiques.
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More than a decade’s worth of revitalization efforts — façade improvements, historical renovations by Franklin Heritage and improved sidewalks, lighting and roadwork — have made the area a desirable place not just for shoppers, but for business owners as well.
“People always say that I couldn’t have picked a more perfect spot,” said Tracy Bohler, owner of Farm Girl Mercantile, which opened in late September on Jefferson Street. “Customers come in from Zionsville, Noblesville, all over. They always say, ‘We don’t have this where we live.'”
Franklin’s downtown square has been the focal point of redevelopment in the city for many years. Projects like the refurbishment of the Historic Artcraft Theatre helped attract attention from the Indianapolis area, and with businesses such as the Willard, the Grill Bar and Benjamin’s Coffeehouse serving as an anchor, slowly new businesses have moved into renovated storefronts.
Shops such as Anna’s Style Boutique and Brick Street Boutique offer unique styles and apparel that people won’t find anywhere else.
A façade renovation project gave entire blocks a fresh look while maintaining the historic architectural charm. Large events, such as the weekly summer farmers market and Smoke on the Square, bring hundreds of people to the city.
All have contributed to an explosive increase in shops and restaurants downtown.
Businesses such as Farm Girl Mercantile, New Beginning’s Bridal & Formal Wear and comfort food eatery Bougie Biscuit have opened in the past months. Peace Through Yoga opens their Franklin studio on Saturday.
Two existing downtown businesses, Middle Davids Artisan Candles and byTavi, which sells apparel and accessories to help fight human trafficking, moved into sleek new buildings.
Demand for downtown space is outpacing what is available, said Krista Linke, director of community development for Franklin.
“We have maybe two or three spaces vacant right now. We’re constantly getting requests for people looking for space, and even the buildings that are for sale have offers pending. There’s not a lot of openings — maybe a small tenant space here or there,” she said.
Mindi Epstein was lucky to find an opening for her Franklin location of Peace Through Yoga. The studio will be situated in the vacant front space attached to Richard’s Brick Oven Pizza. Her aim is to start classes not just on yoga, but meditation and lifestyle classes to traditionally under-served communities.
“We meet you where you are,” she said. “Physically, spiritually and geographically. It fits our mission to come to a thriving my small community.”
Epstein was driving through Franklin earlier this year, she noted the city’s energy and the aesthetic appeal downtown presented.
She owns Peace Through Yoga studios in Zionsville, Danville and Speedway, and felt that Franklin would be an excellent place for the next location.
“I kind of stumbled into it,” she said. “I was in the area with a friend. We were driving around enjoying a nice day. I hadn’t been in Franklin for years. The renovation has been very apparent. It has kind of a hip vibe.”
McKenzie Newby founded New Beginning’s Bridal & Formal Wear earlier in 2017. The shop offers bridal dresses and accessories, as well as other formal dresses and tuxedo rentals, she said.
As she searched for a location for the store, she had different requirements for size and layout. But one steadfast belief was that it had to be downtown, Newby said.
“When we started talking about this, my vision always was that a bridal boutique goes in a downtown. You want that small, hometown feel, unique brick-and-mortar place with a personable touch. That’s what downtown brings,” she said. “That’s what I want this to be.
Newby is working to increase her stock and slowly add more services, such as alterations. Her goal is to have a line of dresses exclusive to New Beginning’s, she said.
“It’s trying to build everything up and get it going, a little bit at a time,” she said.
Franklin’s niche-market antique stores are drawing customers from outside Indiana, said Danny Causey, director of Madison Street Salvage. The shop is a branch of Franklin Heritage, supporting its preservation efforts throughout Franklin.
Madison Street Salvage sells in-demand architectural elements and recycled items from older homes in the area. Most of the merchandise — everything from doors, windows, salvaged lumber, piping, trim, and every kind of furniture, as well as a variety of early, vintage and antique household goods — is donated.
Some clients are calling Franklin “the new Nashville” because of its retail attractions, he said.
That atmosphere is what attracted Bohler to set up Farm Girl Mercantile. When byTavi announced that they were moving to a new location on the courthouse square, Bohler checked into their old space.
Within hours of messaging byTavi officials, she had agreed to purchase the store.
“It all happened boom-boom-boom. I told my husband we had to jump on it, because things here go so fast,” she said.
The store opened in late September. Bohler has four vendors that are selling in the space, with different styles of upcycled home decor, homey T-shirts and rusty antiques from working farms that can double as accent pieces.
Everything is tied together by a sense of rural chic, a tribute to Bohler’s agricultural heritage.
“I’m a farm girl at heart. My dad is a fifth-generation farmer up in Kokomo, and he still farms,” she said.
Farm Girl Mercantile sits right in the middle of the “vintage district,” a grouping of funky shops that cater to the Pinterest crowd. Stores such as Salvage Sisters, Thanks for the Thyme and Blackbird Nest all offer different spins on antiques and upcycled items, showcasing the creativity of local artisans.
When Jennifer McAlpin-Shireman founded Vintage Whimsey in 2013, she picked a spot on East Jefferson Street among other vintage stores. She has been involved in vintage re-sale since the ’90s, and has watched the popular decorating style take off as a major aesthetic in the new century.
The store specializes in vintage furniture, clothing and jewelry, decorations and early or antique household goods, and moved into a larger space at 112 W. Jefferson St., closer to the courthouse square, earlier this year.
“Franklin has changed a lot in the last four to five years,” she said. “I think a lot of people realize they can get the designer look for a fraction of the cost. People from the area who are used to shopping in Zionsville or Carmel can get some things that are a fraction of the cost you’d spend (on the north side).”
— Reporter Anna Herkamp also contributed to this story.