Anchoring the corner of First Street and Broadway in beautiful downtown Fort Myers, FL is a gift shop called The Franklin Shops, a unique cooperative that offers a platform for local artisans to sell their products reach along the city’s lively River District.
The historical building was constructed in 1937 for the Franklin Hardware Store. The architecture was particularly unique for the time, as it was one of the very few art deco influence buildings within the Historic District. Most notable is the use of vitrolite (Carrara Glass) on the front façade, which characterizes the elegant store front. The hardware store remained until the 1960’s, at which time it became home to the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store.
Today’s two-story location has products from more than 100 makers ranging from jewelry and fashion to exclusive works of art, home décor and furnishings, beauty, general gifts, and outstanding gourmet cuisine.
Average more than 200,000 shoppers annually, The Franklin Shops is the top destination for shoppers in the River District.
It is owned by Rene Miville, a resident of nearby Captiva Island, who is also an artist photographer and stock trader with a portfolio of properties in the vacation rental business. “The Franklin Shops is a unique, unexpected investment that is very near and dear to me now,” Miville said.
He purchased the property in 2002 after being approached by a recent college graduate who wanted to rent the building with the idea of copying a similar cooperative in Texas, where she had gone to school.
“She was looking for investors, and we did so,” he explained. Eventually, Miville took over property and along with his wife and mother, whom Miville explained “jumped in and made sure the place would be vibrant and exceptional. It didn’t take much to keep it that way with all of the local community support and artisans in the downtown river front.”
The store’s calendar is filled with musical and fine arts performances, The Franklin Shops offer a platform for local artists and contribute to the lively and stimulating flair shoppers experience downtown which “all creates an inspirited and exciting retail experience,” Miville said. “Less predictable, more fun, and definitely a place for discoveries.”
At the same time, The Franklin Shops offer the solution for makers to run a business without dealing with immense overhead costs.
When asked about the key elements that make his store successful, Miville offered, “An eclectic sales force, inspiring, decorative displays, music and art events. We have an excellent sound system playing only the most high quality music. If customers are not moving to the song, it’s the wrong song.”
As for live performances, shoppers might be treated to excotic sword dancers one weekend, hear country ballads and jazz another time, or even the local high school chorus.
Hiring the right staff is also a key to the company’s success, and Miville said, “Make sure whoever you hire is smarter than you, and that the sales force has personality. Keep the place looking sharp. Happy karma is everything!”