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Ben Franklin's sales booming as people embrace arts and crafts during pandemic

Matthew Lane • May 23, 2020 at 11:00 AM

KINGSPORT — During the month of May, Ben Franklin Crafts has seen a huge spike in sales of a number of product lines including fabric, paint, yarn and other crafting supplies.

Puzzle sales alone jumped more than 170%.

With large swaths of the population quarantined at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, including every kid in America, people needed something to do to pass the time and keep their hands busy.

Apparently arts and crafts filled that need quite nicely.

“We’re selling a lot of anything people can do at home: puzzles, games, yarn and fabric. Our paint counter was wiped out of all of our two-ounce paint. It goes out the door as soon as we get it in,” said Michael Omland, manager of the Kingsport-based store. “We had one lady call and buy every single Thomas Kinkade puzzle we had ... like 60 puzzles.”

Unlike Hobby Lobby (which shut down) and Michael’s (which offered curbside service), Ben Franklin Crafts did not close in March. It was deemed “essential” since the family-owned business offered more than just crafting supplies. On its shelves were ample amounts of food and drink, batteries, first aid supplies and medicine.

The store remained stocked with PPE (personal protective equipment), such as masks, hand sanitizer, toilet paper and paper towels. Omland said business was fairly slow in the beginning days of the shutdown since many people assumed Ben Franklin was shuttered like most other businesses.

However, once word got out, foot traffic increased significantly and online ordering — typically a small fraction of the business — went up 500%.

“We’ve seen a tremendous increase in our craft department, art supplies ... fabric and sewing notions, though a lot of that is people making masks. People are just stuck at home looking for things to do,” Omland said. “We’re actually having a little trouble keeping up with the demand because it’s starting to open up right now.”

This month, Omland said, the business saw a 26% increase in crafting supply sales, 40% in yarn, 52% in sewing notions, 120% in art supplies and a whopping 620% in fabric sales.

Again, that’s attributed to many folks making masks.

“We’ve sold over 20,000 yards of elastic and had to search and hunt it down, buying it 5,000 yards at a time,” Omland said. “We slow down after Memorial Day, and our busiest time of the year is November and December. Last week felt like Black Friday.”

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