Friday, September 25, 2009

New Enterprises in Franklin

(News-Herald, September 24) I took a quick trip through down town Franklin last weekend to get a peek at some of the new projects there.
First I made a stop at the Liberty Galleria. The newly refurbished space on Liberty Street has a small but interesting assortment of goodies. Chocolate from Foxburg, toys from Cochranton. Some pet stuff. A great assortment of heat-rendering ingredients for people who like to make food that bites back. And all the way in back a freezer loaded with baklava.
Most intriguing is a toy that is part building block and part marble track. The possibilities seem far more intriguing than the name (Block N Roll), and I was surprised to see that it’s produced by a toy company headquartered on Third Street in Franklin. I’ll do some research and get back to you on that one.
The Galleria also includes glass stuff, assorted jewelry, pet goodies, and a lot of empty air. There’s plenty of space left for fledgling entrepreneurs (if I had money to invest in inventory, I’d set up the Venangoland authors bookstore). And they’ve done a nice job of rescuing the building and turning it into something than any sort of business could happily locate into.
But I was just passing through the Galleria as an appetizer to the main course; Sandy Baker had agreed to give me a peek inside the old Franklin Club.
The club was originally called the Nursery Club; the actual organization dates back to the late 1870’s. But the Nursery Club didn’t buy its clubhouse until a decade later. That structure, previously a private home, was purchased for $8,000. Adding a ballroom and expanding some other facilities cost another six grand. Costs have gone up a tad during the 120 years the club has perched there.
The “Nursery of Great Men” slogan had caught on for a while in Franklin; it’s actual origin was Erie politician Morrow B. Lowry, who was trying to make fun of us. We took the line and ran with it, aggressively mocking him right back.
But eventually the attraction of the odd motto faded (as a school sports nickname, “Fighting Nurserymen” raises a variety of disturbing images). Eventually Franklin athletes became Knights, and the Nursery Club became the Franklin Club.
The Bakers have been busy inside the old building, though long-time club fans will not be alarmed by what they find. The first and second floors are newly recarpeted and wallpapered. The ballroom doesn’t get new wallpaper (thereby preserving what may have been the single ugliest feature of the club), but it is getting a reproduction tin ceiling. Most of the bars are being rebuilt. If you never spent much time in the club, things will seem largely unchanged when you walk in. It still gives an atmosphere of muted elegance and accessible class.
The biggest changes, ironically, are in the area that most local folks never saw—the exclusive basement rooms. This was the members-only bar and restaurant that ordinary civilians never got to see.
Now it will be McGinnis’s, an Irish pub. Basically, a three-room affair. One room will be the actual bar, one a genteel sitting-in-leather-chairs area, and the old restaurant will now house tables, bookcases, and a private corner in the back. The old carpet has been replaced with hardwood floor, the old ceiling with more reproduction tin ceiling. It is hard to imagine a more warm and inviting space. I don’t drink, but the picture of sitting in such a pleasant cave with a book and some good company—well, maybe I can just buy a glass of something and let it sit there for ambience.
For the pub project, the Baker’s have enlisted a co-founder of the popular Molly Brannigans pub chain, and they’ve hired their key personnel for the whole operation (I’m not sure what to call it now—it’s not a “club” any more, but “restaurant/pub/event center” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue).
The new name will be The Commons at Franklin (there’s a website). The bowling alley is still there, though not up and running just yet. The men’s room halfway down the steps to the bar is going to be a ladies room. A couple of wall displays will preserve and honor some of the Club’s early history.
I know many people have wondered what is happening, what we’re going to end up with. It appears that we’re going to get the return of an honorable old Franklin landmark, hopefully better managed and more accessible to the general public.

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