Hester & Cook – A Store Full of Whimsy and Charm in This Magical Franklin Town

Main Street Franklin is blessed to have so many extraordinary local retail businesses. One of our favorite shops is Hester & Cook. Overflowing with whimsy and charm, their tablescapes, chandeliers, and paper products are exquisite for making a refined home while keeping joy and playfulness alive.

It’s the perfect shop to purchase unique finds for the kitchen and dining room. You’ll find everything from paper tabletop decor and dinnerware to fabulous cookbooks and party supplies. Hester & Cook makes holidays and special occasions even more special. But more importantly, their delightful products help make mealtime a priority by bringing family and friends together around the table.

Hester and Cook | Tablescape Downtown Lovely Franklin TN

We are going to share both the fun tale of how Hester & Cook got started and how they have perfected the art of gift-giving and entertaining, along with the fascinating backstory of the building they call home at 340A Main Street. So, grab a cozy seat and your favorite beverage because this is a thrilling piece of Franklin history. 

Robbie’s Ingenuity and Angie’s Creativity are a Match Made in Heaven

Hester & Cook | Robbie & Angie Hester Cook
Robbie & Angie Hester Cook

Hester & Cook‘s business began in 2005 in the basement of Robbie and Angie Hester Cook. It actually started when Robbie had the idea of crafting a vintage doorknob into a bottle stopper after receiving an 1870s door for an apartment renovation. It was missing a doorknob, so the door owner said there was a box of knobs in the back. While sitting around with friends over a glass of wine, Robbie picked up the doorknob and placed it on the bottle of wine. His innovative mind realized he could fashion a cool wine stopper out of it.

This moment of serendipity led to working together with Angie, something they both dreamed about. They took a leap of faith with their wine stopper idea and called their new business KnobStoppers. Within months, Angie and Robbie introduced their unique product to the wholesale market. 

From that repurposed idea, Hester & Cook rapidly grew into offering hand-crafted chandeliers and lighting from vintage flatware, teacups, and glass insulators, formerly used on the power and telegraph lines.

In addition, they love working with their customers using heirloom china and flatware to create chandeliers that honor their own family’s tradition. These chandelier beauties are on full display in their retail stores, and you can even catch a glimpse of one in Triple Crown Bakery’s tearoom.

Bringing Back the Art of Entertaining

Today, the company is best known for paper tabletop products created by their in-house design team. Their inventory includes beautiful paper placemats, table runners, table accents, napkins and place card holders, along with unique themed-party collections. You can also shop their playful line of stationery designed by incredible artists like Nashville native, Elizabeth Foster and Vicki Sawyer. Each carefully crafted piece is like showcasing a piece of art on your tables. 

You’ll discover their stunning tabletop collections – everything from celebratory and classic motifs to florals, fruits and other seasonal designs. The attention to detail in each collection is truly breathtaking. Hester & Cook’s paper products make it easy for anyone to layer and pull together the perfect tablescape with your existing dinnerware. 

Hester & Cook – a Nationwide Sensation!

Retail Director Kim Wardlow says, “Assortments of our products can be found at over three-thousand stores worldwide, but the full collection is only available on their website as well as their flagship store on White Bridge Road in Nashville and their Franklin, Tennessee store. We are excited to announce we will soon be offering our products at our newest location in Hillsboro Village!

“In addition to Hester & Cook’s own products, we also carry a wide variety of brands that fit both our ethos and our aesthetic. From House of Wards, serving pieces, and Barloga prints, we have hand-selected thoughtful items for every occasion. We also source antique items like silverplate pieces, china, milk glass, and vintage model airplane kits.”

Exquisite Tablescapes are Their Specialty

Dedra Roberson, Store Operations Manager for Hester & Cook

Because of the incredible work of Dedra Roberson, Store Operations Manager, and her team, the Franklin store will literally take your breath away. The expansive farm tables are overflowing with a plethora of lovely place settings, stacks of kitchen gadgets, and jars of miniature rolling pins that serve as recipe card holders. It’s a place where Martha Stewart and Ina Garten could spend hours perusing the tables and shelves as they shop for their next dinner party.

Hester & Cook | Tablescape | Lovely Franklin TN

One of our favorite little nooks in their Franklin store is their Maileg toy collection. This Danish design brand of children’s toys features adorably clothed mice in matchboxes and dollhouses. They delight children and adults alike. 

Bringing the Charm to Main Street Franklin

At Hester & Cook, they believe that there is always a reason to celebrate! When the company decided to open a second retail location here, the whole town of Franklin celebrated with them. In 2018, they opened their Franklin store and chose Main Street because of the history surrounding this town. 

Even though Franklin offers a small-town vibe, they understand it has an elevated level of style and sophistication. Because one of the company’s core values is “innovation honoring tradition,” they were inspired by the aesthetics of this Main Street building. From its show-stopping red door to its tin ceiling, it is the perfect setting to combine its rich tradition as a mercantile while showcasing the innovative products found at Hester & Cook.

Serving the Franklin Community with Grace and Elegance

In the near future, the Franklin store will be expanding upstairs to offer housewares, specialty foods, tabletop, and gourmet cooking utensils. This will extend their ability to teach the art and etiquette of being a proper hostess through events and a well-rounded housewares line.

When asked what they love most about Franklin, they said it’s “magical.” They love the friendliness and kindness of their customers. They support the incredible community of local artists and crafters. They also enjoy being a participant in all the events, parades, and festivals, especially the amazing Christmas tree lighting. They are proud to be a part of this town and historic Main Street. Kim says, “We exist to serve, and serving this community is an honor.”

Make sure you stop in and experience this special store for yourself. Add Hester & Cook to your shopping list as you prepare your Thanksgiving and Christmas tablescapes and every occasion in between. Be sure to check out the Hester & Cook website for easy online shopping.

Now, let’s take you back in time to when this historic Franklin building was a popular jewelry store.

A LONG HISTORY OF SELLING LOVELY WARES

Long before Hester & Cook’s beautiful housewares lined the walls of this building, the windows glittered with necklaces, rings, watches, glassware, and silver, enticing customers into Breese’s Jewelry Store.

Clarence C. Breese, photo credit: Joe Hendricks, Jr.

In 1906, Clarence Clyde Breese had no intentions of opening a jewelry store in sleepy, little Franklin, Tennessee. He had his sights set on an opportunity in Waco, Texas. Also known as “the Athens of Texas” due to its numerous educational institutions, Waco was experiencing great growth. By 1900, it boasted 163 factories, six banks, and a burgeoning population of 20,686, the sixth largest in the state at that time. Five years later, electric trolleys rumbled along its streets, and a road-paving project was underway. This bustling city was a prime spot for an entrepreneur like Clarence to set up shop.

Waco, Texas in 1906, courtesy of The Texas Collection, Baylor University¹

At that time, Clarence was already employed in the jewelry business in McMinnville, Tennessee where he lived with his wife, Katherine, and six-year-old daughter, Dorothy. He was one of those fortunate souls who had discovered his life’s passion at an early age. As a boy in Kentucky, he often planted himself in front of a local watchmaker’s shop window to observe the man tinkering. Young Clarence eventually gathered the nerve to go inside and ask for a job. His bravery paid off as he was hired to work before and after school. 

Over the years, he repaired watches at benches in several different cities, including Murfreesboro where he met and married Katherine. From there, the couple moved to McMinnville, and it was during their time there that Clarence decided to embark on a scouting trip to Waco.

A LAST-MINUTE DECISION SETS HIM ON A NEW PATH

Clarence’s itinerary changed as he passed through Nashville. A traveling salesman, or “drummer” as they were called in those days, approached him with some news: Eldred Beverly Cayce, Jr. was looking to sell his popular jewelry and silversmith shop in nearby Franklin to study medicine.

The photo below shows Eldred on the left with an employee in front of his store circa 1880. Notice the display of pocket watches in the window.

Courtesy of Dana C. Brooks, Bob Canaday, and Rick Warwick

It must have been quite the sales pitch because Clarence scrapped his plans to go to Texas and detoured to Franklin. But at first blush, he was less than impressed with what he saw. In 1906, Franklin was a farming town with a population of just more than 2,000–far from the Texas metropolis he’d originally been bound for. 

Looking east on Franklin’s Main Street circa 1900, courtesy of Rick Warwick

Franklin was lacking in other ways as well. While the streets of Waco’s business section were paved with vitrified brick, almost every road in Franklin was dirt or loose macadam. During the winter months when Clarence made his visit, the town was often a muddy mess. Though telephones had made their way into the area, the general use of electricity wasn’t yet widespread. Plans for the Interurban, an electric train that would connect Franklin to Nashville, were in the works, but many local merchants were worried it would bankrupt them by carrying their customer base away to the big city. 

Nonetheless, Clarence didn’t write off Franklin. It was the center of commerce for Williamson County with Main Street offering an array of grocery stores, pharmacies, law offices, and retail shops. Industries like Lillie Mills (a flour manufacturer), a tobacco factory, and lumber plants thrived here. A water tower had just been built next to the courthouse, and a spring system was underway to address the town’s issues with contaminated drinking water, which had caused frequent outbreaks of smallpox, cholera, and typhoid. Plus, the cost of living would be far cheaper here than in Waco. Maybe Franklin wasn’t such a bad place to land after all. 

Repairing the water line on Main Street in 1914, photo courtesy of Rick Warwick

BREESE BREEZES INTO FRANKLIN

After a second trip in February, Clarence pulled the proverbial trigger and bought Eldred Cayce’s jewelry store. This purchase didn’t yet put him in the present Hester & Cook building, but he was close—his new shop was on the same Main Street block. The original structure no longer stands, but it was situated where The Savory Spice Shop is now located. 

The photo below was taken in 1906 and shows Main Street as it looked when Clarence moved in. The jewelry store sits directly to the right of the large clock, which had served as an advertisement for the watchmaking aspect of Dr. Cayce’s business. You can also see the building where Hester & Cook operates today.

Main Street looking west in 1906, courtesy of Rick Warwick

Below is another view of the same Main Street block in 1906. This photo is looking east toward the square and appears to have been taken from the second-floor window of what is now the Hester & Cook building.

Main Street looking east in 1906, courtesy of Rick Warwick

Clarence aptly named his establishment “Breese’s Jewelry Store” and soon became the town’s go-to guy for all things sparkly. The photo below offers a 1908 view of his shop next to the large clock.

Main Street, 1908, courtesy of Rick Warwick

The following pictures provide rare, up-close glimpses of Clarence’s store in those early days.

Exterior of Breese’s Jewelry Store, courtesy of Rick Warwick

Notice the alterations made to the clock: Not only is the face now black, but it also bears the name of C.C. Breese.

Interior of Breese’s Jewelry Store, courtesy of Rick Warwick

JEWELRY, WATCHES, AND…EYEGLASSES? 

In the photo of E.B. Cayce shown earlier, you might have noticed a giant pair of spectacles hanging over the entrance of his jewelry store. In case you missed it, here’s that picture again:

Notice the eyeglasses above E.B. Cayce and his employee.

It might seem strange to see eyeglasses in a jewelry store today, but in the early 20th century, it was not uncommon for jewelers to include optometry offices in their shops. Their delicate instruments and expertise working with small items made jewelers the ideal candidates for eyewear fabrication and repair. 

Just as E.B. Cayce had done, Clarence offered this service in his jewelry store and was quite skilled in this area. In 1917, he was elected secretary of the Tennessee optometrist board. Four years later, in the summer of 1921, he purchased the optometry business of Dr. T.C. Willett in Clarksville, Tennessee and moved his family and jewelry shop there.  

Article from the Nashville Banner, June 26, 1921

THE BREESES ARE BACK IN TOWN

However, this relocation was short-lived, and in October 1922, the Breeses returned to Franklin. When they came back, Clarence’s former storefront near the public square was occupied, but he lucked out.

Advertisement from October 26, 1922 in The Review-Appeal

The Craig Lumber Company, which built many of the Craftsman bungalows in Franklin, was vacating its uptown office, only a few doors down from Breese’s original location. And so, Clarence hung his sign there, which is the building where Hester & Cook is now located. 

Main Street, 1920s, courtesy of Rick Warwick

We love this C.C. Breese’s funny advertisement below from The Review-Appeal on October 26, 1922.

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS AS A GROCERY STORE 

Hester & Cook’s building was constructed circa 1890 and served as a grocery store/hand-printing shop from late 1890s into the early 20th century. Below are two photos from its years as a grocery store owned by Hardy Owen.

Hardy Owen, second from right, courtesy of Rick Warwick

Though the pictures are undated, the Fels-Naptha sign in the photo below helps us get closer to the time period. The laundry soap was first introduced in 1894, so we know the photo was at least taken that year or later.

From left: Mr. Tucker, Joe Baugh, and Hardy Owen, courtesy of Rick Warwick

BREESE SELLS HIS STORE

This announcement is from Ed Howard and D.E. Grissom in The Review-Appeal, March 1946

In March 1946, Clarence was 74 years old and looking to downsize his life. He sold his jewelry store to Edward Rainey Howard and Dennis E. Grissom, who renamed it “The Franklin Jewelers.” However, to the townspeople’s great delight, Clarence retained his optometry business and kept a small office in the shop. 

FROM DIGGING GRAVES TO ENGRAVING SILVER

While Dennis Grissom had been a watch-repairman for the past 25 years, Edward Howard had been on a totally different trajectory: Instead of working with jewelry, he’d been preparing bodies for the grave.

Edward Howard, courtesy of Rick Warwick

Edward grew up in the tiny village of Thompson Station where his father, John E. Howard, Jr., ran a general store and dealt in grain and livestock. After attending Battle Ground Academy in Franklin, Edward went on to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in 1926 as a pre-med student. However, while in college, he got a side job with an undertaker and decided to follow that career path instead of becoming a doctor. 

He moved to Nashville and earned a diploma from the Gupton-Jones School of Embalming, the first regional embalming school to become an established institution. Its program placed a special emphasis on teaching southern funerary customs, as well as addressing the challenges created by the hot climate of the region. It continues to operate today in Decatur, Georgia. 

In 1930, Edward formed a partnership with Charles Padgett who’d been a funeral director with W.L. Bethurum in Franklin for a number of years. They operated Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home in Columbia, Tennessee. The firm was the first in the area to offer motorized hearses, ambulances, and air-conditioned facilities. The two men found great success in the undertaking business, averaging about 250 funerals a year. 

Edward Howard, courtesy of Rick Warwick

The photo above shows Charles leaning between two hearses, and Edward standing on the far right. The other men pictured are S.A. Patton and Frank F Sowell. The group is in front of the funeral home, which was located on South Garden Street. Oakes & Nichols has since moved to West Seventh Street in Columbia.

A SPONTANEOUS CAREER SHIFT

One day in 1946, Edward came home with a surprise announcement for his family: He’d bought a house and Breese’s Jewelry Store in nearby Franklin. When his wife, Louise, asked him why he’d done such a thing, his answer was simple: “Because you like pretty things!”

He and Louise moved with their three daughters into a home on Lewisburg Pike, and Edward quickly settled into his role as proprietor of The Franklin Jewelers. He may not have had any prior experience in the business, but he flourished in his new career. Edward loved people and was a big talker. He could often be found on a loveseat just inside the store’s entrance, chatting up his customers. 

Main Street, 1947, courtesy of Rick Warwick 

These photos show the exterior of The Franklin Jewelers in the 1940s. The sign says JEWELERS, ELGIN WATCHES and features a timepiece on the bottom. The Elgin National Watch Company was a popular brand that produced quality watches for reasonable prices from 1864 to 1964.

Another view of The Franklin Jewelers in the 1940s, courtesy of Rick Warwick

Edward operated the store until around 1958 when he went back into the insurance business, which he’d known while he was a funeral director. He became an agent for American Life and Gulf State Insurance, and his wife, Louise, stepped up to manage The Franklin Jewelers.

The Franklin Jewelers in color (behind the shoe sign), courtesy of Rick Warwick

THE END OF AN ERA

On September 8, 1959, Edward suffered a fatal heart attack while driving on Carter’s Creek Pike. He was only fifty years old. After Edward’s death, Louise continued to run the store until 1964 when Richard Sparkman bought the inventory and opened his own jewelry shop a few doors down.

Richard Sparkman, courtesy of Rick Warwick

This transaction marked the end of this building’s period as a jewelry shop, but the story doesn’t end there. A big change was on the horizon for this historic storefront!

BEN FRANKLIN MOVES IN

Meanwhile, next door to The Franklin Jewelers, the Ben Franklin 5-10 had been in full swing since 1934. The Ben Franklin 5-10 was a national chain of variety shops that offered everything from penny candy and toys to household knick-knacks and live turtles.

The Ben Franklin 5-10 where The Iron Gate now operates, courtesy of Rick Warwick

Aubrey M. Nugent was the original Franklin franchisee, but in 1945, Vergil R. Jenkins purchased the popular dime store. 

Vergil Roland Jenkins, courtesy of Rick Warwick

Ben Franklin variety stores were probably the first retail franchises in America. They started in 1927 while Sam Walton was a mere child and long before retail giant Walmart was ever a dream in his mind. When Mr. Sam, as he was affectionately called, opened his first retail store, it was a Ben Franklin. He and his brother Bud later owned 16 Ben Franklin franchises before opening Walton’s 5 & 10 in Bentonville. Later, the first Walmart opened in 1962 in Rogers, Arkansas.  

Kids explore the toy section at Jenkins’s Ben Franklin, courtesy of Rick Warwick

The Ben Franklin on Main Street held a special significance for locals as the Wisconsin franchise was named after America’s founding father Benjamin Franklin, just like the town of Franklin itself. The discount chain’s motto appreciated Ben’s thrifty nature. They used his popular saying, “A penny saved is a penny earned.”

Vergil rings up the Akin family in 1949, courtesy of Rick Warwick

Enjoy this vintage footage (below) of the Ben Franklin store from Franklin on Parade when the store was located in The Iron Gate building. You can read the backstory of this film here.

Business was booming for Vergil, so when Rose’s 5-10-25 closed across the street, he had the capital to make an unusual move. He opened another location in the storefront vacated by Rose’s and operated two Ben Franklins on Main Street. The photo below shows Rose’s 5-10-25 in 1948 before it was converted to a Ben Franklin 5-10. 

The Franklin Rodeo Parade passes in front of Rose’s. Courtesy of Rick Warwick

Around 1967, Vergil decided to consolidate the shops. He shut down the second location across the street but kept the original store and expanded next door into the former building of The Franklin Jewelers, which is today Hester & Cook. 

A FIRE CONSUMES EVERYTHING

The burned-out shell of the Ben Franklin 5-10 in 1979, courtesy of Rick Warwick

The Ben Franklin 5-10 eventually changed hands to Carrol Ash, and it was during his ownership that tragedy struck. Early Saturday morning on December 22, 1979, the store caught fire just before the Franklin firefighters were to have their annual Christmas breakfast.

1979 newspaper photo of the fire’s aftermath, courtesy of Rick Warwick

After burning less than two hours, the flames were contained by 6:30 a.m., but by then, the fire had gutted both of the Ben Franklin buildings. Investigators believed the blaze was accidental and started somewhere on the second floor. However, the damage to the store and its inventory was extensive, and the beloved shop never reopened. 

Coverage from The Tennessean, 1979

A SECOND CHANCE AFTER THE BLAZE

As devastating as the fire was, it wasn’t the end of the road for this building. In the years that followed, the space had a number of roles, including several stints as an art gallery and a shop called “Patchwork Palace” that sold collectibles, quilts, and gifts. 

The building during its time as Patchwork Palace, courtesy of Rick Warwick

Franklin’s Disney Connection

The storefront was even part of a movie set. Around 1984, Main Street served as a backdrop for the Disney film Love Leads the Way, the true story of a blind man, Morris Frank, who fought legal barriers to become one of the first Americans to use a seeing-eye dog.

These photographs were taken by Mark S. Lucas, Sr. from when the movie was shot in Franklin. The building, pictured with a striped awning, was dressed up to play the part of a 1927 clothing shop with period-specific dresses hanging in the window.

The Disney movie shared the incredible life of Morris Frank. He was born in Nashville and attended Vanderbilt University. He used to hire young men to serve as guides to help him get around but found them unreliable. In 1927, The Saturday Evening Post published an article by Dorothy Harrison Eustis. She was an American dog-trainer living in Switzerland who’d visited a German school where blinded World War I veterans were being trained to work with guide dogs.

Frank wrote Eustis a letter asking where he could get such a dog along with trainers who would work in the United States. She invited him to her dog-training school in Switzerland, called “Fortunate Fields.” He was paired with a German Shepard whom he renamed “Buddy” and the rest was history. Frank was able to gain independence, and on January 29, 1929, he opened The Seeing Eye in Nashville, becoming the first guide-dog school in the United States.

It’s a Wonderful Life Foundation

To sum up this beautiful story of both Hester & Cook and its intriguing building, we wanted to end with the foundation created by Robbie and Angie after their son, Will, was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2007. Thankfully, Will was successfully cured and Robbie and Angie were inspired to help other families going through that same experience. Together, they formed the Wonderful Life Foundation to serve families experiencing financial hardship in conjunction with life-threatening illnesses. Hester & Cook donates a portion of all their sales to the foundation as they are committed to supporting families with children affected by cancer and other serious conditions. Donations can be made directly to the foundation here

What a perfect name for the good work they do. We often feel like those of us who are blessed to live in Franklin are living an “It’s a Wonderful Life” experience. Please watch Robbie and Angie share their story about this incredibly important foundation. Next time you are in downtown Franklin, stop in Hester & Cook and browse their phenomenal store. While you’re there, remember this building’s incredible past as a grocery shop, jewelry store, and Ben Franklin. This storefront has led several lives, but through all the changes, it’s remained a space that serves the needs of Franklin’s residents. Hester & Cook continues that incredible legacy, and. Thank you, Robbie and Angie, for all you have done for Franklin.

Here’s a fun video showing Hester & Cook through the years and how it all began:

Many thanks to Trenton Lee Photography for the beautiful photos. We continue to appreciate Rick Warwick for allowing us access to the historic pictures of Franklin.

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¹You’ll find this postcard in the postcards collection at The Texas Collection, Baylor University. Rights: Some rights reserved. Please see our Duplication Fee Schedule and email txcoll@baylor.edu if a high-resolution file of this image is needed. Visit www.baylor.edu/lib/texas/ for more information about our collections.

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