Ben MacRAE & Tricia Strom: Frankfort Store Owners

Ben MacRAE & Tricia Strom: Frankfort Store Owners

Questions & Answers with community faces

Benjamin MacRAE (47) and Patricia [MacRAE] Strom (42) grew up in Grosse Pointe Woods, until their family moved to Frankfort in 1992, when their father, Richard, got the opportunity to work as a pharmacist at Community Drug. (Their great-grandfather, Richard MacRAE I, had built one of the very first cottages on Crystal Lake back in 1926, and the family had been summering here since before both Ben and Tricia were born.)

Ben MacRAE graduated as salutatorian for the Class of 1995 from Frankfort High School. He then attended Northern Michigan University, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in management in 1999. The year prior, when MacRAE was entering his senior year at NMU, his parents, Richard and Bridget, bought the Corner Drug Store, and Ben had begun managing the business remotely as he finished his studies. After graduation, Ben MacRAE moved back to Frankfort and would manage the pharmacy for the next 26 years.

MacRAE met Amy Dunlop (39) in 2003 when he was playing “Taps” on his trumpet for a Memorial Day Service—something he has done for the Frankfort American Legion post since he first moved up here in 1992. Amy had been born and raised in Frankfort, and the two were married in 2005. 

That same year, the couple opened an online toy store on Ebay, and they quickly outgrew their “aisle of toys” within the Corner Drug Store. So in 2008, they remodeled the back of the building, which had previously been an office for Dr. Thacker and later Dr. DeGuias. They opened The Corner Toy Store, a full-fledged retail store, and it quickly became a year-round favorite in Frankfort, though online sales continued, as well.

In 2007, their daughter, Annabelle, was born; she was followed by brothers, Elliott in 2011 and Ethan in 2014.

Earlier this year, in April, the senior MacRAE decided to semi-retire after 43 years as a pharmacist and to sell Corner Drug to the Shop N Save Pharmacy in Family Fare, located in the Crystal Plaza along US-31 in Benzonia. (Richard MacRAE plans to work at least part-time at the Benzonia location to help transition his patients and still do what he enjoys, according to the Benzie County Record Patriot.

“After much thought and deliberation, [the MacRAEs] have decided that the best way to preserve the legacy of the business, which has been in Benzie County since 1868, and to ensure its long-term viability and success in today’s challenging health care environment, was to partner with another independent pharmacy,” according to an April press release. “Shop N Save Pharmacy was the logical choice, as it is locally owned and nearby.” 

This meant that Ben and Amy could move The Corner Toy Store into the former pharmacy, a space that is about four times larger than their previous slot. In addition to toys, however, the store on the corner of Main and 4th streets will continue to offer over-the-counter medications and medical supplies; it will also serve as an official UPS service counter. 

Meanwhile, Ben’s younger sister, Tricia [Macrae] Strom, decided to move into the former toy store spot in the back by opening a brand new store, Minnows Children’s Boutique.

Tricia Strom graduated from Frankfort High School in 1999, and then—following her father’s footsteps—attended the University of Michigan, where she received a Doctorate in Pharmacy in 2005. At this point, she moved back to Frankfort and worked one to two days a week at Corner Drug, as well as full time as a clinical pharmacist in the Emergency Department at Munson Medical Center in Traverse City, a position that she still holds today.

She met Benzie County-native Ryan Strom in 2009 while volunteering at the Frankfort Fire Department, where he worked, and the couple were married in 2012; their daughter, Eva, was born in 2015, followed by son Jack in 2020.

With the shake-up of Corner Drug closing and Corner Toy Store moving to the Main Street location earlier this spring, this left the back location on 4th Street open, and Tricia had been dreaming of opening her own store. Minnows will be open year-round, carrying clothing and swimwear for children up to 10 years of age, as well as baby gifts, shoes, and accessories, as well as baby-feeding supplies and pacifiers. The plan is to open on Thursday, May 16.

Continuing with our interview series on impactful Benzie County characters, The Betsie Current caught up with MacRAE and Strom as they were stocking up their stores in preparation for the upcoming summer season.

The Betsie Current: What made you want to own a small-town shop? 

Ben MacRAE: Wanting to own my own business has been ingrained in me since I was a young child. When my parents bought the pharmacy in June of 1998, I was entering my senior year at Northern Michigan University with a major in management. I managed the business remotely while I finished college, and I returned to Frankfort to manage the pharmacy for the next 26 years, before we sold the pharmacy this spring. My wife, Amy, and I started The Corner Toy Store in 2005 with an Ebay store, and in 2008, we remodeled the back of the building to open the retail Corner Toy Store. We live and raise our kids in this community and feel connected to the community in many different facets. Being in this small town is just who we are.

Tricia Strom: I remember as a little girl, begging my mom to take me to Rhodes Boutique—now Cold Creek Farm and Market—for some fancy socks with ruffles. Her dresses were stunning; a core memory, for sure. I’ve talked for years about missing a store like that as I’ve been raising my own children. The opportunity presented itself with the turnover from Corner Drug and moving The Corner Toy Store up front, leaving the back open, and I just couldn’t pass up the chance. News Flash: the ruffle socks are back in town! We have a wide array of products in the boutique, from babywear and gifts to sensory toys to kids’ clothing and even an entire selection of kids’ swimwear. 

Current: What does a typical day of work look like for you? 

MacRAE: It’s long. Ha ha. I start my day right after dropping our kids off at school, getting our internet toy orders pulled, packed, and shipped out. Then I spend the rest of my day at my office in the store—ordering products, working with customers, and managing the “back end” of the business. I spend another hour or so after we get the kids to bed answering emails. Owning a business, especially one with an eCommerce branch, is a 24/7 job that really requires dedication. Customers expect their problems and questions answered, even on holidays and vacations.  

Tricia Strom: I’m still finishing setting up, so all my free time is spent getting ready for our launch later this week—thanks to all of the family and friends who helped us to make this dream a reality, we have met our goal to be operational before Memorial Day! I am also a full-time Emergency Department pharmacist at Munson in Traverse City, so this new project has taken up most of my “time off.” Luckily, I work night shifts, so my husband and I built the store during my stretches off from the hospital. Days are busy with children, work, and our new adventure!

Current: How have you seen your work grow and change? How do you hope that it will continue to grow? What is next?   

MacRAE: Opening the new store in the front of the old pharmacy building this spring has been a huge opportunity for us. We put in a lot of time this winter and spring reinventing the store. We’ve spent the last three months cleaning, sorting through merchandise, and reorganizing the entire store—over and over again until we got the layout just right. We found a new vendor to supply us with over-the-counter medications for our customers, and we brought in a ton of new product lines, including artist-quality art supplies, new Hallmark greeting cards, almost all new gifts and souvenirs, including local gifts by Cherry Hill Lavender Farm, Gwen Frostic Prints, Sleeping Bear Farms, Cherry Republic, and more. We finally had space to expand our toy department, so we’ve added new Plush toys, STEM learning and craft items, Nerf guns, outdoor toys, R/C vehicles, Brio trains, some really neat wood toys, baseball cards, and more. We’ve got a children’s corner set up in the store for kids to play and demo new toys, which will finally give us a spot to host events, like Breyer Horse fun days! We’re also finishing our ”business center,” which will offer customers free wi-fi, wireless color printing, color copies, and more. And we became an authorized UPS shipping provider back in February, which means we can pack and ship UPS packages for our customers. We’ve got more things in the pipeline for the near future, but that’s all I can share for now; I would encourage anyone who hasn’t stopped in and seen the changes to swing by and check it out—it’s definitely not the same store anymore!

Strom: We have had a lot of positive input; I can’t wait to see Minnows take off! We’ve spent a lot of time and energy breathing a new vibe into the old Toy Store location, and it’s ready for a new chapter! 

Current: For the Toy Store, what are your top three sellers right now? For Minnows, since you are not open yet, what are your personal three favorite items that you sell? 

MacRAE: Our top three sellers are Playmobil, Legos, and Breyer horses.

Strom: My three favorite brands right now are Tea Collection, Rylee & Cru, and Rufflebutts.

Back in July 2014, The Betsie Current published a feature story on The Corner Toy Store in downtown Frankfort.

Click here to read more about this local business from a decade ago.

Current: What kinds of things do you do for fun, when you are not working? What other things are you involved with? How did you get involved with them, and why are you passionate about these causes?  

MacRAE: Our daughter, Annabelle, is super involved in 4H, so we have a full farm at home—we raise pigs for 4H, chickens, ducks, goats, and right now, we’re bottle-feeding a baby calf. We really enjoy farming, which helps to teach our kids responsibility and teaches them where their food comes from. Our boys are involved in several sports, including soccer, basketball, and baseball, which I help coach. I’m a trustee on the Gilmore Township Board, and we are involved in our church, Trinity Lutheran Church, in Frankfort. 

Strom: My husband, Ryan, and I are a bit busy with an eight-year-old and a precocious three-year-old—between school, basketball, softball, soccer, dance, skiing, and sailing, we stay a bit occupied! We are lucky to live in a great community that continues to encourage and support our children’s passions. I still love to run; if I have a half hour to spare, you can find me out on Michigan Avenue with a trail of cheerios coming from my son’s stroller. 

Current: How have you seen Benzie County/Northern Michigan change since you grew up here? What are your hopes for the area in the future?

MacRAE: I spent summers here as a kid and moved here in 1992. Town has developed a lot in the last 30-plus years. It seems like a lot of our mom-and-Pop stores that once catered to local families have closed up shop, giving way to more tourism-focused businesses. I remember days not long ago when Main Street was home to two auto-part stores, two hardwares, a men’s clothing store, a shoe store, two pharmacies, a barber, and more. Most of those businesses, however, have faded away. I have a camcorder video stashed away somewhere of a drive we took down Main Street in 1992, looking at the different shops and buildings. One of these days I should dig it out and show my kids. It’s not anyone’s fault, and some of it is just the world in which we live—where small, independent businesses like insurance agencies, pharmacies, and doctors’ offices can’t survive without being part of a bigger corporate entity—but that part of it makes me sad. I am glad, on the other hand, to see that all of our downtown retail spots are full, that town seems prepared for another bustling and hopefully successful summer. Based on the soaring real estate prices and the lack of available housing for most working-class families, I’d say our little slice of heaven here has been discovered.  

Strom: Change is a constant. Over the years, I’ve watched our sleepy town wake up a bit and grow, with many new faces. New faces who are kind and seem to take reprieve in our smalltown way of life. Our community is doing a great job at stepping up to the challenges brought about by our increasing numbers. Our preschool program is a perfect example of a town need that was met with great enthusiasm by the Frankfort-Elberta Area Schools system; what was once a tenuous waiting-list game for placement has progressed into a well-run program with three classrooms filled with happy children. 

Current: What are the biggest challenges and rewards of living/working in Benzie County, and in Northern Michigan, in general? What is the best or most rewarding part of your job? What could Northern Michigan do to attract more and/or retain talented people in this area? What else does Benzie County/Northern Michigan need?

MacRAE: The most rewarding part of my job is bringing joy to kids around the world—literally, we ship toys worldwide! I also am proud that our business is able to give back to our community by sponsoring youth baseball teams, supporting our schools with the Panther  Parents’ Spring Fling and Project Graduation for Frankfort seniors, and more. I think our biggest challenge as a community is to find a balance that supports tourism, while also providing year-round employment, good-quality jobs, and housing for families to be able to live in the community that they work in. We need more quality, affordable family housing, so that all of our workers don’t have to commute in from 30 miles away, where real-estate prices are more affordable.

Strom: Our fluctuating seasons will give me a chance to be creative with what I can bring to town. I’m hoping for some constructive input on how I can best serve the town’s needs after the busy summer rush subsidies—my goal is to be available year round. 

Current: What are your favorite local events and activities? Any favorite dining, recreation, hiking spots?    

MacRAE: My wife and kids love the 4th of July fireworks and the 4th of July parade in Frankfort, and spending time at the beach!

Strom: The 4th of July in Frankfort; no place I’d rather be! Now, if I could only find a way to run the Beulah Firecracker at 8 a.m., get home for a shower, and still make it to the parade on time at 10 a.m.—that would be something! We have no shortage of fantastic places to explore, from the Elberta dunes to the National Lakeshore, Crystal and Platte lakes, Platte and Betsie rivers, and not to forget the big ole Lake Michigan we sit upon. Summer vacation isn’t long enough. I don’t have enough time to talk about all of our great restaurants; just stop into the store and let me know what you are in the mood for, and I can make a great recommendation!

Current: What does your perfect summer day look like in Benzie County? How would you spend it?

MacRAE: A perfect summer day would be spent on Crystal Lake taking my kids wakeboarding or tubing, with a picnic lunch packed from one of our favorite sandwich shops!     

Strom: Out on a boat with the kids enjoying some great Northern Michigan sun with a few Judys in the cooler—that’s a sandwich from East Shore Market, for those that don’t know, not a person.

The Corner Toy Store can be found online at or in person at 401 Main Street in downtown Frankfort. Email with any questions and visit “The Corner Toy Store – Gifts & More” on Facebook. 

Minnows Children’s Boutique is located at the rear of The Corner Toy Store, with an entrance on 4th Street. Email with any questions. The store’s website of is still a work in progress. Visit “Minnows Children’s Boutique” on Facebook and Instagram. 

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Aubrey Parker

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