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Originally published Tuesday, March 20, 2012 at 6:01 AM

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Four-legged star walks the aisles of hardware store

Pet pig at Brooklyn hardware store draws fans and paparazzi.

The New York Times

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NEW YORK — Franklin is classified on Facebook as a public figure in Brooklyn, N.Y. His "likes" include "Babe: Pig in the City" and Crest Hardware and Urban Garden Center, a plug for the store in Williamsburg where he can often be found rooting through mulch. He has blue eyes, the inspiration for his name — as in Frankie Blue Eyes — and mellows out while listening to classic rock radio.

One recent chilly day, Franklin, a potbellied pig, was dressed in a black sweater with a stretched-out neck, his wiggling tail showing his joy at having free rein of the 5,000-square-foot garden at the hardware store. Soon, his world will shrink.

Planting season is nigh, and since Crest Hardware is not just a pig's pen, limits will be imposed. The agile 1-year-old has learned to jump the 2-foot fence surrounding his cozy pig house, so a higher barrier will be installed to keep him from devouring flowers and herbs for sale. His appetite knows no bounds, said Joseph Franquinha, 29, one of the owners of both Franklin and the hardware store. "Pigs can literally go blind from eating too much," he said.

Through a mostly vegan diet — he is allowed the occasional piece of cheese — Franklin maintains a trim weight of 39 pounds. It's his fan base that's growing. He can't trot down the street without being besieged by paparazzi.

"We attempt to take him for walks, but it's more of a walk and a stop and a walk and a stop because everyone has questions or wants to take a picture," said Franquinha, a bearded fellow who is resigned to being known in the neighborhood as "Joe, the guy with the pig." His father, Manny, 84, who founded Crest Hardware 50 years ago and knows a thing or two about marketing, suggested posting a sandwich board to announce if Franklin is "in" for visits.

When the sign says Franklin is "out," he is in the upstairs office taking a nap, or at home playing with Liza Shields, 26, Franquinha's girlfriend. His long snout unfolds the fresh laundry she has just stacked on the bed, but she doesn't mind, having dreamed of owning a piglet since she was 7. When she and Franquinha discussed moving in together a year and a half ago, she told him: "There's something you need to understand. I want to get a pig."

Her boyfriend eventually came around to the idea, and their research on small breeds led them to Spring Woods, a farm in Pennsylvania that specializes in teacup pigs, a size category under 60 pounds.

Franklin is a mix of miniature potbelly and Juliana, a breed developed in Europe. He has delicate, pointed hooves that make him look as if he were walking on tiptoes. Like Arnold Ziffel, the pig on "Green Acres," Franklin grunts, hums, sighs and oofs, apparently chiming in on conversations. His lips form a smile when a carrot is offered, and he will sit or spin around to earn it. He was quick to learn acceptable bathroom habits, Shields said, having had his first and last indoor accident at 1 month old.

"I'm obsessed with Franklin," confessed Rachel Harrison, 36, who lives around the corner from the hardware store. "He has caused me to purchase way more bark mulch and pots. I'm popping in even when I don't need anything, just to visit Franklin, and I'll leave with four new flowers to plant in my backyard. It's like using the bathroom at Starbucks; you feel like you have to buy a bottle of water on your way out."

Harrison, the communications director for a hotel chain, keeps pictures of Franklin on her iPhone and regularly escorts friends to meet him. Franklin shows scant interest in new visitors unless he smells food. "He used to be more curious," Harrison observed, "but now he's so used to the attention, he's like,'Meh.' "

Crest Hardware has long offered more than hammers and hoes. It has a resident African gray parrot that wolf-whistles at customers. Each summer, the store hosts Crest Fest, a group art show dedicated to works made with or inspired by hardware, and last year, 300 painters, sculptors, and graphic and mixed-media artists submitted works to be displayed among the shelves or dangling from the ceiling, like a chandelier fashioned of electrical cords.

Franklin, who is neutered, has no pig friends (except on Facebook) and prefers the company of dogs that look like him. "Pugs or French bulldogs are usually the only ones where he'll even remotely acknowledge their existence," Franquinha said.

While devotees like Harrison delight in seeing Franklin's outfits, he is mostly indifferent to fashion, Franquinha said, equally happy in a Giants T-shirt, a red hoodie or a dapper baseball cap. Shields, who designs children's apparel, modifies outfits meant for dogs. The costumes are also functional because a pig's skin is sensitive to cold and can also be sunburned.

When Shields and Franquinha leave Franklin home alone, they tune the television to Animal Planet while he sacks out on the couch. Another program he "likes," listed on his Facebook page, is "Modern Family." "Franklin appreciates the unconventional aspect of it," Franquinha said. "I don't know if he'll ever be evolved enough to tweet — or oink. We'll leave it at Facebook at this point."

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