For Fran Johnson, a sense of community has always been the backbone of her mission.
When she founded Harford’s Heart magazine in 2004, she wasn't looking to make a fortune or start a publishing empire. Instead, Fran simply wanted to bring people together with a publication that was free to readers and offered affordable advertising to Harford County’s small business and restaurant owners.
By all accounts, she has done that. From about 50 distribution points in the early years, Harford’s residents and visitors now find Harford’s Heart in 220 county-wide locations that include major grocery stores, professional offices, retail shops and restaurants. The magazine is also accessible online. The community calendar is the go-to for anyone who is looking for what’s happening in Harford County.
Fran recalls happy memories of growing up in the small town of Relay in Baltimore County. Looking for a walk-able neighborhood where she could immerse herself in a similar community, she and her late husband purchased an 1890s-era shotgun house within Town of Bel Air limits that was in much need of repair. That, too, reflected her desire to embrace the town.
“It’s not enough to pay taxes,” says Fran of house renovations that she has made over the years as well as her magazine’s growth. “You have to be all in.”
Fran is also a dependable volunteer who has helped with Bel Air’s Christmas and July 4th parades, numerous Bel Air Downtown Alliance events, the BBQ Bash, First Fridays and family movie nights. She also currently serves as the chairperson of the Town of Bel Air’s Committee for Elderly and Needy Citizens.
Fran is in transition to retirement. Sandy Kapinos of Sonipak Design & Marketing, who has helped produce Harford’s Heart for 14 years and, says Fran, played a big part in the magazines’s growth, will take the helm from here to the future.
Sandy says Fran embodies the community-oriented mission at Harford’s Heart: “Fran believes that if you live here, you are part of the fabric of the community. Residents should support local businesses and nonprofits. She has instilled this in me and our entire team.”