‘Can’t Buy a Can of Peas or Bag of Nails Anywhere!”

by | Mar 25, 2021

Above: With baskets of groceries on the floor ready to go out for delivery to area homes, Munson Bros. Market was one of many small stores that served the town in the early 20th century. My personal memory was the big Red Delicious apples they would bring up and give to us kids at the Swedish church after the Christmas service. I can’t recall having any that good since.

There are many things said about us Rhode Islanders that just aren’t true. It’s said that we panic and buy all the milk and bread we can find before a snowstorm.

That’s not true. We don’t. We’re used to snowstorms. New people do that. 

Another thing they say is that we do not go far away from home. Even I fall into that one occasionally. I recently took a trip up to North Smithfield and told everyone that I packed a lunch and a change of clothes… just in case. 

But as much of a joke as it is, there’s at least a little merit to it. Up until a few years ago, people in East Greenwich never had to go anywhere, especially for shopping. Everything you ever needed and almost everything you ever wanted was right here in East Greenwich. 

In a long ago discussion with my cousin, the late John “Tubby,” Anderson, who was at least a decade older than I, we determined that in our collective memories, there were at least 18 little grocery markets in town. It wasn’t a matter of “shopping” as much as it was “run ta the stowah ‘n pick up a loaf of bread.” You only bought one or two things at a time. Shopping carts came slowly to East Greenwich until Almacs got into the Plaza. 

Here is a list of markets that we came up with. Anyone who can add to it is welcome to do so. Drop a note to EG News. 

Starting from the south, on Main Street, proceeding north: 

  • Pearson’s Market – 640 Main, roughly 
  • First National Store – 620 Main St. 
  • Fogels / Thornton’s – corner of Bridge St. 
  • Almacs – 455 Main St. 
  • Munson’s Market – 340 Main, roughly 
  • Zenga’s Market – 301 Main St. 
  • Gorman’s Market – 232 Main St. 
  • Piggly Wiggly – 183 Main St. 
  • IGA Market – 165 Main St. 
  • ? Market – 186 Main St. 
  • Bergstrom’s Market – 148 Main St. 
  • Hanaford’s Market – 111 Main St. 

To mention a few east of Main: 

  • Izzi’s / Anderson’s Market – Duke St. 
  • Benedetti’s Market – Duke St. 
  • Tar Tar Ucci’s Market – Queen St. 
  • Catanio’s Market – Exchange St. 
  • D’Attore’s Market – Duke St. 
  • Community Foods – Queen St. 
  • Felice’s Market – near Division 

This is not a total list. And certainly they were not all necessarily in business at the same time. We do not recall any west of Main Street on the hill. There might have been, but the hill was pretty much reserved for things scholastic and intellectual – not commerce. 

This does give an indication of what things were like in the past and why we seldom had to go out of town. If you add in the drug stores with soda fountains, the hardware stores, clothing and shoe stores, not to mention the hard-to-classify stores that sold all sorts of things… the five and dimes, the Western Autos, and Handy Andys, there was little reason to go anywhere else. Even new automobiles were available for purchase at several locations along Main Street.

I do remember the family going over West Warwick to the Sears-Roebuck a few times. I think that was more to just get out of town, than to get something that we couldn’t get in East Greenwich. 

A few year’s back, the closest thing we have to a local market these days, Dave’s Marketplace, wanted to open a store in the old First National-Gene’s IGA-CVS building at 620 Main Street. It would have been great to have a store in town again, but even though that building had been a supermarket for over 50 years, it fell under the weight of NIMBYism and Dave’s put their store out at Barton’s Corners on Route 2 instead. 

Today, it is unlikely that a substantial building might once again free between the redlights that a grocer could use. What a boon it would be for those who live in town and would like to walk more and drive less. The former Almacs, ultimately the largest market to fall, was sold to and drained by an out-of-state company and when it went out of business, Stop&Shop’s international owners, Ahold, which held the lease would not let it out to anyone in the food business. That’s why we got a boat store. But now the boat store merged with another and left town. Now the big empty store has been subdivided and that is the end of that! 

Anyway, that’s why we come by the reputation that we don’t go anywhere. We didn’t in the old days… but we have to now. Route 2, anyways.

Updated from December 21, 2006

Alan Clarke is a typesetter, historian, and lover of old cemeteries … and groceries.

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5 Comments

  1. Donna Rice

    THANKS for the memories. I also remember the BIG STAR on Main street where Lindbergh’s was.

    Reply
  2. Judy

    When we came here in 1963 you could get anything you needed on Main Street from baby clothes to a funeral. That began to change with the arrival of route 95

    Reply
  3. Laura Sullivan

    Great article: stirs up a lot of memories and images. When I was a little girl, visiting my grandparents’ home here in town, my Swedish grandmother, who never drove, would call on the heavy black rotary phone in the kitchen (which we still have) and place her grocery order, probably from Munson’s Market. Yes, they delivered, and the delivery man would bring the items, in a large box, into the kitchen, where they’d chat and catch up on the news around Town.

    Some years later, I remember Almacs in the center of town, with Woolworth’s, Newport Creamery and Thorpe’s Pharmacy occupying the strip of stores. Yes, they had shopping carts, but customers could also opt to have their grocery bags (paper of course) placed into large boxes with riveted sides, which would, in turn, be set on a conveyor belt of steel rollers. A quick shove moved the container along the rollers, through a flap door, and outside, where it would bang against the other boxes, awaiting arrival of the customer in her/his vehicle. A store clerk would then lift the bags out and place them in the car. Now that was service!

    Fast forward another decade or two, to the late Seventies/early Eighties. South of Main Street, another plaza went up on the east side of Post Road, just past South Pierce Road. Of course, up until a couple of years ago, that’s where the still-missed Benny’s was, after they moved away from Main Steet. But originally, that space was occupied by a market, a fairly fancy/specialty one. Pretty sure it wasn’t a chain, and it was only there for a few years at most. Anybody remember the name of the market??? Many of us will also remember Ashley’s, the family/ice cream restaurant in the space that is now Siena’s.

    And Alan: thanks for the reference to Barton’s Corners! That’s what my mother called the intersection, and it still gets a raised eyebrow when I name the location.

    Reply
  4. Bruce

    Great Job Alan ! Think I can retire now. Don’t forget in the 40’s & early 50″s we also had a milk man, an egg man,

    an ice man, bread man and a rag man, who had a horse and wagon, maybe a few more.

    Boy, those were the days. We can only dream of them now while they take away the world we knew little by little.

    Reply
  5. PeeVee

    All so very interesting -those “olden” days. East Greenwich had it all it sounds like.

    I am from San Francisco and when I was a kid, I remember the ice man coming up the stairs into our small home and placing a big block of ice into our cooler.

    No horses though:-)

    Reply

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