Over the past holiday season, I produced a pair of Providence Retail History Tote Bags, and, was fortunate to be interviewed by, and, featured on Country Living On-line. In preparation for both tasks, I did a bit of research on the retail history of Providence. There is still MUCH to add and learn, but, I wanted to share some of what I gathered, that did not make it into the CL piece, here with you!
|The former "Tri-Store Bridge" is still visible from Westminster Street. It formerly connected the Shepard Store, Gladdings, and, Cherry & Webb to allow shoppers access to all three without going back outside.|
|Although currently home to the University of Rhode Island's downtown campus, this lovely building retains a neon sign on Washington Street, and, the iconic "Shepard's Clock" on Westminter as a reminder of its retail history.|
Most Rhode Islanders are aware of the former status of Providence as the major retail destination on the East Coast for decades. Until suburban shopping malls became the norm, and, driving yourself to a parking lot replaced taking public transportation downtown, a visit to downtown Providence was usually a retail treat.
|An image at Mathewson and Westminster facing east, not long after the turn of the previous century shows a bustling mid-day shopping center downtown.|
|1906 "Meet Me at the Outlet" Postcard|
|A bustling Christmas season Westminster Streets shows the Shepard's Clock, shoppers galore, and a block full of independent movie theaters and retail stores. Photo credit: Jack Delano; circa 1940, courtesy of Library of Congress.|
It's hard for those who did not grow up in Rhode Island to imagine the past, and, it is just as hard for those who grew up in the state to reconcile the present. For this reason we should embrace and share the history so that it is not lost. To help put some of the history in context, here are some then & now composites to educate, excite and confound you!
|As the top Edwardian postcard says, this is indeed Dorrance at Weybosset looking West up Weybosset. Note the location of the Outlet Company compared to the current location of Johnson & Wales.|
|Directly across the street at Westminster and Union facing South is another former department store now mixed-use. This was the O'Gorman Building which housed "The Big Store" and later "Dimonds."|
|Interior view of Dimond's.|
|At the other end of Westminster, at Mathewson Street, stood Gladdings.|
|Grace Church is always a useful landmark in determining where you are in old images of downtown. Here, we are in a section of Westminster that is a bit quieter at the moment than it was 100 years ago! Tom's Bao Bao and The Malted Barley are just out of sight to the right.|
|Step backwards one block and you can see the previous view in more context. Liggetts must have been the CVS of it's day in this busy downtown as there is a second location only four blocks from the main location.|
|The postcard to the left is a little more recent than the others I have shown here. It likely dates to the 1940's given the cars, clothing styles, sailors on leave and the completed Industrial Trust at the background. You can just see Gladdings at the far left, Cherry & Webb, then Shepards is beyond that. The Boston Store can be seen further across Union, which was followed at the same location by Peerless.|
|One last look East down Westminster. The Shepard Building is always unmistakable. Grant's Block pre-dates Grants but is full of retail stores. No Industrial Trust and a very green East Side.|
|The Shepard Cafeteria! So many locals recall this fondly.|
|During the mid-to late part of the 20th century, Westminster Street was paved over as a pedestrian walkway from Dorrance Street to Mathewson Street!|
|One of the earliest photos I've seen of the Arcade. Although you can only see a tiny bit of it to the left, it looks identical to today, but, you can see the 19th century buildings to the right of it that truly help date the image. Image is housed in the collection of the Providence Public Library.|