Nancy Longiaru is 88 years old and says she’s ready to retire.
It’s not a decision that many people in Warwick feel good about. They’re accustomed to catching a glimpse of Nancy’s blonde hair through the kitchen door as they place an order at the Sandwich Junction on Kilvert Street.
It’s a busy place with a devoted customer base.
At one time, the Junction building was the Hillsgrove Post Office and truly at a junction. Before construction of the Coronado Street overpass, there was a Kilvert Street railroad crossing.
Nancy and her late husband Alex started the sandwich shop 41 years ago. In years that followed their daughter, Kathy, now Kathy Ruginski, not only worked at the Junction but became its owner. Mother and daughter now run the place along with Chris Luiz, who has been with them for 16 years, and Judy Rozzero, the newcomer of a year and a half.
But Kathy and Nancy say the time has come to retire. They thought the last day might have been as soon as this week, but the closing on the sale of the sandwich shop and the adjoining building that once operated as Track 84 until three years ago was postponed. Now the women think the final day will come in mid-March. Park Young Sung, who operates Smart Body Golf in West Warwick, has a contract to buy the property. Young Sung could not be reached for comment. Nancy and Kathy say he has told them that he plans a pro golf shop and food service business.
Sorrow and disbelief greeted the news that the Junction will close.
“What a bummer. I can’t believe this,” said Dee Lynch as she waited for her Cannonball Express – meatballs and provolone. Dee shook her head wondering where she might go.
When Dottie McCarthy at the Warwick Board of Canvassers heard the news she shrieked, “Oh no.” Dottie can’t resist the Junction bread. She said it’s what makes the sandwiches so good.
There was a similar reaction from Dottie’s co-workers who volunteered their favorite sandwich. There’s no knowing what Junction regular Don Higgins will have to say.
Higgins stops in daily with the regularity of the trains that whiz by the Junction. He’s so predictable that Kathy and Chris have his seafood sandwich waiting on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. On Tuesday and Thursday he gets the Freight Car.
“Oh, he’ll be here about 1:15,” said Kathy, pointing out a booth that is officially “his.” And if there’s any doubt, a framed Business Spotlight story from the Beacon featuring Higgins hangs on the wall.
Pictures and railroad memorabilia fill the Junction, giving its homey and welcome feel. Kathy pulls out a board with a collection of photographs from the shop opening. It’s not hard to pick out her mother. The man beside her is her late father. They’re all smiling.
Nancy said that Alex ran the kitchen and it was his idea to start Track 84. She never cared for the business and its long hours and customers who wanted to stay until the early morning hours. Their son, Dave, ran the bar until it closed in 2015.
Kathy graduated from Pilgrim High School and Bryant College. All the while she worked at the Junction, scheduling her classes so she could cover the 3 to 6 p.m. shift. In 1990 she and her husband, Craig, bought the business from her parents. It was a tough time. The state was going through the credit union crisis. Money was tight. Craig worked the business until 2008 when he got a job with the post office. Kathy stuck it out with the shop.
If there is one lesson from all her years in the business, Kathy said it came from her father.
“Quality has always been what my father taught,” she said.
Mother and daughter agree running the business hasn’t gotten easier.
“Nobody wants to work anymore,” said Nancy. She said taxes have made it difficult to squeeze out a profit.
“By the end of the day, what do you have left?” laments Kathy.
In many ways Sandwich Junction hasn’t changed, although customers from Jefferson Boulevard no longer walk across the tracks to get lunch. They still use a rotary phone to take orders and they don’t take credit cards. Online orders aren’t even a consideration.
Kathy is not sure what she’ll do when the sale is finalized.
“Anything in the food industry. I love dealing with the public.”
Nancy said she looks forward to “some peace.”
And what might she do?
“Play golf,” she said without hesitation.
Does she play golf?
“Well, no,” she confided. “But I can learn.”