Cover Story | ESM 40

What Used to Be, From A-Z

Strolling down memory lane, one shop at a time

Providence Monthly Magazine ·

The original plan was to pick 40 of our favorite haunts that in the familiar Rhode Island tradition “used to be” here on the East Side, but no longer exist. Well, pretty soon the 40 was 50, then 60, then… well you get the picture. We finally stopped at 70. Undoubtedly our readers, especially depending on their age, might have 70 more. Please share them with us on our Facebook page or comment on our choices, which we hope you’ll enjoy.

Adesso (owned by the controversial Blaise Marfeo, their Cresto di Gallo was unbeatable); Alba Runci’s (with its hobby horse in the window and its white-coated barbers, it was where so many East Side children were taken for that first haircut); Alfredo’s (a really good, inexpensive Thayer Street Italian restaurant that surprisingly has never been replaced – must be the rents); and American Safe & Lock (for three generations there wasn’t any lock or key problem the Wolferseder family couldn’t solve).

Bagel’s East (there was a time when Sunday mornings weren’t official without one of their fresh bagels and a cream cheese schmear); Beau James (on North Main Street, David Brandt’s longtime gathering spot was the place for dependable dining); and Big Alice’s (the first of the non-chain options for local ice cream cognoscenti).

College Hill Bookstore (where browsing truly became an art form); Clarke’s (the Salafia’s got it right about flowers back before supermarkets got into the biz); and Convergence (Bob Rizzo’s imaginative sculpture festival that helped start the downtown arts engine).

David’s Pot Belly (home of its amazing stuffed hamburgers until David self-destructed by jacking up prices during the Blizzard of ‘78); Davol Square (an ambitious attempt in the late ‘70s by Rob Freeman, from a prominent East Side family, to convert four abandoned factory buildings in Fox Point into a high end, non-chain retail mall. By 1991 it ultimately failed and was sold, but what a hip and glorious effort it was); and Details (that unique store on Thayer that always seemed to have the perfect accessory).

E.P. Anthony Drugs (everything you needed from an old fashioned apothecary served up in smashing surroundings plus gourmet chocolate to boot).

Fain’s (this four-generation family business offered an unmatched selection of flooring, from kilims to kirmans, served up in a vintage, art deco setting); Farmstead (a slice of Americana served up by celebrity chefs Matt and Kate Jennings who sadly have returned to their Boston roots); and Florentine Faire (great events that celebrated the City’s Italian heritage back when we were hot).

Gatehouse (catering, fine cuisine and camaraderie came together at Hank Kate’s popular waterfront restaurant on the Seekonk) and Gravity Games (NBC’s brave attempt to match ESPN, which at least kept our streets and waterfront nationally relevant).

Hall’s Drugs (the last of the great independent stand alones); Harrison’s (a testament to the civil, understated ways of yesteryear); Harvey’s (everything a man could want until it fell victim to the informality of the ‘70s); and Hillhouse (a bookend to Harvey’s).

IHOP (Tacky? Maybe a little. But it still had tasty pancakes and a wonderful blue roof) and Ivy Drug (back in the days before the big chains, Thayer Street and Elmgrove had their favorite drug stores, this one was Hope Street’s).

Jazz at Allery’s (a warm, welcoming jazz hangout lovingly nurtured by a wonderful lady); Jone Pasha’s (eclectic selections imported from around the world joined by custom pieces she made for customers like Bob Dylan); and JRS Gallery (the gallery whose openings first ignited the art scene along Wickenden).

Kays Newport (for years, the shoe-in shoe capital of the East Side) and Kenneth Cote Salon (the go-to upscale East Side salon, ‘til they went suburban).

Lad and Lassie (the Hope Street home for that first pair of serious shoes on the old East Side); Lloyd’s (except for its inability to keep from burning down, everything about this Solomon family institution was perfect); Learning Connection (great courses, things to do, and meeting new people); Les Enfants (classy children’s clothing presented in even classier surroundings); the windows at Raul Lovett’s office (our very own Mickey Mouse lawyer); and L’Elizabeth’s (Trés sophisticated. Trés magnifique).

Maximillian’s (homemade ice cream just before the Pawtucket line); Merry-Go-Round (personalized toys for its generation); Meeting Street Post Office (a true community meeting place sadly missed); Miller’s (the last of the great old Jewish East Side delis); and Montana (one of those rare Thayer Street haunts that appealed to both students and nearby residents).

Newport Creamery at the Square (this hang out for teens was awful awful important in its day).

OOP! (the retail leader of Thayer Street responsible for the street’s colorful street festivals) and Opulent Owl (it put South Main Street on the map as a retail destination).

Arthur Palmer (the first – and only– place on the East Side to offer both skis and preppy slacks); Panache (the best chocolate chip cookies/bar ever); Penguins (the funky dessert place well in advance of the chains on Thayer Street); and Preamble Antiques (Hope Street’s longtime East Side antique center).

The Quadrangles at Brown (much of the secret sauce that makes the East Side so special comes from the ongoing migration of new students to Brown and RISD every September. An occasional walk through rarely fails to rekindle memories from the past).

Roitmans (once the best place for furniture, Danish or otherwise, in the state); RI Auditorium (where the legendary Rocky Marciano and our beloved RI Reds held court); Ruby’s (was there ever a funkier or more fabulous place for breakfast?); Rue de L’Espoir (only gone a few months and we already miss it); and Rusty Scupper (whether married or single, it was the place to be on a Friday night).

Sam Sing’s (the last of the old Chinese laundries and where Sam had everyone’s number); 729 Hope Street (started by Guy Abelson, it offered good food, great catering and art work on the walls); Sledding at MB hill (once a required rite of passage for every child claiming to be a true East Sider); Spike’s (somehow they managed to make eating hot dogs cool); Spoons (provided great soups as well as starter jobs for a lot of East Side kids); the old Stereo Discount Center (wild, chaotic and fun with Jon Bell as the ringmaster); and Submarine Races on the Seekonk (if you’re under 60 you probably don’t have a clue what we’re talking about).

Thayer Street Market (yes you could once do serious food shopping on Thayer Street and yes, we wish you could still); 3 Steeple Street (their humongous salads served in large wooden bowls were legendary); and T.W. Rounds (back in the days when they owned the local leather market).

Underground Camera (a funky place to camera shop back when film and special lenses meant something).

Verlaine (unusual New York level decorator fabrics on display in our own little city).

Some restaurants at Wayland Manor (the prior home to Providence Bookstore Cafe and Twist on Angell, some wonderful restaurants that never seemed to catch on for long, alas).

X Games
(our steep College Hill streets provided some much appreciated national TV exposure to a resurging Providence).

Yaffe (in honor of the health food guru/entrepreneur Bob Yaffe who started Harvest Sheaf, Garden Grille, Wildflower Vegan Bakery and now The Grange, who got us all eating better).

Z-Bar (initially Café at Brooks, this popular Wickenden hangout also boasted a secret outdoor backyard hideaway to boot) and ZuZu’s Petals (the recently closed Thayer Street clothing store always seem to stay young and roll with the changing generations at Brown).

Adesso, Alba Runci’s, Alfredo’s, American Safe & Lock, Bagel’s East, Beau James, Big Alice’s, College Hill Bookstore, Clarke’s, Convergence, David’s Pot Belly, Davol Square, Details, E.P. Anthony Drugs, Fain’s, Farmstead, Florentine Faire, Gatehouse, Gravity Games, Hall’s Drugs, Harrison’s, Harvey’s, IHOP, Ivy Drug, Jazz at Allery’s, Jone Pasha’s, JRS Gallery, Kays Newport, Kenneth Cote Salon, Lad and Lassie, Lloyd’s, Learning Connection, Les Enfants, L’Elizabeth’s, Maximillian’s, Merry-Go-Round, Meeting Street Post Office, Miller’s, Montana, Newport Creamery, OOP!, Opulent Owl, Arthur Palmer, Panache, Penguins, Preamble Antiques, The Quadrangles at Brown, Roitmans, Ruby’s, RI Auditorium, Rue de L’Espoir, Rusty Scupper, Sam Sing’s, 729 Hope Street, Spoons, Spike’s, Stereo Discount Center, Submarine Races on the Seekonk, Thayer Street Market, 3 Steeple Street, T.W. Rounds, Underground Camera, Verlaine, Wayland Manor, X Games, Yaffe, Z-Bar, ZuZu’s Petals