SMITHFIELD, R.I. (WPRI) – It’s the end of an era for Rhode Island retailer Benny’s, a staple of local shopping for nearly a century. The location on Route 44 in Greenville closed for good at 5 p.m. Monday.
It was the only one still open, as the chain’s 31 locations slowly dwindled since the announcement that all would be closing before the end of the year.
“It’s just weird,” said longtime Benny’s shopper Gary Rogala. “You get choked up.”
Many shoppers and employees expressed the same sentiment, lamenting the end of Benny’s 93-year run as a Rhode Island retailer.
“I’ve been coming here for, I don’t know, 30 years? Thirty-five years?” said Sandi Church. “I bought my kids’ toys here and everything. So it’s really kind of sad.”
Shoppers made off with miscellaneous items that remained on sparsely-stocked store shelves. Church bought an AC cover. Her friend Patricia Simonin got Christmas candles. Others bought pieces of the store’s shelving and signage. All the merchandise was discounted by 70-percent. One shopper told Eyewitness News he just wanted a receipt, which he planned to frame.
As the clock struck 5 p.m., dozens of shoppers made their way to the registers, where Joan Williams assisted a clerk. She worked for Benny’s for 55 years, ringing out the Smithfield store’s very first customer when it opened on Route 44 back in 1974. Forty-three years later, she rang out Benny’s very last shopper.
“Full circle,” she said.
Benny’s owners Arnold Bromberg and his sister, Judith Rosenstein, were there to see employees close up shop one last time.
“For me, we’ve turned the key in the lock every night, and we have turned the lights off every night,” said Bromberg. “[I’m] going to see what happens when it sinks in tomorrow and the next days.”
Rosenstein called the occasion bittersweet.
“This is the reality,” she said. “This is really happening. The last store. And it’s sad.”
The family announced in September they would be retiring and closing all 31 Benny’s locations. The Carpionato Group purchased 29 of the 31 locations for an undisclosed price. The Johnston-based real estate development firm plans to turn the stores into new shops and restaurants.
“As sad as it is, it’s just turning of a page for now,” said Greenville store manager Tom Faiola.
Store owners said the Greenville location will sporadically reopen to sell store fixtures, but no regular merchandise will be available after Monday.