By Laurence J. Sasso, Jr.
This is the fourth article in an occasional series about Smithfield locations that have either been forgotten by time or are no longer remembered for what they once represented. The locations are selected from a list compiled by former Smithfield Building Official Al Bruno. Bruno was originally featured in the January edition of The Smithfield Times, and the first installment of this series ran in February.
Shea’s store was a neighborhood forerunner of the modern convenience store. It stood near Shea’s Bridge which once spanned the Woonasquatucket River on Stillwater Road where it met Cross Street in old Georgiaville Village. A number of years ago the bridge was deemed unfit for vehicular travel and was dismantled and moved to Cumberland where it was reassembled and now serves as a pedestrian bridge. In the current day photo here Al Bruno shows the approximate location of the store near the spot where Stillwater Road branched over the bridge.
The store dated from the first years of the 20th century. Henry Shea married Rose Beauchemin in 1907, and they soon took it over from Rose’s uncles. The couple were to run the small emporium for more than 50 years. The building was shaped like a L. In it you could buy just about anything you needed except butchered meats.
Items such as sewing needles and thread, as well as tobacco, cigars, cigarettes, bread, soda, milk, canned goods, penny candy, and even toys were stocked in glass cases, coolers, and on the cozy shelves. Rose kept the radio playing during the day and customers could hear music or catch the daily soap operas while they shopped.
Al Bruno remembers Henry Shea as an accomplished bowler. Al set pins at the alleys in what is now the East Smithfield Community Center, and Henry bowled there.
“He had a nice curve ball that hooked right into the pins. He was one of the nicest people in Georgiaville. He had a perpetual smile. More than once I saw him give candy to kids who didn’t have the money to buy any. The guy was a prince.”
Besides food and general merchandise the store boasted Esso gas pumps out front, and Henry Shea fixed car and bicycle tires in the back of the store. He also sold spark plugs, motor oil, and the like and did oil changes and minor repairs. The store was heated in winter by a potbellied stove that ran on kerosene, and the Sheas also sold kerosene to area residents who heated their homes with it.
In the heart of the village and only a short walk from Georgiaville Beach, the store was a popular community meeting place where the latest “news” was always in the air. Henry and Rose worked seven days a week in the business, and if there were an emergency need for something they would gladly open up after regular hours.
The store closed sometime in the 1960s, eventually fell into disrepair, and ultimately was demolished.
(Information for this feature was provided by Rose Marie Cipriano, granddaughter of Henry and Rose Shea. Old photo courtesy of the Historical Society of Smithfield. Current photo by Albert Tavakalov/The Smithfield Times.)