Benny's closing stuns loyal customers

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When Chris Mirmirani heard Friday that Benny’s would be closing all of their stores by the end of the year, he knew where he wanted to be Saturday morning – the West Shore Road store where he and his father always shopped for Cooper tires.

Mirmirani wasn’t alone. There was a steady stream of customers in and out of the store and while their purchases were different there was a shared feeling of loss that a Rhode Island institution that was started 93 years ago would be closing its doors.

“I hate going to Walmart,” said Barbara St. John as she paused to chat in the parking lot. In Benny’s she’s always found what she wants without having to walk for miles. She extolled the diversity of products at Benny’s from bikes to grills, games, cleaners and candy. Service was also high on her list especially when it comes to assembling items that other stores leave for the customer to put together.

“No matter what they have it,” she said. “It has always been the place to go for everything.”

When St. John learned of the news she texted “sniff, sniff” to friends. And while St. John is savvy with cell phones she’s no fan of shopping on line.

But there’s no mistaking from the release issued Friday afternoon and the comments made by Benny’s president Arnold Bromberg on WPRO that the Internet had a role in bringing the curtain down on a business that has always prided itself in being part of the neighborhood.

“It is also important to all of us that our community knows that this is a calculated business decision based on our knowledge of the retail industry and where it is going in the future,” Bromberg said in the release. “That future is not so bright for small, family-owned chains like ours. We’ve lived and breathed this way of doing business for a long time, but we could not, in good conscience, leave the business to the next generation of our family when these market conditions would so clearly conspire to work against them.”

The release says the decision to close was “strongly influenced” by changing in retailing and the “dominance of online retailers like Amazon and others.”

No specific timetable was given for the closing of 31 stores and distribution center, only that the goal is to complete the process by the end of 2017. In an interview on WPRO, Bromberg said there would be some “surprise” sales in the weeks ahead. The company further said the disposition of real estate holdings – Benny’s owns most of its store locations – is under review.

An indication that the decision to close has been under consideration for some time, the release reads, “The company has been fielding offers on those real estate holdings and any relevant developments will be announced at the appropriate time.” The company held a staff meeting and called store managers prior to sending out a new release, but given social media, news of the closing preceded the release.

“We did it as thoroughly and sensitively as possible,” Bromberg said to the Beacon Monday. Bromberg personally called Mayor Scott Avedisian and Mayor Allan Fung.

An Eastern European immigrant, Arnold’s grandfather, Benjamin Bromberg, opened the first Benny’s in November of 1924 on Fountain Street in Providence with his wife, Flora. He had been working at American Auto Supply Co. mounting tires. The store mostly featured automotive parts, a product line that was not subject to the blue laws of the time allowing them to open on Sunday. Merchandise was expanded, as was the number of stores that grew to include outlets in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

The Brombergs’ son, Malcolm, carried on the business and it is his children, Arnold, Howard and Judy Rosenstein, that run the business today. In 2014 when the company was celebrating its 90th anniversary, the three Brombergs visited the West Shore Road store where they had arranged to meet Mayor Avedisian. The mayor presented them with a citation and spent time talking about the store’s success.

Howard talked about the evolution of the store chain and the direct correlation between the Benny’s ads in the Sunday paper and that day’s sales. Auto parts was a big part of the business as home mechanics tackled such jobs as tune ups and changing brake pads themselves. As the auto industry changed, other sectors of the business including toys, yard equipment and supplies played a bigger role. The first Warwick Benny’s opening in the 1950s was in the Meadowbrook Plaza not far from the Meadowbrook Cinema.

Mayor Avedisian wasn’t outside the West Shore Road store Saturday morning, but at an event later in the day he shared his experience of looking for the proper ingredients to clean his fireplace andirons and knowing he could always count on Benny’s to get it. He lamented the loss of the store and the other mom and pop retailers that have folded with the advent of big box stores and now the Internet.

Ron Cardi, who was at Cardi’s West Warwick super store Saturday morning as volunteers filled two trailer trucks with supplies for the victims of Hurricane Harvey, is likewise sorry to see Benny’s close. Like Benny’s, Cardi’s is a family run business having gotten its start in 1928 when Ron’s grandmother, Rosa, opened a dry good store in the Knightsville section of Cranston. Now Cardi’s operates four big box stores in addition to nine mattress stores and other outlets. Cardi said the company is in the process of opening an Ashley House store in Attleboro.

Cardi said he understands how the next generation may not want to carry on the family tradition especially in a changing retail environment that is heavily influenced by online sales. As for Cardi’s, he said, “We can compete.” He feels the edge is giving customers “world class service,” competitive prices and same day delivery.

In the announcement Bromberg is quoted, “We feel that Benny’s has become part of what makes our small corner of the world so special. We’ll miss our loyal customers and our employees – friends and neighbors – generations of whom have shopped our stores for the past 93 years and have referred to Benny’s as ’my favorite store.’ As we wind down this business we want to do our best to ensure that our mark on local retail history will be as positive and lasting as possible.”

Bromberg said Monday there would be a staggered closing of the stores. As for business since the announcement, he said it has been good and that the store sold out of Benny’s T-shirts and hats. More are on order.

As for Mirmirani who was shopping with Sarah Rawnesley and their 6-month old son, Renton, Saturday, the store may close but he will hold on to the memories. He asked Rawnesley for the credit card and rushed back to the store. Minutes later he was back sporting a Benny’s cap.

Comments

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RISchadenfreude

If you needed fishing gear, clothes line, flame-proof paint, a child's birthday present and a brake light bulb, where else (other than a Big Box) can you get it in one location, without waiting for someone to mail it to you and paying for shipping? RI'ers tendency to be too lazy to drive "all the way" to the store doesn't help, either.

Getting new jobs won't be easy for their staff in RI's economic climate, either.

I believe another part of the reason is the shifting demographic resulting from the younger generations not exactly being "DIY" types and the aging of the store's most loyal customers.

Another RI institution gone as a result of "progress". Thanks for all the years of service and best wishes to the owners, employees and their loved ones.

Wednesday, September 13
KaptainMorgan

You're right, very few DIYers today. I learned how to fix stuff because I couldn't afford to pay someone to fix my mistake. That goes for automobile and home. The thing is, you have to learn the correct method, not the Yankee swamp theory of "Good enough for now. "

.as far as Benny's -- I love them, but obviously I didn't purchase enough from them throughout the years. We always expected them to be there, but didn't support them enough to ensure it! If we are honest, I'm sure everyone could say the same...

Wednesday, September 13
VoWarwick2017

Nostalgia is killing Rhode Island.

When Rocky Point announced that it was closing the community went nuts complaining about how a Rhode Island institution couldn't possible be allowed to close - but they were unwilling to actually go to Rocky Point enough prior to the announcement to actually keep it open. The nostalgia kicked in and prevent the city from turning the land into something that would have actually produced tax revenue for the city to, I don't know pay for the rehabs on the schools that are to quote the Governor not places that can keep our kids "safe, warm and dry". Nope we need to remember a failed amusement park that our grand parents went to once a summer 50 years ago.

What we have seen in Warwick with the school closing is another example. "You can't close that school, my father and mother met there in 3rd grade!" or "My favorite teacher (who died 10 years ago) taught there!" Never mind the fact that our children are not getting quality educations but hey 50 years ago they may have been good schools so let keep'em open that is the Rhode Island way right?

Then there is Alex and Ani wow they really tapped into the nostalgia of Rhode Island because nothing says Rhode Island like over priced cheep jewelry. Nostalgia stuffed a ton of money in to their pockets, so much so that they have put their name on everything and created a laughable few actual jobs in Rhode Island. Yet, we drive away any industry that is modern. But hey they remind Rhode Island of the good ol' days so lets fork over some tax benefits, slap their name on a few more buildings for no good reason.

Now we have everyone losing their minds over Benny's closing. Let's be honest. Benny's was the junk drawer retailer (80% of what you buy there ends up in a junk drawer) . That doesn't make them a bad store, I bought my share of car batteries, hoses and flashlights there. What is true is that as a company they made no effort to keep up with the times. Almost every Benny's in Warwick became dingy, dully lit stores where the majority of the people working their didn't know anything about the products being sold. On top of that Benny's on the whole did not advance their business model and did things the way they always did them - what worked 50 years ago doesn't always work today. Small business don't need to be small minded and that is what Benny's became and when they realized how far behind the game they were they decided to stop playing.

If Rhode Island wants to have a future it needs to stop relying on the past for all of it's ideas. If Rhode Island wants a future Rhode Islanders need to stop trying to do things the same old way because it isn't working.

OR

Insanity = doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Thursday, September 14
Justanidiot

disloyal customers were not surprised because they didn't even know benny's was still in business

Thursday, September 14
RISchadenfreude

VoWarwick2017,

OS Job Lot is the king of RI's "Junk Drawer" retailers; whatever seasonal items they don't sell (Xmas decorations, for example) go right back on a shelf in their monstrous Quonset Point warehouse until the next year.

The "Insanity" is certainly true of RI's political situation, as well...keep electing and re-electing the same old partisan cronies and expect the economic situation to improve.

The schools are a different situation, one driven by the unions to ensure that every one of its members keep their jobs regardless of the shrinking number of schools and students. Have you ever noticed that as soon as there's discussion of closing schools, the union begins bemoaning class sizes? "Gotta reduce those class sizes so every teacher stays employed"; if they had their way, every teacher would remain employed teaching classes of 5-10 students.

Benny's is a victim of change and an unwillingness (or apathy) to change; just because they didn't morph into something else or use their website for direct mail doesn't mean folks can't mourn the passing of a place that many grew up with for decades.

That being said, I won't be rushing in to buy a Benny's cap to place on my father's grave.

5 days ago
richardcorrente

When Malcom Bromberg purchased the now-named "Benny's Marketplace" in East Greenwich back in the 80's I owned a home in the neighborhood behind it and spent about 45 minutes visiting with him after the grand opening. I considered him a total gentleman, and a brilliant businessman. When he announced he was NOT selling, but just closing I was surprised. It seems to me that, like Newport Creamery and Twinkies, someone would love to own his brand. I suggest that Ocean State Job Lot buy all the locations and keep long-term staff. Maybe they could change the name to "Benny's Ocean state Job Lot" (for the Benny's locations)

It would be a win-win for all, especially the Warwick taxpayers employed there.

Happy Autumn Benny's employees.

Happy Autumn everyone.

Rick Corrente

The Taxpayers Mayor

4 days ago
Scal1024

Rick, it is astonishing how bad your ideas are. It will be a great election day when you are overwhelming defeated for a 2nd time.

4 days ago
Thecaptain

Mayor Dumbness,

May I call you MD for short? You obviously heard the owner of Ocean State Job Lot on WPRO stating that he had intentions to reach out to Benny's owner and discuss acquisition of some of the properties. That was on Thursday of this week. Nice try with your dumbness.

By the way, where was your car registered during your 3 year period of tax delinquency?

4 days ago