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Stores on Main Street

For many years, the principle stores in Woonsocket were kept in connection with the mills. As the city grew, independent stores were established and Main Street became the retail center of the city.

Rathbun's Block, Main Street from and ad in the Woonsocket Parriot, 1843 The earliest independent stores in what is now the City of Woonsocket were the firms of Darling & Thayer and Glackin & Mason which were located in the Rathbun Block on Main Street. By 1889, Main Street had grown to include 8 apothecaries, 12 dry goods stores, 3 bookstores, 15 boot and shoe stores, 6 clothes stores, 40 groceries, 3 hardware and 6 furniture stores. Every trade was fully represented and Woonsocket was the major retail center in northern Rhode Island.

McCarthy Dry Goods Company in Depot Square By 1910, the leading mercantile enterprise in Woonsocket was Harris & Mowry - Main Street's "Big Store". Its largest competitor was the McCarthy Dry Goods Company which was founded in 1889. In 1914, McCarthy's opened a new six-floor department store at Depot Square which featured 45 specialty departments. Located at the corner of Main and Court Street, this is now the site of City Hall Park. A painting of the former McCarthy's Building can be seen on the side of City Hall and the original McCarthy's clock has been erected in the park.

Main Street remained the retail center of the city until the 1960's when shopping styles began to change. With narrow streets and limited parking, Main Street could not compete with the growth of shopping centers in the suburbs and many of Woonsocket's major Main Street retailers including W.T. Grant, Woolworth, and McCarthy's moved to the Walnut Hill Plaza in East Woonsocket.

In 1989, the City of Woonsocket began the rejuvenation of Main Street with the formation of the Main Street 2000 Corporation. The success of this project has been amazing and it is now being emulated by other cities and towns.

This page utilizes information from:

  • Statewide Historic Preservation Report for Woonsocket, Rhode Island published by the Rhode Island Historic Preservation Commission, 1976.
  • History of Providence County Rhode Island edited by Richard M. Bayles and published by W. W. Peston & Co., New York, 1891
  • History of Woonsocket written by E. Richardson and published by S.S. Fosse Printers, Woonsocket, 1876 (printed by Higginson Book Company, Salem, MA)

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