224-Year-Old General Store Says Goodbye 01 Aug 12

It’s the end of an era for one Rhode Island general store. After 224 years of serving customers and being designated the oldest, continuous operating general store in America, Gray’s Store in Adamsville village in Little Compton, Rhode Island is closing its doors for good.

Although once prized for its marble soda fountain, cigar and tobacco cases, and Rhode Island Johnny cakes, keeping the store open no longer makes economic sense for young owner, Jonah Waite. Waite, 21, inherited the store only last month after his father died of cancer at the age of 59. The store opened in 1788 and had been in the Waite family for seven generations, since 1879, but apparently was no longer self-sustaining and had lost many customers to a supermarket down the street.

Waite explained, “Obviously, I understand the historical aspect of it, and I would really love to keep it the way it is, but it doesn’t seem to me that that’s the most feasible option. With the economy … the place has lost its attraction, lost its luster.”

The building is not only a store but also comprises the Waite’s family home. Jonah Waite, who will begin his senior year this Fall at the University of Hartford in Connecticut, has dreams of a career in sports journalism and is unsure if he will keep the property or try to sell it. He admitted that coping with his father’s death and handling the store has been a challenge yet he feels confident his father would support his decisions. According to Waite, his father planned to sell the property to pay for medical bills and to retire. “He’s trusting that I’ll do the right thing and what’s best for me,” Waite said.

In the general store’s final days, old and new patrons are stopping by for a bit of nostalgia and to make their last purchases of Gray’s penny candy, groceries, antiques, and collectibles.