While the name will be unfamiliar to anyone from outside Rhode Island, Southeastern Massachusetts, or Eastern Connecticut, Benny’s Home & Auto Stores–who continue to operate today–are a true living retail relic. Just look at this vintage-looking store! Nearly all of the Benny’s stores, even the ones of more recent vintage, seem to look like this. As an added bonus, check out their website, which sports some considerable 1996 HTML chic. These guys take retro retail fashion seriously. Oops, they actually built a new website!
Founded in 1924, Benny’s is a 30-store chain with stores in 3 states. Their format is decidedly unusual: they essentially round up the hardlines department of a standard Wal-Mart, and cut nearly all of the softlines. It’s a place where you can buy tools, sporting goods, automotive, toys, home decor, and lawn and garden, but you won’t find any clothing. Their stores vary in size, ranging from 20,000 or 30,000 square feet at the low end and up to about 60,000 or so square feet at the high end, and are located in shopping centers, standalone locations, and even downtowns. They’re the rare survivor from the 5-and-dime era who has managed to carve out a niche and outlast their bigger, better monied New England cousins like Ames, Bradlees, Rich’s, or Caldor.
I haven’t shopped at Benny’s in many years since I moved away from the area, but that the chain has become sort of a local treasure is no surprise. Rhode Island is a state that values its local retail, but after losing nearly all of the big names from Peerless to The Outlet to to Apex to Ann & Hope, Benny’s is the last major player standing. Benny’s is so adored as a survivor that you can buy a collectible model of an old, downtown-style store!
The location pictured is located on US44 on the Raynham/Taunton town line in Massachusetts, but they all look very similar to this one. Even stores of a more recent vintage have been given some of the classic treatment, so nearly all of their locations offer a trip down the memory lane of discount department store retail. The ad included below is their current (Aug 2006) Providence Journal advertising flyer, and I’ve included it to give an idea of the types of products Benny’s sells.
Prangeway: Here is the Benny’s location in Wakefield Westerly, Rhode Island, in August 2001.