Apex Department Store; Pawtucket, Rhode Island

Apex Department Store in Pawtucket, Rhode Island

Apex Department Stores are a small chain of department stores in the Providence metropolitan area that were mostly shuttered in 2001. They had only three locations: this one, in Pawtucket; a similar but slightly less-remarkable store on Route 5 in Warwick; and a more standard boxy store at the Swansea Mall in Swansea, Massachusetts. Beginning as a tire retailer and growing into a Sears-styled mid-range department store in the true, old-fashioned sense, they downsized aggressively at the same time as Ann & Hope, Bradlees, and Caldor were all closing or downsizing. While the Warwick and Swansea stores closed in 2001 (and the Warwick store was demolished recently), the bare-bones version of Apex continues to operate both online and in a portion of their Pawtucket store.

Apex in Pawtucket, Rhode Island aerial view

The “Apex Mall,” as it is sometimes referred, was built in downtown Pawtucket in 1969. Designed by famed architect Andrew Geller, its pyramid-shaped roof is visible just off I-95, and it sits perched along the Blackstone River directly in front of downtown Pawtucket. Pawtucket is a historic mill city with a rich heritage, and this–in my view, historic–structure is directly across the river from the Slater Mill, the birthplace of the industrial revolution in America. Interestingly, these two photos were taken from almost the same place, and they exhibit the vivid architectural juxtaposition you can find in New England:

Apex Department Store in Pawtucket, Rhode Island Slater Mill Historic Site, across from the Apex Department Store in Pawtucket, Rhode Island

Today, Apex occupies only a portion of the original building, while the Department of Motor Vehicles is leasing much of the remainder. Because of the size and crucial location of the property, it’s widely speculated that it may be demolished in the not so distant future, especially if rumors are true that the DMV is planning a move to Cranston. While it may be difficult to repurpose such an odd building easily, it would make for an ideal marketplace for a variety of merchants, especially if more of the building was opened up towards the river. In addition, there’s a particularly inspiring (if far-fetched) proposal to turn the building into a museum of Industrial Design. The Providence Phoenix wrote in 2004:

Matt Kierstead, a Pawtucket architectural historian and preservationist who is a fan of the building, suggests that not just the structure’s exterior, but also its conception as “an entire landscape,” and its unbroken interior space, make Apex significant. Kierstead places Apex in the context of a mid-century American design ethos that celebrated mobility and expansiveness. Not coincidentally, the building was conceived and built during the age of the convertible, the drive-in, and the space program, and it reflects the optimism of that era. Less well known is how it was devised by Andrew Geller, a key associate of Raymond Loewy, the man considered the father of American industrial design.

The entire Phoenix article, along with many more photos of the Apex building that are somewhat artier than my own, are available at the excellent Art in Ruins website, which chronicles historic structures (including modern ones) in Rhode Island.

Apex Department Store in Pawtucket, Rhode Island Apex Department Store in Pawtucket, Rhode Island Apex Department Store in Pawtucket, Rhode Island

Apex Department Store in Pawtucket, Rhode Island Apex Department Store in Pawtucket, Rhode Island Apex Department Store in Pawtucket, Rhode Island

Apex Department Store in Pawtucket, Rhode Island Andrew Gellar's rendering of Apex in Pawtucket, Rhode Island

11 Responses to “Apex Department Store; Pawtucket, Rhode Island”

  1. This store is still my favorite. Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s in Pawtucket, this was the store to go to. Especially since I lived about an 8 minute walk away from it. Iconic building, large amount of parking and great selection. Somewhat sad to see to see it and it’s other contemporary (Ann & Hope) gone.

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  2. Last time I went into this building, a year or two ago, it was the location of the Rhode Island Dept of Motor Vehicles. However, they had not taken down the various department signs (Juniors, Mens, etc) which made the whole visit comical. I could imagine asking where the driver’s license desk was and someone telling me it’s “in between the dressing rooms and the women’s shoes department”

    Beautiful building, definitely a memory from my childhood

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  3. I was here yesterday. I had always driven by it on my way to Narragansett during the Summer when I was a kid, but had never been in before.

    It’s very strange. Not a soul was in there, the parking lot was completely empty, but they were still selling jackets and clothes that cost $200 +.

    There were some very old electronics for sale, including a microwave that had to date back to the late 80s at best.

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  4. Bizarre. I wonder if it’s like some well-known retailer (think Montgomery Ward) closed up all of its stores except one.

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  5. I worked at the Warwick Store back in the late 80’s in the furniture dept.I heard they tore that store down. You can see it on Google Maps. I haven’t been to R.I. in over 9 years, I miss some parts but I ‘ m glad I left, although it would be interesting to return to see how much R.I has changed and visit some old friends and my sister.

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  6. The Warwick store closed in 2001 I believe, but the building remained for a while. My favorite restaurant, “the Tomato Vine” was in the carousel looking section with the pyramid roof up until 2005 or so maybe? I loved that place, it’s too bad they couldn’t find a new spot when they decided to knock down the whole plaza. Now it’s a Lowes and Stop & Shop plaza.

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    sandy Reply:

    @Adam, do you remember what restaurant was
    there before the Tomato Vine? We have been trying to think of it……………………..blank!!!

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    Elaine Reply:

    @sandy,
    are you thinking of Newport Creamery? They were there a long time.

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    Tom Reply:

    @sandy,
    LL Evan was there for many years. It was the first restaurant to be in that location

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  7. As a long time resident and constant dreamer I am amazed that this mall has not flourished. There is so much potential for this area. If only it would return to being an entertainment venue. For example, can you imagine a Daves and Busters like the one at Providence Place Mall being placed here. With CCRI next door and the local youth looking for something to do, I feel this is a gold mine. I don’t understand the lack of vision. If I ever win the Powerball this would be one of my first investment considerations.

    Sincerely; Jim D.

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  8. All I remember about Apex tire was going to see a
    giant robot there.A big brass colored Colossus that some how guessed my name.This was only 2 days after seeing “The Day the Earth Stood Still”.

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