Ursula (Schaab) Albro was a human dynamo. A widow long before she should have been, she raised four wonderful children, kept a happy home, enriched the lives of friends, family, and neighbors, and, oh yeah, along with all that, she ran a full service variety store that served the needs of countless folks out in Shore Acres for more than three decades.
“Wait a minute,” you’re probably saying “There’s no variety store in that very residential neighborhood of Shore Acres!”
Well, you’re right there isn’t now, and unless you know where to look you’d never realized there ever was one, but from 1946-1976, Albro’s Variety Store was the epicenter of Shore Acres and Mrs. Albro was its heart and soul.
Ursula’s husband, Howard E. Albro, a long-time employee of the phone company, had purchased the land in Shore Acres back when it was an up-and-coming summer community in the early 1940s. He saw it as a summer place where he and his family could escape from the urban surroundings of their home on Broad Street in Providence. He and Ursula came up with the idea of a little convenient variety store in that neighborhood as a way to help the growing family, daughter Virginia and sons H. Earl, Robert and Ralph, make ends meet. His untimely death though left Ursula alone with her children and their future and she had no intention of failing.
After Howard’s death the Albro’s moved to Shore Acres year-round and Ursula and the family got to work. She herself would take the daily trip, in the wee hours of the morning, to the Providence produce market to pick up all the fresh wares needed at the store. Oldest son Earl would be off to the meat markets at the same time and eventually became a self-taught butcher of sorts, providing for the needs of their patrons. Later Earl opened his own business which he ran out of the store. I’ll bet half of North Kingstown during that timeframe learned to drive from certified driving instructor Earl Albro.
After returning from the city, Ursula and daughter Virginia would open up the store and serve as clerks all day, serving up groceries, scooping ice cream, and even pumping gas when Ralph and Robert weren’t around. Those two boys helped out as needed, stocking shelves, pumping gas, clerking, and even delivering groceries to homebound folks who couldn’t make it to the store. They also helped out sorting the morning and evening newspapers, too, as Albro’s was a central location where numerous paperboys on bikes and on foot would pick up the papers for home delivery.
After the store closed in the evening (it also closed for lunch each day), Ursula’s job was not done; there were family needs to attend to, the bookkeeping had to be kept up to date and plans for the next day had to be formulated. As I said, Ursula Albro was a human dynamo.
Albro’s Variety Store was successful in its little location, because the world was a different place back then. It was a time when families were happy to have one car — let alone two or three — and when dad was off at work, mom was tied to her neighborhood and it sure was great to have a place where you could shop within walking distance of home.
There were no giant impersonal supermarkets then, only grocery and variety stores like Ryan’s in Wickford, the Steven’s Store in Davisville, Lafreniere’s in Allenton, and yes, Albro’s out in Shore Acres, staffed by folks you knew and trusted; they were your friends and your neighbors. But as the world changed, the need for places like Albro’s changed as well and in 1976, due to intense competition from the base commissary annex and the area’s earliest true supermarket, Almacs, Ursula Albro was forced to close up the variety store for good.
When she did hang those keys on the rack in the house for the last time, she was 85 years old and had spent nearly every day, six days a week, behind the counter at the store since 1946. Ursula passed away in 1980 at the age of 89 years old.
I drive by the old Albro Variety Store on a regular basis these days and I can’t help but remember my one experience there. As a boy of 13, I rode my bike out to Shore Acres from Wickford just because I wanted to explore the shoreline there looking for whatever interesting item that the sea had tossed up there during the last summer storm. Before I headed back home, I stopped at the store and treated myself to a cone of maple walnut ice cream. Mrs Albro gave me a smile and a generous scoop and I ate it on my bike in front of the store; I think it was the best ice cream I had ever tasted.
I miss Albro's. I used to blow my allowance there on comic books, candy,, and a 7 cent big bottle of Royal Crown cola.
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