200910ind history

This property at 1121 Ten Rod Road in North Kingstown might be home to a consignment store and “Buff’s Mulch” today, but in 1938 it was at the center of a controversy as grocery store owner Leonard Joslin was forced to move his business to this site to make way for a new railroad underpass. Rather than close his business during the half-mile move, Joslin insisted on staying open and customers responded in kind by jumping in their cars to purchase products in transport.

I expect that during the fall and early winter of 1938, Leonard Joslin’s temper would flare each and every time someone mentioned the construction of the new railroad underpass at Wickford Junction. Not that Joslin had anything against the railroad, mind you. He had worked for years as a railroad bridge supervisor and left the employ of the railroad in good graces. It had always been his desire to become a grocery store owner, and he opened his own little store right next to the station in busy Wickford Junction. Joslin and his wife were so well-suited to this line of work and so successful that they soon were able to buy out their nearest competition, Charles Sweet, and move from their little store into the larger “People’s Supply Company” which Sweet had operated.

Folks swore by the Joslin’s “People’s Supply Company.” His regular customers were as loyal as they came. As far as they were concerned, there was no one like Mr. and Mrs. Leonard Joslin and no store like People’s Supply. Neither the Joslins nor their patrons had any interest in seeing the store close for any more than the perfunctory and expected Sundays. So, when the men from the state highway department came and told the Joslins that, not only were they going to be required to move their general store (lock, stock, and barrel, as it were) one half mile west from its usual and expected location, they were also going to be expected to close for business for three days or more. Well, that was just more than a body could stand.

I expect when Leonard got home and told the missus the news she was fit to be tied. Never mind that the state was going got pay for the move; that was to be expected! Who was going to reimburse the hard-working couple for shutting down the store from Tuesday, Dec. 20 through Thursday the 22nd? How would they make up for that lost income – and so close to the holidays, no less? No, no, that just would not do! Leonard and his wife decided that night that there was just no way they were closing their store; not even for one day!

I wish I could have been there that day when Leonard Joslin informed all the men from the state highway department that he and his wife had come to the decision that there was no way they had any intentions of closing up shop during the big move. The look on their faces must have been priceless. Why, I expect that head state engineer Col. Robert F. Rodman himself probably tried to reason with his neighbors on the folly of this plan. Perhaps Leonard’s resolve was steeled even more after the highfalutin’ son of a mill owner tried to tell him what to do. Good luck getting a hard-nosed Exeter Swamp Yankee like Leonard to back down.

Word got out about the controversy over moving Joslin’s Store and when the fateful day came, even the Providence Journal had a reporter on the scene ready to witness the action along with every local with some time on his or her hands. This is how that reporter described the scene: “So popular are the Joslins in the neighborhood that when the store started moving down the street yesterday, customers got into their cars and chased it to get their staples. Rolling alongside the moving building, they shouted their orders, got their loaf of bread, pound of butter or can of peas thrown at them, threw the money to Mrs. Joslin and got their change thrown back into the car.” The big building’s journey down the street was slow and methodical. By dusk they were halfway there and the movers, who were quite taken by this display of customer loyalty, made certain to park the big building under a street light. Mrs Joslin quickly got out a packing crate and set it out as an impromptu front step and then served her remaining customers. Day two of the big move proceeded as the day before and by late afternoon the “People’s Supply Company” was parked on its new foundation a little east of Old Baptist Road.

Leonard Joslin passed on in 1943, but the building sits there to this day. It now houses a consignment store and the locally well-known “Buff’s Mulch.” Folks still have their favorite grocery store for sure, but I doubt any have a “following” like Leonard Joslin did.

The author is the North Kingstown town historian. The views expressed here are his own.

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