THE moral behind THE MONOLITH

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 If not here, the following articles are printed periodically in The Pawtucket Times, a wonderful newspaper that lives in a beautiful historic building.

​Okay.  I think trying to make an argument for saving the Apex building is going to be an uphill battle.  Basically, I told my Dad I was going to to the library to research it and he said “For what, proof it should be torn down?”, and he’s a proud Pawtucket resident.  I can tell you the magical history of the now 92 year old business.  I can try to pluck some heart strings, but maybe the best thing I can tell you for why it should continue to stand is so that you all can look at it whenever a developer comes to town with high in the sky promises about economic growth.  Economic growth that will happen if you let him rip down that million year old (exaggeration, I know) beautiful mill and put up a shiny and stylish new building.

    Because that’s what Apex was, and that’s what Apex did.  Combing through an Apex information dedicated folder kept in the Pawtucket History Research Center, I found an editorial from the Providence Journal written in March 2001 by Craig S. Johnson.  

To preface the Johnson peice; In January 2001, Apex saddened and startled the public by announcing a double whammy.  It was closing it’s Warwick and Seekonk stores and severely downsizing it’s Pawtucket location.  All told, 400 people would lose their jobs; at the most, 30 employees would remain.  

    This was bad timing.  Ann & Hope had beat Apex out of the gate, announcing 3 weeks prior that it was closing 4 New England locations and cutting back on it’s 2 Rhode Island stores.  Things weren’t looking good for the previously trendsetting deep discount stores.  (So deep were the discounts that Apex got a lawsuit filed against them in 1961 claiming they were selling products too cheap.  Like, below state minimum cheap.)  

    Ann & Hope and Apex had contracted a serious sickness and that virus was Target and Wal-Mart.  In a survey conducted by the University of Rhode Island in 2001, 135 of the 280 people surveyed said they had abandoned Apex, so famed for a strong (and loyal) customer base, to shop at the home of the bulls-eye and happy face rolling back prices.

    So I read through several testimonials of depressed customers and lovely old ladies, bemoaning that they have no place to find their perfectly fitting shoes, and then Craig S. Johnson busts on the scene.  Instead of nostalgia, Johnson flat out says good riddance in oh-so-many-words.  Apex, part of the Slater Urban Renewal Project, was actually part of several “urban removal” projects popular of the time.  Johnson states, “Gone were the old bricks and timbers, the wavy glass windows, the site of the first planned industrial-residential community or “mill-housing” in America, the counting house and the Moses Brown House.  With it went the potential for shops, riverside cafes, museums and beautifully restored antique homes.”  The preservationist inside me is currently crying uncontrollably on the floor.

    I found some pretty cool nuggets about the building. (They stopped selling guns in 1961 until more ‘suitable legislation’ was put into place, they refused to relocate to Hattiesburg, MA in 1957 because of a racist labor mentality and they were one of the first department stores to have a fully functioning, delivery in 24 hours, website in 1999.). But I also found some heartbreakingly beautiful aerial shots of what was once there; the majestic Goff mill with surrounding closely quartered houses.  Sure, some of those houses looked like they needed love, but did that love really have to be a bulldozer?  I’m angered by what was lost when that monstrosity of a pyramid erupted from the concrete.  

Leave it up, I say!  After all, preserving the past is what saves our future, right?  Apex can be the lesson that lives.  It’s precious riverfront property can be the martyr that saves, say, Tollman.  (If it ever closes up and some glitzy 5th avenue retailer comes to town with fool's gold in his pocket.)  Look what Kahn told the Pawtucket Times in 1967, 2 years before Apex opened it’s sparkling new glass doors.  “New improved traffic circulation and a modernization program coupled with demolition of archaic structures are what attracted us.”  

How do you guys like traffic circulation downtown Pawtucket’s got going on?  Those archaic structures could today be a charming riverside community, drawing residents and tourists alike.  Let Apex’s red tinged roof remind us all of what can be lost, and more importantly, what we can come to be stuck with.    

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