Cherry & Webb Building
In the November 1908, issue of Everybody’s Magazine writers William Hurd and Rhete Childe Dorr described the “Women’s Invasion” transforming the American work force during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. According to their article, 4,833,630 women were employed in industry in 1900, an increase of nearly a million female workers over 20 years.
Drawing on the Abstract of the Twelfth Federal Census (1900), Hurd and Childe disclose that in the United States, 21 out of every 100 women worked. In Fall River their article states that, of women between the ages of 21 and 25, 67 out of every 100 women worked. Of Fall River women between 16 and 20, 78 out of every 100 worked. Hurd and Childe also point out that women had been part of the American work force for over a century.
In Fall River, the women’s invasion began at dawn when wave after wave of textile workers flowed through the doors of the city’s one hundred textile mills. Hurd and Dorr write:
“This is one of the scenes worth going to Fall River to see. The other takes place on Main Street on Saturday afternoon. It is very different. It shows the factory girl, not as an inhuman speck of matter in a whirlwind of ferocious efficiency, but as a real girl, whose attitude toward cloth, after all, is that while it may be something to make, it is more emphatically something to wear.”
Fall River’s Saturday fashion promenade wound through a canyon of store windows exhibiting “dramatically colored and melodramatically postured wax ladies” dressed in the latest “ready to wear” apparel. The figures beckoned to the strollers to enter and purchase the very same outfit inside the store.
One young cotton mill worker, Margarida Maria Roderigues, recently arrived in Fall River from Fayal in the Azores, has just discarded her traditional garb for a “street dress of a delicate, indoor cashmere…” The dress she now wears is “elaborately long and multitudinously flounced.” The article further describes her outfit: “the girdle is made of stain, and is very broad. The neck is cut low with promiscuous ruching. Around her shoulders there is a short, bright blue Eton jacket. On her head towers and sways an enormous, shirred pink silk hat, branching into sprays of pink roses.”
“Ready to wear” was a term familiar to merchants since the invention of the sewing machine in the mid 19th century, and particularly, after the perfection of the power machine decades later. During that time, garment manufacture was rationalized, with production of the individual garment broken down into separate mechanical tasks, a development that not only drove down manufacturing costs, but increased the availability of inexpensive clothing of relatively high quality for the “masses.”
These forces made hand-sewing virtually obsolete, confining the handicraft of dress making to a discriminating economic and social elite.
Ready to wear also impacted merchandizing. In order to compete, retailers were forced to offer consumers a plentiful source and wide variety of clothing. During the first half of the 19th century, merchantile establishments transitioned from offering yards of material, or a small selection of hand-sewn dresses for sale, to marketing whole departments that carried a variety of manufactured goods.
Ready to wear occupied the thoughts of William Sinclair Cherry (1867-1941) as he clerked in the general store operated by John Story, a relative, in Lowell, Massachusetts. Born in York, Ontario, Canada, of an English-born father (Joseph Cherry) and a Canadian mother (Agnes Darling French), Cherry began his retail career at Mr. Crennan’s store in Aurora, Ontario. There, he met fellow clerk Frederick Webb.
Frederick Webb was born in Godmanchester, Huntingdonshire, England, August 24, 1864, the son of Joseph Webb, maltster. He attended public schools there, and after grammar school entered the office of Hunnybun & Sons [sic.], Solicitors [lawyers] in Huntingdon. Webb remained at the law office for five years, then left England for Streetsville, Ontario, Canada, where he worked as a store clerk for his uncle, William Webb. From there, Webb relocated to Aurora.
Cherry and Webb soon went their separate ways; Cherry to Lowell, where he was employed as a store clerk for John Story, a relative. Webb went to Worcester, MA, where he found a clerk’s job at the Healy Cloak and Suit Store. A year later, he accepted a similar position at Denholm and McKay, Worcester.
Despite working in different cities, Cherry and Webb remained in touch. Cherry decided he wanted his own store. He recruited Frederick Webb as a business partner. Around 1898, Cherry and Webb were reunited in the textile center of Fall River, Massachusetts. There, they established the New York Cloak and Suit Company at “Flint’s Exchange” in the Flint and Barker building on the west side of South Main Street, near Columbia. Faced with an expanding business, the partnership, now known as “Cherry & Webb” soon leased the entire building.
Based on the success of the Fall River store, Cherry and Webb organized the New Bedford store (1900), the Providence store (1905), the Lowell store, where the partnership acquired the store of Cherry’s relative, John Story (1910) and the Lawrence store (1912). They opened a Brockton store as well. According to federal records, Cherry emigrated to the United States in 1894, when he was in his mid-twenties. By 1900, then 32, he was living at 589 Second Street, Fall River, together with his wife, Ella [Rose Ella M. Stevenson, whom he married in 1895], 30; brother, Oliver M., 21; and business partner Frederick Webb, 35. By 1909, Cherry had moved to Providence, RI, intent on establishing the company’s headquarters there.
On the evening of February 15, 1916, a fire started in the basement of the Steiger Company, a four-story brick building on the SW corner of South Main and Spring Streets. The fire destroyed several acres of the commercial district on both sides of South Main Street before firefighters brought it under control. The total value of the property destroyed amounted to over 1.5 million dollars, with only about a million covered by insurance. The fire damaged or destroyed several four story brick structures, among which were the Steiger building (an estimated loss of $300,000, the Flint and Barker building, the Sullivan building, the Egan building, the Lenox Hotel and Cobb, Bates and Yerxa.
Miraculously, Cherry & Webb didn’t lose their entire inventory in the fire. Within 21 days the company had erected a temporary store (142 North Main Street) on the then vacant site of the proposed Masonic Temple. Throughout the First World War , the temporary building was also used by the American Red Cross and the American Legion.
Cherry & Webb commenced plans to construct a new building. On July 1, 1916, William S. Cherry and Frederick Webb purchased a 17,646, sq. ft. lot from the First Methodist Society, (c/o Charles J. McCreery) near the corner of Anawan and South Main Streets. The lot contained a church building, the First Methodist Church. A few days later, the city took 1,679 sq. ft. for the widening of South Main Street. The church was demolished and the lot readied for construction.
William S. Cherry, now a Providence resident, hired a Providence-based architect, Herbert R. Hunt (1885-1961) to design the building. Hunt was born in Lowell, Mass., in 1885, and was working there as a draftsman by the age of 15. By 1915, he had established himself as an architect in Providence. Around 1917, he left Providence ostensibly to work full time as an architect for Cherry & Webb, returning to that city in 1922. Hunts most noteworthy surviving building is the Rosedale Apartments in Cranston, RI, built in 1939. Hunt retired in 1954 and died in 1961 at the age of 74.
The Cherry & Webb Company applied for two separate permits to erect the new structure. One, (no. 502) was issued on October 11, 1916, for four story brick and steel building on the corner of South Main and Anawan, with a stone foundation, and measuring 89 ½ feet x 180 feet. The McNally Construction Co., estimated the cost at $150,000. The other permit (no. 266), issued on June 29, 1917, was also for a brick and steel business building, measuring 37 feet 11 inches x 163 feet (length) of 2 stories, 4 at the rear. The estimated cost was $130,000, and the project was to be overseen by C.H. Hodgate, Contractor.
The issuance of two separate permits indicates some difficulty on the part of Cherry & Webb to assemble a contiguous corner lot to accommodate the building. The result was the structure’s rather unusual architectural footprint.
Some buildings list a local architect, Joseph M. Darling, as the designer of 139-149 South Main Street. In fact there were two Joseph Darlings, father and son. Joseph M. Darling, Sr. (1835-1918), was a prolific Fall River architect who designed many Fall River residences in the neo-classical style. His son, Jr. (1858-1935), designed far fewer buildings, making his living instead as a general contractor on local construction projects instead. Very likely, Herbert R. Hunter did design the building, perhaps with Joseph M. Darling in the role of associate architect or even a supervising general contractor. Still, some building department records credit Darling with designing the building’s neo-classical façade.
139-149 rises three stories over the street level story, which was originally designed with two separate entrances. By 1918, 149 accomodated a self-described “25 cent department store,” W.T. Grant.
William Thomas Grant and two partners opened a store at 178 South Main Street, Fall River, in 1910. The Fall River store was one of a chain of seven original stores. At “Grant’s”, one could purchase lotions, ribbons, handkerchiefs, millinery, jewelry, womwn’s neckwear, hosiery, knit underwear, corsets, petticoats, infants’ and children’s wear, slippers, men’s neck ties, stationery, sheet music, kitchen utensils, art goods, framed pictures, toiletries, etc, for no more than a quarter. Often, people referred to Grant’s as the “quarter store.” Incidentally, Grant rented the space for his original Fall River store from Lizzie Borden.
Born in Stevensville, PA in 1876, Grant lived in Fall River as a small boy. His father, after operating an unsuccessful tea store in Fall River, moved his family to Malden, MA.
Grant’s was located in the south side of the Cherry & Webb building, and would remain a tenant there until October, 1971, when the one time 25 cent store moved to “Harbor Mall” as an anchor store. During its half century tenancy at 149, Grant’s was given a free hand when remodeling the store in 1931, and later in the early 1950s.
On August 12, 1931, the store applied for a permit (no. 335) to shorten the display window in its 132 foot long, “wood, metal and plaster” enclave. The store was enlarged by removing interior partitions (“all interior work.”) The contractor, H.E. Cline, 43 Belmont Street, Boston, estimated the cost of these renovations at $1,000. In 1953, W.T. Grant spent $9,500 to remodel its storefront again. J.L. Marshall was the contractor. By this time, the store also contained a basement level that sold foodstuffs. Grant’s became known for its downstairs “cookie counter,” where the customer, selecting from plastic bins, could “make up” a bag of assorted cookies, which would be priced by weight by the retail clerk.
The building’s main store, “Cherry’s” also underwent renovations during the 1930s and the 1950s. A major renovation took place during the summer of 1932, when the company decided to install it first elevator. The store’s main stairway was relocated, and three concrete-lined shafts constructed in its place. The building’s original architect, Herbert R. Hunt, was the consultant on the project. The project, estimated at a cost of $10,000, was contracted out to the Carey Construction Co. of Fall River.
In 1950, Cherry & Webb covered the original metal ceilings with a new “hung ceiling on the first floor at an estimated cost of $5,000. The work was undertaken by Bloom & Sons, contractors. Four years later, the same contractors would construct a side entrance to the building on Anawan Street for $3,500. This side entrance, off the main stairway on the building’s north side, is still in existence, and the metal ceilings, now exposed, can be discerned in a c. 1940s photo of the interior of the W.T. Grant Co.
Perhaps the most notable alteration of the 1950s is the Art Deco covering placed over the original Neo-classical façade of cast or moulded “stone” (cement) sometime during the spring of 1954. This renovation, the brainchild of Company treasurer and General Manager of the Fall River store, Nelson R. Cherry, called for the removal o some of the “old style” decorative details of the original façade, particularly the four decorative sconces (or brackets at the tops of the mullions separating the five bays, as well as the medallions at the corners below the entablature. This task was accomplished by sheering off the decorations, thus flattening the surface so that the new covering could fit flush to the building. The old “Cherry & Webb” parapet, although concealed, was retained and great care was taken to match the more suitable alteration to the overall style of the façade, which has an enamel and glaze outer coating. Undoubtedly such care was taken should the covering be removed at a later date.
Insulation was placed over the old façade, and according to the local press, “a steel grill was anchored to the face of the building and all-steel porcelain panels attached to the grill work. The finish is in simulated tones of granite with a light grey field, accented with a darker gray border. Decorative detail is confined to a raised steel enlargement of the traditional Cherry & Webb seal, plus a neon belt sign bearing the firm’s name in script style letters.” The exterior façade was eventually removed in 2003 by contractor D.F. Pray, at the request of the current owner.
Until 1922, the Cherry & Webb stores were managed under a partnership plan. In that year, “each concern was separately incorporated under a corporate name of its own,” an action taken by Messrs. Cherry & Webb (now 55 and 58, respectively) in part due to the instability in the textile industry caused by the revolution in clothing styles in the years following World War I. This new corporate arrangement relieved the partnership, (or “parent” company) of any potential financial liability due to the actions of local store managers.
Mr. Webb died, 74, at his East Main Road home in Portsmouth, R.I. on April 7, 1938. He was survived by his widow, Alice Wilcox Anthony, whom he married at Portsmouth on December 28, 1910, when he was 45. Apparently, Mr. Webb’s first love was the military. During his early years in England, he was a member of the First Cambridge Volunteers, as well as the famous Peel Battalion of Ontario, during his residence in Canada. With the Peel Battalion, he attained the rank of sergeant-major. Locally he was a member of various social clubs and civic organizations, Including the Quequechan Club and the Fall River Yacht Club. He also sat on the boards of the Fall River National Bank and the Osborn and Massasoit Mills. The Webbs had no children.
William S. Cherry devoted himself to the affairs of his adopted city, Providence, RI. He was involved in the reclamation of wetlands in the Edgewood section, where he lived. His conservation efforts arose from an interest in landscape gardening, but were tempered by an equally avid interest in developing sites for a small manufacturing industries. He became involved in the Urban Realty Company, which developed the area known as the “Manucenter,” Providence. As president of the Rosedale Realty Company, he built a “large apartment house off Narragansett Avenue near the Cherry estate in Edgewood.”
As the officer of the Cherry & Webb Co. Cherry also organized and controlled a broadcast radio station, WPRO, in the late 1930s. When the station changed location years later, he donated the old broadcast towers to the Rhode Island State Police for use in the new police radio station in the Scituate, RI barracks. Mr. Cherry’s more serious philanthropic endeavors extended to the support of research into the treatment of infant paralysis. He funded the Rhode Island Infantile Paralysis Foundation, supporting the summer camp at Hoxsie, RI. In 1935, he donated $1,500 to the Fall River Infantile Paralysis Commission.
In Providence, he donated the Waterman Estate, 150 Waterman Street, to the American Red Cross. The structure became known as the “Rose Ella Cherry Red Cross House,” in memory of his late wife.
According to his obituary in the March 31, 1941, edition of the Fall River Herald News, William S. Cherry’s “unexpected death” shocked the business community of Southern New England. Buried in the litany of his contributions to both the civic and business life of the area, is this remarkable paragraph: “Dr. William H. Magill of Providence, medical examiner, stated that he would file a report today stating death resulted from ‘suicide due to an acute upset associated with is impaired physical conditions’ [sic.] The immediate cause of death was a plunge from an upper story window of the hospital [Jane Brown Hospital] in which he had been a patient.”
The death of Mr. Cherry in 1941, three years after that of Mr. Webb, marked the passing of an era in the history of the company. William S. Cherry, the driving force behind the partnership, had surmounted obstacles both large and small to ensure the success of his company, including style changes, two major local conflagrations, the Great Depression (which struck the Fall River textile industry early on), a major hurricane, the death of his wife, and the death of Mr. Webb in 1938. What Mr. Cherry could not abide was his physical incapacity and the resulting loss of executive control over his company, indicating perhaps, a rift between the Providence and the Fall River branches of the family.
After William’s death, his brother Oliver became president of the “corporation,” which included the Fall River store. William S. Cherry [Jr.] was made corporate vice president. Nelson R. Cherry, son of the new president, was named treasurer. An article in the Fall River Herald News a decade later (1953) noted that “the officers then named [in 1941] still fill the same positions.” So, the corporate structure of the entire chain remained under the control of the Cherry family, particularly the Fall River officials.
Whatever the changing fortunes of corporate, the Fall River store enjoyed a loyal customer base among the working women of Fall River. Such affection is clearly illustrated in the Fall River Historical Society’s oral history “Women at Work (2017). When questioned about the Great Depression, retired garment worker Ruth (Stasiowski) Soucy (1921-2017) confided to the interviewer that she “had the best of it.” With many of her older brothers and sisters contributing to the support of the family, young Ruth was able to take dance lessons, buy a bicycle and attend the movies. Of course, she “shopped with her mother at [the] R.A. McWhirr Department Store and [the] Cherry and Webb Company, a ladies’ ‘specialty’ store.”
After graduating from Durfee High School’s commercial course in 1939, she spent most of her work life (34 years), at Joseph Chromow & Co., an underwear manufacturer in Fall River. Beginning as a “floor girl”, she advanced to the position of “floor lady,” or supervisor. When asked about her “favorite store,” Ruth replied,
“Cherry & Webb. That was ‘the’ store…you’d go to these little stores
For Ruth, “Cherry’s” was a “must” when she selected her wedding dress. She recalls, “…when I was getting married [in 1947] Nelson [Reed] Cherry, [treasurer, Cherry & Webb Company] was the one. When I got my gown he was- when I was trying on wedding gowns. Nelson Cherry, he was right there. And Miss [Piche]? Remember Miss [Piche] from the hats [department] ?” [Maria Anna Piche, later Mrs. Roland S. Fontaine, was the buyer for the Millinery Department at Cherry and Webb Company.]
Ruth continues her story about her wedding dress selection:
“They had a veil there, a long, long veil that was going to be in one of The trade shows, and Nelson Cherry said, ‘No, that’s for Ruth. That’s for her gown. You don’t put that in the show.’”
Ruth’s wedding announcement appeared in the Fall River Herald News, on May 3, 1947. She married Roger Soucy at an 8 o’clock ceremony at St. Patrick’s church, not far from where she lived with her parents on Globe Street. According to the Herald News:
“The bride wore a candlelight ivory satin gown with a stirred colonial bodice, silk marquisette yoke edged with satin bertha and seed pearl trimming, and a full skirt en train. She wore a long French illusion veil and carried lilies of the valley orchids.”
The Soucys remained married for 64 years, until Roger’s death in 2011.
Nelson Cherry’s father, Oliver M., the President of Cherry and Webb, often considered to be the third “original” partner retired from the company in 1950, and soon moved from 623 Madison Street, Fall River to Ft. Lauderdale, FLA. Under Nelson’s direction, WPRO T.V., went on the air on March 27, 1955. Like WPRO radio (started years before by uncle William), the television station was owned and operated by Cherry and Webb. WPRO T.V. was scheduled to begin transmitting from Rehoboth, but legal disputes forced the company to find s site in Johnston, RI.
When William S. Cherry died in 1941, he was survived by four brothers, George R., president of Cherry & Webb, New Bedford; Oliver M., vice president and general manager, Fall River store; and Charles R. and John A. Cherry, both of Toronto, as well as a sister, Mrs. Frederick Heywood of New Bedford. He also left a son, William S. Cherry, Jr., who worked at the Providence store, and a daughter Mrs. Mason Gross. Cherry was also survived by six grandchildren.
In 1962, the Herald News described changes in the corporate structure of Cherry and Webb. According to the article, around 1960, “the formerly independently operated units of the Cherry and Webb specialty store chain were recently merged as a single corporation with store in this city, Providence, New Bedford, Lowell and Lawrence with branches in Newport and Barrington.” When William S. Cherry and Frederick Webb had abandoned the two-man partnership for a federation of independent stores in 1922. Forty years later, the company initiated changes that centralized merchandizing.
One interesting change at “Cherry’s” was the election of Mrs. G. Mason (Anna) Gross, William’s daughter, as president. Her first cousin, Nelson, was named first vice president and manager in charge of dresses. At the meeting, the stockholders named the following executive board: Executive Vice President and Treasurer, William H. Goodman; Second Vice President, W. Garrett Cherry (of New Bedford); Secretary and Assistant Treasurer, G. Marion Gross; Assistant Treasurer and Controller, Richard J. Briden; and Publicity Director, Arthur O. Morcello.
The Fall River Herald News also noted: “The new president has announced the appointment of four merchandise managers and realignment of the buying staff. The new merchandise managers are Nelson R. Cherry, dresses, C. Leonard O’Neill, coats and suits, Howard F. Rose, sportswear and children’s apparel and Patrick J. Casey, accessories.”
Also on the payroll were 19 buyers in various lines of apparel, 4 of whom were men. The male buyers handled the pricey apparel lines of coats and suits, and particularly, furs. Buyers were also assigned to handling lines of “better” and “budget” apparel. Mrs. Gross also announced that “under the new set up Cherry and Webb will continue the pattern for growth initiated in 1960, and will add a new ‘plus’ to the business.” She planned to add a “woman’s touch,” by adding many “improvements and refinements” for the shopping pleasure of women.
Unfortunately, Mrs. Gross’s “woman’s touch” and the promise that it held didn’t materialize.
By July, 1962, the Cherry and Webb building at 139-149 South Main Street had been sold to a private entity, Bliss Realty. A year later, Mrs. Gross resigned as president of Cherry and Webb, and Nelson R. Cherry was elected the new head of the company. Mrs. Gross’s resignation was accepted “with regret.” W. Garret Cherry was named treasurer, and Walter Gibbons of Providence was elected secretary.
Nelson Cherry named C. Leonard O’Neill, manager of the Fall River store, as general manager of the company. Wallace Fairbanks, (formerly a buyer for “better” suits and coats) of 4338 North Main Street, Fall River, was appointed the Fall River store manager, in O’Neill’s place. At the time, Cherry still lived at 1400 Robeson Street in Fall River.
Cherry told the Herald News, “O Neill will have complete control over all merchandizing, publicity, personnel and distribution as well as general store management of the chain.” He hoped that “centralized buying, offices and distribution,” would make “each store be the dominant women’s specialty store in its community.”
Despite the local press heralding his business prowess, Nelson R. Cherry, too, couldn’t retain the independence of the family business. On June 14, 1966, Cherry and Webb stockholders held a special meeting at the company’s headquarters in East Providence. The meeting, consumating the acquisition of Cherry and Webb by the Outlet Company (June 1, 1966) a retail and broadcast corporation based in Providence, RI.
The Outlet Company’s acquisition was noted in the business pages of the New York Times on May 28, 1966. The brief article reveals that while the terms were not disclosed “trade sources estimated the transaction in the neighborhood of 5-million.” The sale was effective as of January 31, 1966. Along with the acquisition of the Cherry and Webb chain, the Outlet absorbed “Cherry’s” first quarter earnings of $146,208. before Federal Income taxes.
Cherry and Webb’s total earnings for 1965 were $617,118. Before taxes on sales of $15,331,888. Its new parent, the Outlet Company, had net earnings of $1,308,207. Or $1.28 a share, “including its broadcast properties, retail operations and Newport Air Park, Inc. a transport service operating 12 planes which was acquired last August.”
At the East Providence meeting, a new board of directors was created, which re-elected Nelson R. Cherry president. Two “lomg time” employees of the company [Cherry and Webb] were promoted to officers. C. Leonard O’Neill, a Fall River native and regional manager of Cherry and Webb was elected vice president and Richard J Briden was promoted to treasurer, replacing W. Garrett Cherry, who retired.
Bruce G. Sundlun, vice president, secretary, and counsel for the Outlet Company, was elected secretary of Cherry and Webb; Joseph S. Sinclair, president of the Outlet Company, was elected chairman of the Cherry and Webb executive board. Kenneth Logowitz, became Outlet executive vice president of the board, which included directors Nelson R. Cherry, Sundlun, O’Neill and Briden. Morton J. Berkson, Dr. Richard Rodi, Ralph Bucci, “all officers of the Outlet,” were also elected to the new board by the stockholders, with more new directors to be added in the future.
As a future president of the Outlet, Bruce G. Sundlun, who would also later become governor of RI, sold the Outlet’s retail assets in 1981 to the United Department Stores. The Outlet’s flagship store, occupying a whole city block in downtown Providence, was shuttered in 1982. The building was destroyed by fire on October 16, 1986. During its existence as a broadcast corporation (1922-1996), “the Outlet” either directly controlled, or had an interest in, at least 9 television stations and as many radio stations covering markets nationwide.
On December 31, 1970 W.T. Garnt closed its store at 149 South Main Street, moving from a 7,800 square foot space, to a 109,000 square foot accommodation in the newly constructed Harbor Mall. The new Grant’s store, offering 12,000 feet of counterspace (in comparison to 1,200 feet in the old store), was to be ”the largest in the 31-acre mall at the junction of Canning Boulevard and Route 24, two miles south of downtown.” Only the Holyoke and West Springfield stores surpassed the Harbor Mall Grants store in size. The opening of the new store marked a period of expansion for the Grant’s chain, beginning in early 1970, and lasting throughout the year when “83 new stores opened, 29 of them in October alone.”
The 18 people employed at the South Main Street store were placed on a leave of absence, expecting to join the 160 member staff at the Harbor Mall. As Grant’s manager, George Layman, told the Herald News, “The mall concept is here to stay, because retailers are concerned for the comfort of their customers.” Owver, the ground level retail space in the south portion of the Cherry and Webb building did not remain vacant very long. The Sawyer’s Campus Shop, Inc., located at 146 Second Street, moved to the premises that W.T. Grant had occupied for 52 years.
Said Sawyer’s president Robert Hurwitz:
“The old Grant’s store will be gone forever, with Sawyer’s planning extensive Refurbishing. The entire front and interior will be changed to give what Hurwitz refers to as a ‘country casual atmosphere’ to the building. The new Sawyer’s store, scheduled to open in April, will be the largest young men’s specialty store on the East coast.”
The new Sawyer’s was scheduled to open in 1971.
In 1962, Patrick J. Casey was hired by Cherry and Webb as a purchaser for the company’s accessories line. In 1971, he was appointed manager of the Fall River store. By 1975, Casey was promoted to divisional store manager (Cherry and Webb was now a division within the Outlet Company), “a newly created position within the specialty store group.” According to the Herald News, Casey, based in Fall River, “will serve as liaison between the 16-store group and managers of the Fall River, New Bedford, Newport and Barrington stores.” He was also to serve on the company’s operations committee.
Casey was a 16-year veteran of Cherry and Webb, having also managed the store in downtown Providence. During his career in retail, he served in managerial capacities with Jordan Marsh (Boston) and Bonwit Teller (New York). A graduate of Providence College, Casey lived in Warwick with his wife, the former Mary Ellen Kelly and three children. Joining Casey in the Fall River operations was Stephen Sharkey, a former assistant manager of the “Cherry’s” Wampanoag Mall store, and now the manager of the South Main Street store.
Casey told the Herald News that the promotion “enhances his status for further advancement within the company.” He noted that employees of the Fall River store “have traditionally gone far.” In discussing these changes, the Herald News made no mention of the Cherry family. About a year later, the paper published the obituary of Oliver M. Cherry, who died on September 4, 1976. The younger Mr. Cherry was considered the third partner and founder of the company, along with brother William S. and Frederick Webb. He died at his home, 7751 N.W. 44th Court Lauderhill, FL “after a short illness,” at the age of 97. Before moving to Florida in 1950, he lived at 623 Madison Street, Fall River, and summered in nearby Tiverton, RI. When he retired, he was president of the Cherry and Webb Company. Born in Gormley, Canada, the son of Joseph and Agnes (Darling) Cherry, he was the husband of Matilda M. (Reed) Cherry. He was a member of the First Congregational church, Fall River.
Like his brother William, who had been a prominent resident of Providence, RI, Oliver, also a Canadian immigrant, became interested in his adopted city, Fall River. He served on the board of directors of the Durfee Trust Co., the Union Hosptal and the Citizens Bank. His obituary continues, “At the time of his death, he held honorary memberships on these boards.” He was also the last surviving charter member of the Fall River Rotary Club. He was especially fond of children, and “during the 1930s sponsored the Mickey Mouse Club of Fall River, bringing joy to so many youngsters and adults alike who attended theater showings of the popular Walt Disney creation.” His Madison Street residence was popular at Halloween time. He also served as parade chairman during the Fall River Cotton Centennial of 1911.
The Herald News notes: “An ardent fisherman and duck hunter, he donated Cherry and Webb Lane at Horseneck to the Town of Westport.” Oliver M. Cherry was a familiar face at the area’s elite social clubs, such as Fall River’s Quequechan Club, and Westport Harbor’s Acoaxet Club, where he had been a charter member. Mr. Cherry was survived by his son, Nelson Reed Cherry of Fort Lauderdale and Bristol, RI, who succeeded his father as president of the company, as well as the Fall River store.
Oliver M. Cherry was also survived by a daughter, Mrs. John K. (Olive) Hutchings of Clearwater, FLA, as well as five grandchildren, 12 great grandchildren, “and several nieces and nephews.” His son, Nelson Reed Cherry, was a snow bird maintaining residences in both Boynton Beach FLA, and Bristol, RI. Nelson retired in 1966, but remained on the Board of Directors of the Outlet Company, the parent company of Cherry and Webb, until 1974, when he withdrew from active business completely. Prior to 1959, Cherry and his family resided at 1400 Robeson Street, Fall River.
A 1926 graduate of the Tuft school in Watertown, CT, Nelson Cherry graduated from Yale University in 1930. His father and uncle were Canadian immigrants of English descent with little formal education. Like his father, Nelson maintained close ties to the First Congregational church in Fall River. He served on the Prudential Committee of the Congregational Society (which handled church finances), as well as the William Wisner Scholarship Committee, and the Sarah Brayton Fund Committee. He also served on three of the church’s ministerial selection committees.
In Florida, he was a member of the Church of the Palms Congregational United Church of Christ in Dehay Beach, FLA. His Fall River business ties included the Fall River National Bank and the Truesdale Clinic. Mr. Cherry was an incorporator of the Fall River Home for Aged People, and a supporter of the local Boy Scouts. As a young man, he competed in golf tournaments hosted by the New Bedford Golf Club. He was also a member of the Quail Ridge Country Club, Boynton Beach, FLA.
Nelson Reed Cherry died at his Boynton Beach home on December 12, 1989, at the age of 82. He was survived by his wife, one son, Michael O.B. Cherry of Providence; two daughters, Mrs. Drew Martin of Providence, and Mrs. Dale Hayes of Cincinnati, OH, as well as 8 grandchildren, 5 great grandchildren, and, of course, “several nieces and nephews”.
On March 22, 1977, James Grose, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the 13 unit [store] Cherry and Webb store chain [or division] announced to the local press that the retail operation on South Main Street had renewed its ten year lease with the landlord, Bliss Realty Associates. Grose said that the decision to renew the lease and undertake the proposed renovation project came about because, “we’ve been pleased with business, despite the deterioration of the retail district.” Part of the renovation project entailed “compressing” the four story (plus basement) department store down to two levels and a basement.
According to Grose, by eliminating unnecessary space, the basement and first and second floors would be better utilized. Said Grose, “The fourth floor beauty salon and the third floor children’s department, among others, will simply be moved to a lower floor.” Grose promised that there would be no curtailment or elimination of existing departments. His claim was that customers spend more in nicer surroundings.
“ ‘The Cherry and Webb store in downtown Providence was ‘compressed’ several years ago. The overall effect is now that of a large, well-stocked boutique,’ he said”. At the time, the Cherry and Webb chain had opened a store at the Swansea Mall, and the management of the Fall River store feared a loss of business as a result. But by ‘working hard” the older store had maintained its edge.
James Silvia was an active promoter of the Central Business District’s revitalization plan, which included developing a landscaped park at South Main and Anawan Streets, bordered by the angle of the Cherry and Webb building.”
The Outlet Company’s twenty year control of Cherry and Webb ended in 1981-82, when the parent company, under the direction of Bruce Sundlun, sold its retail assets to the United Department Stores. For the second time in nearly a century, the Cherry and Webb name was changed to reflect the acquisition, probably by United Department Stores, of the Touraine retail chain. This, and the continued opening of new stores in area shopping centers and malls, boosted the number of store to a peak of 65 during the 1980s. By the end of the following decade, with the gradual closing of unprofitable store, there were still 35 Cherry, Webb and Touraine (or “CWT”) stores remaining. A revision of the sign on the façade of the South Main Street building marked the store’s rented space of part of this change.
In early January,1985, CWT’s co-tenant on South Main Street, Sawyer’s Campus Shop closed it doors after a 16 year occupancy. The closing, while expected, stunned the Sawyer’s 20 employees. The Dartmouth Sawyer’s Store had closed three years earlier. The Brockton store had just closed, and a fourth store in Quincy was about to be shuttered. Robert Hurwitz, the owner of Sawyer’s, was reportedly distressed over the demise of the young men’s retail clothing chain.
Gene Dias, age 40, assistant manager, observed that downtown Fall River had seen “ ‘tremendous changes in the past few years…malls, outlets.’ “ His boss, 36 year old manager and 16-year employee John Silvia noted the changes on Main Street, “ ‘We were trying to change with them. We offered service, we were not an indifferent outlet or department store. Maybe those days are bye. Bye.’ “ Said Dias, “ ‘ I need to figure out which way to turn. Nothing is forever.’ “
One evening in 1995, downtown Fall River CWT store manager Michele Cordeiro gathered her six remaining employees together for a dinner out. The last of the store’s merchandize had been shipped to the mall stores. The power to the building would remain on a while longer. Michele was the last employee to exit out the back door to the parking lot. She locked the door and closed it behind her.
1995 was the centennial anniversary of William S. Cherry’s and Frederick Webb’s arrival in Fall River. The company they founded filed for bankruptcy in March, 2000.-K.C.
Cherry & Webb Building
Located at 139 South Main Street Fall River, MA 02721
Office, classroom, and professional space available. Please contact Ken Fiola at (508) 324-2620 for leasing opportunities and additional information.