Former supermarket building demolished

Published 3:23 pm Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Just after noon on Dec. 1, a small piece of Smithfield’s 20th century history started to disappear.

That’s when demolition began on the vacant former Little’s Supermarket building. The business had been a fixture in town for more than 70 years before it closed in the summer of 2007.

The end for the edifice at 518 Main St. came without much fanfare. As a few people watched in their cars at the edge of the property, Todd Bryant, owner of Smithfield-based Bryant’s Excavation, slowly drove a tracked excavator toward a corner of the building. Bryant raised the machine’s hydraulic boom, opened its jaws and took a bite of a wall, sending bricks and twisted metal tumbling to the ground with a thud.

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Bryant said the demolition project would likely take several days.

The demolition leaves a wish unfulfilled for Nancy Little, the longtime proprietor of the store. In 2007, she told The Smithfield Times she hoped another grocery store might take over the space. That never happened. In fact, more locally owned, independent grocery stores have since disappeared from the region.

Little’s opened in 1934 as a country store selling chickens, eggs, meat, produce from local farmers and Conoco-branded gas. Little’s father, John Thacker, and her mother, Sadie, opened the business. Nancy married Robert J. Little Jr. in 1948; Nancy was 21 years old and the couple took over the store. The couple’s children, Robert III and Nancy would also work in the store, as did a son-in-law, Marty Delk.

In its heyday, the store was known for offering fresh meat, deli counter selections that included fried chicken and lemon cake, and perhaps most importantly, great customer service. In a September 1990 advertisement in The Smithfield Times, under the tagline “Where A Little Gives You A Lot” the store advertised Smithfield ham biscuits, lettuce for 69 cents a head, and something that became a hard-to-find item for part of this year — a four-pack of Charmin toilet paper. Thirty years ago, the Charmin sold for $1.09.

Robert died in 1984. Nancy continued to run the store until it closed. She passed away a couple months after the supermarket went out of business.

“There comes a time in your life that you need to make changes,” Little, 81, said in 2007. She told the newspaper that, after having worked most every day at the supermarket since she was child, she looked forward to relaxing for a while, then maybe traveling. Although she had happy plans ahead, “it’s kind of a sad feeling,” Little said. “You just feel like all you’ve ever done is coming to an end.”

Joseph W. Luter III, the property’s new owner, said he would like to develop housing, office space and possibly a hotel on the former site of the store and an adjacent property where a long dilapidated 1730s-era farmhouse, Pierceville, has stood at 502 Grace St. Hours after the supermarket demolition began, Smithfield Town Council voted to allow demolition of Pierceville to proceed.