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Thayer sees turnover as some retailers close, others open amid pandemic

New businesses include glasses chain Warby Parker, tea shop Ten One Tea House

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought swift change to Thayer Street: as small retailers and restaurants struggled, some chains and franchises have opened their doors.

Faced with dwindling profits and high rent, independent retailers like Pie in the Sky were forced to close, said store owner Ann Dusseault. Meanwhile, Warby Parker, a national glasses chain, is preparing to open a store on Thayer St. before the end of the year.

The cozy Korean eatery, Soban, along with the hole-in-the-wall sushi joint, Sushi Express, have closed their Thayer locations since University students departed campus. 

Pie in the Sky, a jewelry and gift boutique, closed down in May after 27 years on Thayer Street. Dusseault, who has owned the store since it opened, said she made no profit for two months during the pandemic and could not afford to pay rent.

“I just couldn't do it because I would have been scraping together rent just to hand it over” to her landlord, Dusseault said, “with no profit for me.”

Dusseault said that it has become more and more difficult to be an independent retailer on Thayer Street because of chain retail and restaurants. Franchises can afford to pay more in rent, so landlords prefer them, Dusseault said.

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Pie in the Sky, a jewelry and gift boutique and independent retailer on Thayer, closed down in May amid mounting struggles to compete with franchises during the pandemic.[/caption] 

Dusseault, who hung a “Keep Thayer Weird” sign in her shop, views the closing of her store as part of the movement away from independent shops on Thayer. “Everything was indie back then (when I first opened), and slowly that's disappeared,” she said. 

Dusseault plans to open a new vintage shop with a friend, and is currently looking for a storefront on the East Side of Providence. She continues to sell her jewelry on social media.

Pie in the Sky is not the only independent shop on Thayer to close its doors. Impact Everything, a socially-conscious retailer on Thayer Street, announced last month in a Facebook post that it would close its Providence store. The shop, which was established in 2016, aims to support social causes with donations and volunteering trips. 

The store’s website will continue to operate, and the owners said in their Facebook post that “once things have settled, we are going to open our storefront a second time.” The store’s owners did not respond to requests for comment by time of publishing.

Donna Personeus, executive director of the Thayer Street District Management Authority, says that business turnover is always to be expected on the University’s student thoroughfare, even without accounting for the pandemic. 

“Openings and closings are part of the business cycle of a business district,” Personeus wrote in an email to The Herald. “Thayer has 71 business locations, there will always be change happening. Businesses will come and go for different reasons.”

Personeus said she is excited about the Warby Parker store opening. “We are thrilled to welcome Warby Parker to the street before the end of the year,” she wrote. “They will be a great addition to our community.”

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Adding to the business turnover, a Warby Parker outlet is projected to open by the end of the year. The store will sell prescription glasses also available online.[/caption] 

In addition to Warby Parker, tea shop Ten One Tea House had its grand opening on July 18 and 19. The shop is located at 216 Thayer St., in the space formerly occupied by GNC, a nutrition and exercise supplement store.

Jason Yu, owner of Ten One Tea House, says that the shop had a successful opening despite the pandemic, which he credits to loosening restrictions in June. The shop’s opening date was pushed back from May to July, Yu wrote in an email to The Herald. 

Ten One Tea House is the fourth tea shop in the area, facing competition from Vivi Bubble Tea and Ceremony Tea House on Thayer, as well as Kung Fu Tea on Waterman.

“Each (tea shop) has its own strengths, and they're very different from each other,” said Vivian Van ’21, who started working at Ten One Tea House over the summer. 

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Following the opening of Warby Parker, Ten One Tea House begins business during the pandemic, joining three competing tea shops on Thayer and Waterman.[/caption] 

The original Ten One Tea House is in Boston, and Yu says that he chose Thayer St. for a second location because of the regular foot traffic, describing it in an email as “huge all year round.” 

Van is sorry to see smaller retail shops like Pie in the Sky and Impact Everything close down, but she says that the change might be for good reason. “Food is a constant,” she said. “I think that’s why (the food industry) has been stable.”

While some mourn the loss of a “weird” Thayer St., Personeus sees change as necessary. “One of the magical things about Thayer Street, it is forever evolving,” she wrote.


Ben Glickman

Ben Glickman is the 132nd editor-in-chief and president of The Brown Daily Herald. He previously served as a metro editor and oversaw the College Hill and Fox Point beat, in addition to writing and editing about city politics, COVID-19 and the 2020 election. He is the co-creator of the Bruno Brief, The Herald's first news podcast. In his free time, he is passionate about birds (also tweeting) and eating way too spicy food. 

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