Stillwater Shutters in Pawtucket, Moves to West Warwick: Pawtucket revival lives in print

Stillwater Books moves from Pawtucket to West Warwick
Photo courtesy of Stillwater Books

Stillwater Books, which opened in Pawtucket in March 2018, will move this summer to a new location in West Warwick, according to Steven R. Porter who co-owns the business with his wife Dawn M. Wright-Porter. It was the first retail bookstore to open in Pawtucket for decades, and after its closing the city will again be left without any retail bookstore.

The new location will be 1745 Main Street, West Warwick, the New London Square Shopping Plaza, in the village of Crompton, north of the Coventry town line. The plaza is home to Master Homemade Donuts, Domino’s Pizza, and Family Dollar, and is across the street from CVS and Famous Pizza. Floor space will increase from the present 2,800 square feet to 3,200 with an option for additional 2,000. “We walked in, just were checking out a place, and realized that the way it was designed and set up was almost to our own specifications. We’ll be able to move into a larger bookstore, we’ll be able to expand our office space for publishing, and we’ll have a larger stock room to allow us to continue to sell online and increase inventory,” he said.

The last day open in Pawtucket will be July 1. “We need to be able to close down and pack up at the store, which is no small feat,” he said. “We expect to take control of the space on August 1, be open sometime in mid-August, and then do a big grand opening.”


The changing retail climate at the old location forced the move, Porter said. “We made the decision that this is no longer a viable location for a retail bookstore, and we started looking and considering our options a few months ago, but what really sealed the deal here was when the bus station, which had… dozens of buses coming in daily, relocated to the train station, and that’s cut our foot traffic down 60% to 70%,” Porter said. “Since we moved in, really six years, we’ve seen a lot of different companies leave. Right after we signed our lease, Memorial Hospital left. Shortly after we opened, the Pawsox left. A few months after that, Gamm Theater left.”

Porter saw this as part of a relentless trend. “Since the Gamm Theater left, we’ve lost everything, even just simple little things like Tavares Newsstand, we’ve lost Plouffe’s Diner, we’ve lost Pawtucket Pawn, and then there have been other smaller organizations. Every one of those has an effect and we were able to withstand that, weather that, and succeed and thrive in some cases – up until the buses left. And at that point, it was just no longer viable,” he said.

Many bus riders became regular customers for both snacks and books. “This store fit in nicely with a low-income community. All the books are off-price: they’re bargain-price – $3.99, $4.99, $5.99, and up. We do have some higher-end stuff, obviously, but the bulk of it here is bargain-price books. One of my criticisms of the publishing industry is it’s pricing itself out of so many markets. The new Prince Harry book, which is a number one best-seller in the country, is $35; that’s just insanity,” he said.

In their old building at 175 Main Street, he said, ”The Blackstone Valley tourism offices have left the Visitor Center; there are some questions as to when that will close. The National Park Service, as much as I’m a huge fan of the National Park Service, has taken over Slater Mill [directly across the street] and reduced its hours, so it just opened this week [in May] or a week ago, and it’s only going to be open through the fall, and they are only open, I think, four days a week. So the impact of being next to a national park is even diminished.”

The business consists of a retail bookstore as well as an online mail-order bookstore and the Stillwater River Press publishing business. “It came down to: What do we do? We have three different businesses out of this space. They’re all intermingled as one company,” he said. “For the online sales and for the publishing, we really could be anywhere. It really doesn’t matter; that doesn’t have any location-specific requirements. Whereas the bookstore does, so our decision was either to shutter the store and then be stuck with thousands of dollars worth of inventory, or to see if we could work out a deal to go elsewhere. We were able to get the pieces to fall into place, so it made sense for us to leave.”

Porter said that he understands and appreciates the broader economic plans for Pawtucket. “We’ve been in communication with the city since the day we moved in. What could the city do? They’re not going to come and suddenly dump thousands of dollars on us to stay. What they need to do is fill all the vacancies that are in this neighborhood. They’ve been working on that by bringing in organic companies like the new soccer stadium, and the problem with the soccer stadium [for us] is – without getting into the debate of whether it’s a good idea or a bad idea – it’s still three-quarters of a mile away and no one is going to walk three-quarters of a mile from the stadium to get to downtown,” he said. “There’s nothing between here and there… The city has been very focused on building the train station. Maybe in the long term view of the city, that’s probably a good thing. Over the next five to 10 to 20 years, maybe you’ll see development around there… but we’ve got to pay the rent this month.”

Moving the Pawsox to a new stadium where the Apex building stands was the crucial missed opportunity, he said. “Everybody knows the story. It was approved at every level of government, except one person who didn’t approve, and had that gone in, home plate would be 75 yards from my front door… We had the Pawsox brass here all the time coming in to visit and check things out; they would come in and critique our sports section. I can’t imagine what this downtown would be like right now had that stadium opened two years ago. Now, there was COVID in there too, in the middle, which messed everything up. But for me, 400–500,000 [people] pulled into downtown Pawtucket, this would be an entirely different place.”

“It’s disappointing. Our goal had been to stay. Our lease was coming up on renewal and our goal was to renew it and stay for another five or 10 years. This is not something we had planned to do or wanted to do. But our hand was forced,” Porter said. “When we first opened, there was a group of local businesses that would meet pretty regularly every month or two – all downtown businesses or businesses in this area, some community members involved, non-profit was involved – and all the people that used to go to those meetings are gone… But so many of the people that were involved in those conversations aren’t here anymore, and that’s probably the discouraging part. Despite all the wonderful things, the revival of Pawtucket was something we just never saw on the ground. That revival is all on paper. It’s not actually happening on the ground downtown.”

UPDATE: Stillwater issued a statement explaining policies related to the move, applicable to gift certificates, special orders, and events; see