Duquette’s — a family market with a neighborhood following

Posted 2/28/24

French-Canadian brothers, Charles Edward Duquette and Aliva John “A.J.” Duquette, both worked as insurance agents for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company before entering the grocery …

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French-Canadian brothers, Charles Edward Duquette and Aliva John “A.J.” Duquette, both worked as insurance agents for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company before entering the grocery business. Residents of Warwick, they organized “Duquette Brothers Grocery” and opened a Pioneer Food Store at 795 Oakland Beach Avenue in Oakland Beach.

Pioneer Food Stores was a wholesale grocery business founded by the Jolles family of Mass. The chain of markets were provided with specific brands of foods, a full line of meats, fancy groceries, a varied stock of canned goods and a complete assortment of beers, wines and liquors, domestic and foreign.

The Duquette’s store opened for business on April 21, 1921. Aliva was 36 and Charles was 30. Toward the end of the decade, Charles pulled up stakes. He left the business in his brother’s hands and moved out to Laconia, New Hampshire with his wife Rachel Leah (Cardin) and their three sons; Ernest Charles, Normand and Charles Edward Jr. A daughter, Therese, was born during the autumn of 1928. There in New Hampshire, Charles reverted back to his former career, working as the assistant manager of a life insurance company.

By 1932, Charles had returned to Rhode Island. He decided to open his own Pioneer Food Store and took a space on 877 West Shore Road in Conimicut. His new Duquette’s Market was a family affair with his sons employed as unpaid workers in the position of clerk and meat cutter. Son Ernest Charles drove the store’s delivery truck, hauling groceries out to waiting customers. The store quickly gained in popularity and was known for courteous and accommodating service.

From the thoroughly packed meat case, where one could score a pound of bacon for about ten cents, to the wooden boxes of perfectly balanced apples which set a customer back about nine cents per pound, the store was kept neat as a pin. In April of 1948, amid the towering cans of peaches and the freshly baked loaves of bread, romance would blossom and Ernest Charles would become engaged to one of the store’s clerks – 20-year-old Viola Hammond. The young couple married and, during the 1950s, they took over the business from Charles who was set to retire.

“There were actually two businesses there,” said the couple’s son Peter Duquette, who resides in North Kingstown. “There was a grocery store and a liquor store. My father and mother ran the grocery store. As far as I know, my grandmother ran the liquor store.”

The store remained a family venture, with everyone expected to participate. “I worked there,” said Peter. “My brothers worked there. Our friends worked there. I worked as a meat cutter. I worked the register. I restocked. I could do all the jobs in there. It was a nice community grocery store. My father let people buy on credit before it was popular. I kind of miss those little markets.”

During the summer of 1965, Mr. and Mrs. George Rainville joined the staff of Duquette’s Market in order to extend its catering ability. Remembering the market as a place that had pretty much anything one needed, Peter said his father always paid special attention to the meat counter. “He had a lot of nice deli stuff,” he said. “He was very proud of that.”

On Sept. 11, 1978, at 10:30 in the morning, those deli cases were among the items up for bid at the store’s location. Having suffered with pain in his legs for some time, “Ernie” decided to close his doors. All of the stock, the fixtures and the delivery truck went on the block. The cases for produce and meat, the Coca Cola machines, ice cream freezer, gas stove, slicers and scales were handed down to the highest bidders. “I think they expected us to take it over,” Peter said. “But we had other interests. I had long hair and a beard and my father didn’t like that so I ended up leav-ing the store and began working at a jewelry factory until I went into the service.”

The small-town life and family values Ernest and Viola introduced to their children were something Peter said time has helped him see clearly. “My father was a generous guy,” he said. “Besides giving people credit, he used to give tickets away. He would draw tickets and give away small prizes like food. I think he was the greatest guy in the world. We didn’t have the Beaver Cleaver kind of life but it wasn’t far from it.”

Charles died at the Warwick Health Center on May 15, 1985 at the age of 69. Viola passed away in 1994 at the age of 66. Peter, who went on to become a certified registered nurse anesthetist, lamented, “The closing of a grocery store like Duquette’s Market was just the beginning of the loss of local, personalized mom and pop businesses.”


Kelly Sullivan is a Rhode Island columnist, lecturer and author.


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