Tag Archives: APEX



The late Norman Fain, one of the principal owners of the Apex stores, would only occasionally visit his properties. Most times it would be at night about an hour or so before closing. Mr. Fain was a quiet, unassuming man and I think very few of his employees even knew who he was as he wandered the aisles dressed in a conservative, grey suit with a fedora perched on his head.

“Good evening, Mr. Fain.” I said as he entered the major appliance department in his downtown Pawtucket store where I worked part time after my Army discharge in 1971 and my return to college.

I continued, “I had couple in today who said they were great friends of yours.”

Mr. Fain half smiled, looked at my name tag, there was no reason he’d know my name, and replied, “Well, Jim, if I had all the friends who claim they are my friends when they come here to buy something, I’d be broke by now.”

“Keep up the good work.” he intoned as he headed for the garden shop.

These days I think of this, and many other memories, every time I drive past the rusting pyramid, the stain splotched facade and the unkempt grounds of the present, sad iteration of the once iconic Apex Pawtucket store.

My family, and I suspect many other local families, had a long history tied in with the Apex store evolution. Both my parents worked at the original Central Avenue location.
My Father in the appliance department (apple and tree analogy) and my Mother as an office assistant in the 1960’s.

My first job when I became old enough to work was in the product pick up warehouse. One of our many duties was bicycle assembly. To break the monotony of this boring task we devised a “test track” to assure the quality of our work. We built multiple ramps by angling shipping pallets propped up on mattresses and we’d ride pell mell over this course with tires squealing on the concrete floor. One afternoon a much older supervisor, perhaps back from a liquid lunch, ramped things up by constructing a circle of fire for us to jump through! So, if you received a singed bike for Christmas from Apex in the 1960’s now you know why.

Despite these shenanigans I was promoted and at 17 wound up as a salesman in the men’s clothing department. I was a very shy teenager and my first customer was a stunningly beautiful young woman who I guessed to be in her early twenties. I was so tongue tied I barely was able to answer her questions. She was buying an assortment of shirts and ties for her boyfriend. I was bedazzled! Who knew such angelic creatures existed? My nerves were so frayed during this, my first retail sales transaction, I could not even get her selection into the Apex shopping bag. With profound patience, and I believe a bit of humor, she helped me arrange the gifts to fit the bags.

During the next few years the Apex empire expanded with new stores and I managed to gain some maturity and much needed confidence. College and Uncle Sam intervened and yet, as noted above, I once again turned to Apex after my Army stint for a perfect part time job while finishing college. In fact it was while working in the major appliance department of the Warwick location that I was recruited by a wholesale distribution company and a long, satisfying marketing and sales career was launched.

So the dilapidated Pawtucket shell of my former employer, much in the news this past year, saddens me. The sorrowful condition allowed by present owner Andrew Gates, grandson of the Apex corporation founder Albert Pilavin, remains a blemish which makes more difficult the daunting task of revitalizing Pawtucket. Larry Lucchino, CEO of the Pawtucket Red Sox recently described Mr. Gates as, “ ..a stubborn owner.”

The Apex stores were always impeccably maintained, customer friendly and the Fain family were generous philanthropist. All of this is now destroyed. Mr. Fain, who passed
in 2003, would not be pleased. Neither are the many former employees of this once cherished institution.

The ballpark proposal failed. The city is talking about purchasing the Apex site for future development. Let’s hope the parcel becomes something to be proud of and the obstinance of one man does not prevail.

Now, here’s the truth about the real friends of Mr. Fain. If a sales associate at an Apex store noticed the numeral “3” as the third digit of the Apex credit card that signified a true friend of Fain and no credit checks were needed!

– END –

Jim Raftus, a retired marketing executive, lives in Cumberland.
Contact at jraftus@aol.com



If you miss both the North Salem Street red lights in “downtown” Apex, North Carolina you will drive through the center in about one minute. Why then does such a small stretch of road, 750 miles from where I live, hold such a deep reservoir of fond memories?

The short answer is checkers.

My daughter, Katy, and my grandchildren, Molly and Jack, moved to the Apex/Cary area five years ago. My wife and I make certain to visit from our Rhode Island home a few times a year. Our times there are always a whirlwind of activities; Durham Bull baseball games, events in Raleigh and making the drive to swim in the ocean at Wrightsville Beach.

Yet, what thrills me most, and stays in mind longest, takes place on the circular top of an upturned whiskey barrel in front of The Rusty Bucket store on North Salem Street in Apex. Painted on the rough surface of this barrel top is a checkerboard. Young Jack, now six years old, loves to play checkers with Gramps at this spot. I think he and I start anticipating our matches weeks before Grammy and Gramps’ arrival. We started playing about three years ago. That first year I had to teach the then three year old grandson how the pieces could move, what “king me” meant and to not let go of a piece until you were sure of your move.

His Mom, Grammy and Sister were happily occupied spending time, and a little vacation money, at the All Booked Up and Gone Stitching stores which also grace North Salem Street. This affords Jack and me enough time for a few games which have become increasingly competitive as the years roll by. No longer do I have to teach. Now I have to be wary for Jack has learned how to trap me in a corner, he now spots every multiple jump and knows how to defend his back row. Next year I’ll give him my final piece of checkers advice. I’ll let him know he has a “tell”. When he has made a move that puts him at an advantage he raises his eyebrows above those beautiful dark brown eyes, which will one day drive the girls crazy, and Gramps knows to check the board for impending danger. Last year Jack told me he was learning chess. He’ll have to tell me how those pieces move!

At a certain point the females of our family, done shopping, will join us and we will head off for some delicious pizza next door at Anna’s a place that destroys my Northerners’ assumption that you can’t get good pizza in the South. Or, maybe we will cross the street to enjoy some wonderful comfort food at the Salem Street Pub. No matter which place we choose we will likely top off our meals with some ice cream at the simply named, The Ice Cream Store. Flavors like Birthday Cake and Superman for the kids and Vanilla Fudge for the adults.

Sometimes, after the food carnage, Jack and I will be informed that the ladies want to check out the goods in The Rusty Bucket. He and I will exchange quick glances and smiles while heading back to our checkers match.

Each year the paint on the game board surface gets more and more splintered and faded, to the point that setting up the pieces in the correct squares takes some concentration. I find this strangely reassuring and comfortable. Each year I’m afraid some red or black pieces will be missing, or even worse, the barrels will no longer be
outside the store.

Somewhere, way back in my family lineage, there was, supposedly, an ancestor who worked for a cooper. The story has it that he made, and installed, the round metal straps which secured the barrel’s wooden slats in place. I think of that long lost, perhaps even fictitious, relative as I sit on a wobbly stool in front of an old barrel playing checkers with my grandson Jack on a tiny stretch of North Salem Street in Apex, North Carolina which has become my favorite spot in the world.
– END –

Jim Raftus
Contact: jraftus@aol.com
Follow: http://www.whorlofwords.com


MY WHIMSICAL GOD (Unpublished)

My conviction that God is a whimsical deity can be proven by looking at one item; the tonsil. Even WebMD states, “Removal of the tonsil does not seem to increase susceptibility to infection.” Ergo, God stuck it in at the back of our throats out of whimsy. He had a little extra material left over, and not being a wasteful Creator, he used it.
Lo (or Lord) and behold he found one more little glob and there you have it, the appendix, or as it is sometimes called, the tonsil of the belly. Whimsical creation!

I realize the Bible, especially that nasty Old Testament, often paints God in a different light fueled by fire and brimstone. Genesis 19:24, “Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven.” But, I tend to think things like that were just on God’s off days, sort of His way of getting through hump day.

Today I am surrounded by another example of God’s whimsy. A day long snowfall is piling a projected 16” of new snow on top of the 24” already stacked up in my backyard. I can just imagine the Divine One in heaven thinking, “ Those New England folks don’t have tornadoes, major earthquakes, mud slides or wild fires to trouble them. I have to do something to keep them humbled, ‘Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow’ .” Personally, I’ve had just about enough of this particularly heavenly whimsy!

Sometimes the final result of God’s work can only be seen by tracking a long chain of creations which lead to their current conclusion. For example, when He popped out one of Adam’s ribs and created Eve it was with the good intentions of companionship and progeny. Sure, the snake and apple derailed part of His plan, but down through history God fiddled with the X chromosome and had some great successes; Joan of Arc, Madam Curie, Margaret Mitchell and Elle MacPherson spring to mind. But, as often befalls whimsy, things can go wrong which is the only way to explain Kim Kardashian.

Unfortunately, I present this thesis not from a strong personal position of religious comportment. In fact the fate of my eternal salvation will depend heavily on God’s whimsical nature.

Fifty two years ago I stopped attending Sunday Mass. It was not that I stopped believing, I still have faith. Sadly, it was for a more pedestrian reason; basketball. In 1963 as a high school junior I had a job at Apex, a local retail store. A group of older guys from the store were looking for some exercise and decided to rent a gym. Ironically, the first gym we rented was at Holy Trinity in Central Falls, right next to the church. For years while the good parishioners were kneeling and praying we were twenty yards away jumping and dribbling close enough to hear the hymns. I played Sunday morning basketball for more than 30 years, interrupted only by my Army service. In the later years my opponents were the teen aged sons of the young men I started out with in 1963.

I confess this not in any way as a good thing. It is just one of the facts of my life. So, despite my having lived a decent life, I can only hope that when I reach those pearly gates part of the Creator’s whimsy will be that he has a real love for March Madness.

God will be the final referee.


Jim Raftus
Follow at: whorlofwords.com
Contact at: jraftus@aol.com