By Henderson Bridge or Bike, Traffic Woes Won’t Keep Rhodies Home

Shopping local in East Providence and surrounding communities is more important than ever


While none of us could have anticipated spending December cursing at the glaring red lines as our GPS maps rerouted or daydreaming about chartering a ferry across the Seekonk River for the morning commute (winter kayak adventure, anyone?), suffice to say, the “critical failure” detected in the Washington Bridge this past Monday turned our traffic expectations on their head. (Of course, we’re thankful a potential catastrophe was avoided!) 

Whether you’re buckling up and braving the gridlock or buying local from home, shopping small is as important as ever, especially for businesses impacted by detours making quick pivots to keep their doors open. “Small businesses always advocate for shopping small during the holidays, and this year is no different,” says Brian Dwiggins, co-owner of Borealis Coffee Company, with locations in Riverside and Bristol. December is historically their busiest month. “People love grabbing beans or merch as stocking stuffers. We have a lot of customers coming from Providence and the west, so [the bridge closure] will affect us in a pretty major way.” 

Myrtle, a new bar and music venue in East Providence, is also feeling the strain. “Aside from the loss of income, our employees are not making money, and there’s possible show cancellations,” says owner Natalie VanLandingham. “My main concern is the trust and momentum we’ve built in our new business being completely overshadowed by people's fears of crossing the bridge due to traffic.”

Finding ways to make the best use of employees’ time is another issue businesses are facing. “A lot of our staff live in Providence or west of the bridge, so we're trying to find some creative ways to help those folks out,” says Dwiggins. “Fewer but longer shifts is one idea, as well as trying to have the local folks open with some flexibility on those crossing the bridge.” 

As East Providence faced the brunt of the bridge turmoil over the past couple days, business owners have also banded together to advocate for relief in the face of anticipated losses. Along with VanLandingham, Amelia Olson, owner of modern and vintage clothing boutique Tall Tumbleweed in Riverside, took to Instagram soliciting input on ways to collaborate, with a proposal in the works calling on elected officials and community leaders to address the impacts on women and wage workers. As Olson wrote in a post, “This emergency demands adaptive, pragmatic, and swift thinking and action!”

As we wait for decisions to be made and for westbound traffic to be diverted to part of the eastbound lanes of the Washington Bridge in the coming weeks, consumers can also get creative with their shopping habits when checking off gifts from lists this year. 

Mercury may be in retrograde, but we’re armed with takeout from Rhody restaurants to brave the Henderson Bridge this holiday season! Here’s some helpful tips to take the traffic woes in stride:

Plan Ahead: “It's not impossible to get in and out of East Providence,” assures VanLandingham. “Check your GPS and you'll find travel times during certain times of the day are totally normal. If it takes you 10 minutes longer to get somewhere, know you're doing a great service to these businesses struggling through this.”  

Pedal Power: Says Dwiggins, “What better reason to start bike commuting than not wanting to collapse a bridge?” The East Bay Bike Path offers easy access to Riverside Square and connects cyclists to Barrington, Warren, and Bristol, too. A Borealis customer and bike rider reports that it only takes 15 minutes to get there from India Point!

Ride Share: Don’t go alone! Traffic is more fun with friends. “Carpooling and ride sharing with others is a small way you can do your part to relieve the traffic burden,” says VanLandingham.

Make a Day of It: Snag a parking spot during off hours and map out an itinerary for morning coffee, shopping, and lunch, or go for a stroll and see where it takes you. Who knows? You might find a new favorite spot. 

Shop Online: At Borealis, folks can order online for pick-up, visit the roastery in Pawtucket for beans, or get products shipped, and Tall Tumbleweed is offering live sales on Instagram. Visit your favorite shops’ websites to see what’s available.

Spend the Night: Commuting into Providence? The Christopher Dodge House is offering a special for East Bay residents who need to commute into the city with the code EASTBAY during weekdays.

Know Before You Go: Check websites or social media before making the trek to see if businesses have adjusted hours or offerings. For ways to patronize Wayland Square and Warren businesses, follow @discoverwarren and @waylandsquareri, respectively, on Instagram for updates.

For businesses impacted, be sure to track losses and visit Rhode Island Commerce for updates about emergency assistance. 

More ways to support local businesses? Email with your ideas.


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