'Coming back home': Family-owned Richardson's Market returning to downtown Portsmouth

·7 min read

PORTSMOUTH — An iconic Portsmouth business, sure to be a blast from the past for longtime locals, is coming back to its former downtown location.

Returning to 148 State Street, more than two decades after it closed, is the mom-and-pop Richardson’s Market inside the same building it previously operated in for 52 years. Co-owner Beth Danilowski, opening the market with her husband Greg, is the granddaughter of Richardson’s Market founder Basil L. Richardson and the daughter of the store’s owners at the time it closed in 2000.

The venture was catalyzed several months ago, in part, when the married couple and city residents took their 3-year-old son, Wesley, downtown to buy a banana when he was hungry. Their search took them into several stores before they finally found one to purchase, leading to their idea to open a shop selling fresh produce and other goods that also offers a place to sit, sip coffee and talk with friends.

From left, owners Greg and Beth Danilowski along with Beth's sister, Meredith Richardson, are excited for the re-opening of Richardson's Market in Portsmouth on Thursday, June 23, 2022. Beth Danilowksi holds a Portsmouth Herald article from 2019 about her parents, former Richardson's owners Basil A. and Louise Richardson, and their Washington Street business, Modern Launderette.
From left, owners Greg and Beth Danilowski along with Beth's sister, Meredith Richardson, are excited for the re-opening of Richardson's Market in Portsmouth on Thursday, June 23, 2022. Beth Danilowksi holds a Portsmouth Herald article from 2019 about her parents, former Richardson's owners Basil A. and Louise Richardson, and their Washington Street business, Modern Launderette.

What better model to directly base their business off of than the store Beth Danilowski’s family owned for two generations, in the building still owned by her parents.

Aside from the elusive banana's role in the revitalization of Richardson's, Beth Danilowski, 40, had an urge in recent years to reopen the shop, which neighbors Googie’s Sandwich Shoppe and succeeds the now-closed Portsmouth Provisions.

“I wanted to be part of the community again,” she said.

Standing inside the empty storefront Thursday with a stack of new shelves and old Provisions items piled up behind them, the Danilowskis laid out their vision for the next chapter of Richardson’s.

According to Greg Danilowski, 41, the new iteration of Richardson’s will offer fresh produce, packaged meats, frozen foods, dairy, grocery and convenience items and an expanded selection of beer and wine. Customers will be met with two check-out counters on the right side of the store and a coffee station.

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One clear difference between the former Richardson’s and the new version is there will be no meat counter. Basil L. Richardson, according to Beth Danilowksi, was famous for his constant presence behind the old meat counter, clad in a pressed white button-down shirt, a black tie and an apron.

Greg Danilowksi, a web developer, spoke of his wife’s desire to return back to life inside a market and convenience store after she worked as a veterinary technician.

“She missed running the store and working behind the counter, just interacting with people,” he said.

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Basil L. Richardson, who also operated a fruit stand on State Street, opened his namesake market in 1948. The family patriarch later passed the market ownership torch to his son and daughter-in-law, Basil A. and Louise Richardson, parents of Beth Danilowski and owners of the charming, 15-washer Modern Launderette on Washington Street.

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Per shared accounts from Beth Danilowski and her older sister Meredith Richardson, each member of the family’s first job was working at Richardson’s once they hit their 10th birthday.

Will the Danilowskis’ other son, 7-year-old Evan, begin working at the market when he reaches the same age? “Probably,” Beth Danilowski said with a grin.

As family-owned businesses often go, Richardson’s employees had their fair share of hijinks inside the shop. As a youngster, Beth Danilowski would ride up the conveyor belt stretching from the shop’s basement to the main floor and create miniature forts from paper towel rolls lying around.

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On some occasions, Beth Danilwoski would pop into the store when her older sister was working behind the register. Meredith Richardson would graciously allow her to have one popsicle, free of charge.

Hours later, when Danilowski would return and ask for another popsicle, Meredith Richardson would have to refuse her little sister the sweet treat, only to learn other store employees had also been feeding her popsicles the whole day.

“The store was all about family,” Richardson said.

Relics and unopened goods from Richardson’s past are still scattered throughout the basement. Sifting through the crowded space, where an old meat slicer and candy racks are tucked between hundreds of miscellaneous items, the Danilowskis recovered old tuna tins, jam jars and even a dusty can of Tab.

Hidden in the time capsule of sorts were two important items from the Richardson’s of yore- the business’ old vertical sign and an old cash register.

Greg Danilowski digs up the old sign from the basement of Richardson's Market in Portsmouth on Thursday, June 23, 2022.
Greg Danilowski digs up the old sign from the basement of Richardson's Market in Portsmouth on Thursday, June 23, 2022.

Both will be brought upstairs and displayed. Walking into the market, customers will view a Richardson’s flier circa-1948 announcing its grand opening and advertising its long-ago prices: 89 cents for a pound of pork chops, 49 cents for five pounds of granulated sugar and 35 cents for a one-pound box of Ritz crackers.

“This Week and Every Week You Owe It To Yourself To Shop Richardson’s New Modern Super Market,” reads the sign. “Everything You Need At Competitive Prices Is Here!”

Why did the old Richardson's Market close down?

In October 2000, after more than five decades in business, the downtown market closed.

Beth Danilowski, who was 18 when Richardson’s closed, tearfully recounted her family’s renowned business shutting down. Her parents told the Portsmouth Herald in 2000 that it was difficult to attract workers, though other circumstances played a factor.

The primary reason was because of city police catching some of the business’ cashiers serving alcohol to underage patrons in a sting operation, leading to a hefty $100,000 fine being imposed on her parents.

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Prior to closing, the Richardson family circulated a letter in the community and formed a petition calling for an end to the police’s undercover operations.

“It was a difficult time. It was sad and hard for the family,” Beth Danilowksi said.

The ramifications of the cashiers’ actions fell squarely on her parents as the business’ owners, she said, with the employees at fault never facing consequences.

“We are a very honest family,” said Danilowski, adding her father was in the Portsmouth Police Department’s auxiliary unit. “The idea of intentionally selling alcohol to somebody underage just wouldn’t fly.”

The severe financial repercussions, which the Danilowskis stated happened at a number of Portsmouth and Dover convenience stores and restaurants at the time, led to the end of the Richardson’s era.

An old cash register can be found in the basement. The Greg and Beth Danilowski plan to find a place to put these antiques on display in the re-opened store.
An old cash register can be found in the basement. The Greg and Beth Danilowski plan to find a place to put these antiques on display in the re-opened store.

Basil A. and Louise Richardson closed the market but continued owning the building. They leased it to the owners of the space’s next business, Portsmouth Provisions, which opened in 2000 and operated under three different owners until its recent closure.

Now, the Richardsons are leasing the building, rebuilt with brick in 1815 after succumbing to the city’s “Great Fire” two years prior, to their daughter and son-in-law for the third-generation installment of the family store.

'It feels like coming back home'

The market announced last weekend that it would be returning after shutting its doors 22 years ago. Commenting on the business’ social media announcement was Facebook user Cindy Small, who recalled shopping at the former Richardson’s as a girl with her grandmother and expressed her excitement.

“We felt with everything changing so much downtown, that people who miss the old Portsmouth would appreciate the return of a family owned market,” the market responded to Small.

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Renovations will continue for the next few months, though excitement is in the air for the grand return of Richardson’s.

Perhaps nobody, however, is more eager to give life to the former shop than Beth Danilowski, who admitted that when she was a young adult, she had no intention of reopening her family’s business.

Times have changed for her, and the city, since 2000, but one thing remains the same for Beth Danilowksi.

"Overall, it just kind of feels like coming back home," she said.

This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: Old Portsmouth business, family-owned Richardson's Market, returning