Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Tim Hortons' Impact on Southeastern Connecticut: A Retail on the Thames Special

 Just under 4 months ago, I began to work on documenting the history of a large chain that attempted to make an impact in Connecticut and Rhode Island. However, that history was just a blip in the radar, and soon afterwards, they left locations in the dust, and let them sit vacant for a decade. That chain is coffee and donuts giant Tim Horton's. What started as a new and exciting chain in the area ended as a forgotten piece of history in an already interesting area for retail of the past. Today I'm going to show you some of the remnants that Tim Hortons left in Southeastern Connecticut when they left, and how the properties are holding up after 10 years of vacancy, in this Retail on the Thames special post.

Before I show you the vacant and repurposed locations that I was able to document, we need to know the short history the chain had in the area. In summary, Bess Eaton, a Rhode Island-based local coffee and donuts chain with a pretty popular local following, closed all of it's locations in 2004. Shortly after, Tim Hortons opened up in almost all of the closed locations with the help of their former parent company Wendy's. Just a few years later, in what seemed like the blink of an eye, Tim Hortons had closed all of its Connecticut and Rhode Island by November 10th, 2010. Bess Eaton was able to recover some of the locations they lost, but these were only a mere few of what the chain had left behind. The rest of the location were either repurposed by other chains, or were left abandoned. Now let's take a look at some of the locations that were a forgotten part of retail history.

Location #1: North Stonington

This location sit near an abandoned Subway on a rather boring part of Connecticut's Route 2. This seems to be one of the most forgotten Tim Horton's locations in this area, since I've seen no documentation of this location at all. Even though this location has been abandoned for quite a while, there is some hope for it, because there were signs for a bakery that plans to open in this building in 2021.
Even though there's no branding, I always like seeing these empty signs.

Here we are entering the drive-thru, with what is a pretty cool clearance sign

Here's the other side of the drive-thru. I always thought this building style was pretty cool. It was one of the more standard designs that Bess Eaton had, with it being on a few other locations I photographed. It almost reminds me of that style of McMansards that McDonald's would put on some locations in the 90's, and even in the mid 2000's when Forever Young began to replace McMansards as the main restaurant design. Something to note is that Tim Horton's never renovated the outside of any of the former Bess Eaton locations, which is super cool.
Here's a drive-thru sign that used to just say "Tim Hortons". Somehow I was able to identify it as that despite Streetview's grainy imagery.

The interior definitely looked like it was in the process of being gutted, which is likely due to renovations being made by the soon-to-come bakery.

Lastly, here's some interesting signage, and one last look at the building.

Location #2: Groton (Route 184)

This is definitely the most "open" looking vacancy out of all of the ones I visited, as it surprisingly still has some Tim Hortons branding on it's signs. This was one of the later closures, as it was still open in 2009, and there are currently no plans for something to open here.
Yep, that's a freakin Tim Hortons sign in Connecticut!

Here's what appears to be a former drive-thru sign in not so great condition.
Off topic, but here's a really cool fire alarm that was at this location, I'm not normally a fan of fire alarms, but this one caught my eye because of how interesting it was.

Here we are entering the drive-thru, where you can see the other sign that I showed in the beginning of this post. Somehow I just noticed that this location's clearance is higher than that of North Stonington's by 6 inches.

This interior definitely looks more abandoned compared to the last one.

The drive-thru felt pretty narrow and cramped. In fact, it was so narrow that I had to walk to a nearby sidewalk to get some decent pictures of the building.
Lets end off with one last exterior show before we go to another location in Groton.

Location #3: Groton (US 1)

This is probably one of the more unique ones I encountered, as it didn't have either of the standard Bess Eaton designs that I'm familiar with. There's also no plans for anything to open here.

This one's interior was pretty clean compared to the others.

Remember when I said that the drive-thru of the other Groton location was cramped? I take that back. This is the most narrow drive-thru I've ever been in. I didn't even have another place to walk, so these pictures were pretty close to the building.

I love the front of this location, Despite the big tree being in the way, The front is super unique to Bess Eaton's exterior design, and it's unlike any other front I've seen.
Lastly, here's an empty sign to end off this location.

Location #4: Norwich (Route 12)

This location was one of the chain's earlier closures, as it's earliest streetview in 2008 shows it as being closed. It was a restaurant called Mr. Pollo back in 2013, but it didn't seem to last for that long.

The interior looks pretty untouched after the repurpose outside of that interesting countertop.

Something interesting about this location is that it was regularly featured in some homemade Norwich skateboarding videos from the early 90's. However, the people in it mainly skated behind the restaurant. so I was unable to see any Bess Eaton branding.
To end off this location, here's the reused Tim Hortons sign.

Location #5: Norwich (Route 82)

I don't have that many good pictures of this place, but this location is still interesting. This one was one of the last, if not the last location to close in November of 2010. Oddly enough, this one had a Cold Stone Creamery added to it around 2009, which means the Cold Stone lasted shorter than the already short-lasting Tim Hortons. This is one of the few repurposed locations in the area, and I'm not mad about that at all. This one became a Five Guys in the early 2010's, which is awesome, since I love Five Guys. I honestly think it's the best fast food you can get, despite it being expensive.

What about Bess Eaton?

Bess Eaton was able to recover 3 of their locations after Tim Hortons left Connecticut and Rhode Island. They were able to recover one of their Westerly, RI locations (pictured), a location in Pawcatuck, CT, and a location in Wakefield, RI. While Bess Eaton still exists today, they are a very small shell of what they used to be.

Two other locations of interest

There are two other locations I'd like to talk about that I was unable to get pictures of. Keep in mind that there were other Tim Hortons/Bess Eaton locations in both states, but they weren't in the area I intended to cover.

New London, CTThis was one of the earlier closures, with its earliest streetviews from 2009 showing it as vacant. The building now houses a Popeyes, which I somewhat vividly remember opening up in 2011. Popeyes has remained open since then.

Westerly, RI (US 1)Westerly's other Tim Hortons turned into a Seafood restaurant sometime in the mid 2010's. However, it seemed to close up shop in 2018. Google Maps says that there's a new seafood restaurant here, but I drove by this location in July and it still seemed to be vacant

Well that's about it. I really hope you enjoyed this one, as I worked really hard to bring you guys this post. I'd love to know what you thought of it, so if you'd like, leave a comment about your thoughts, whether they're positive or critical. I'll see you all soon for a much calmer post in the next week or so. Until then, see you next time.