Christiansen’s Dairy ends century-long milk run

Christiansen’s Dairy ends century-long milk run

Christiansen’s Dairy, on Smith Street in North Providence, is preparing to shut down its milk delivery trucks for the final time.
Owners would like to see brewery replace it

NORTH PROVIDENCE – Christiansen’s Dairy Co., an iconic home delivery brand in North Providence for nearly 100 years, will close its doors for good this Sunday, March 10, ending a milk delivery run its owners say has gone longer than they originally planned.

Home customers of Christiansen’s are being referred to East Providence-based Munroe Dairy for further service, and are also being asked to pay any unpaid balances to Christiansen’s.

Debbie Christiansen, an owner of this third-generation family business with her brother Jay, said the owners are “so sad” about this closure, but it’s probably at least five years overdue.

“We’re tired, it’s time,” she told The North Providence Breeze. The two have been active in the company’s operation, Debbie answering the phones and Jay delivering milk in glass jugs.

The owners plan to now sell their equipment, trucks and building at 1729 Smith St. Christiansen said they would like to see a brewery take its place and add to a growing brewing economy in North Providence and Rhode Island.

“Our father, John, would have loved that,” said Debbie, adding that the family’s real estate agent has been instructed to market the property for a potential brewing space.

The property at 1729 Smith St. is valued in the town’s real estate tax database at $346,200. A 5,000-square-foot manufacturing building, built in 1920, is located on more than 20,000 square feet of land, or nearly a half-acre. An online listing for the free-standing building has it up for sale at $420,000 as a retail/commercial or special purpose use.

Alfred Christiansen started the company around 1920, renting out a barn to do so. The Smith Street company has been a family business ever since.

Debbie Christiansen said the family is thanking its customers “from the whole of our hearts” for such a long and successful run.

Asked about whether they tried to sell the business to someone else, Christiansen laughed.

“Who would want to buy a business that doesn’t make money?” she said. “You would have to have rocks in your head.”

The troubles for dairy companies have been a well-documented story in Rhode Island, particularly as local sellers are undercut by national brands and other non-dairy milk products. Prices have dropped and stagnated, leaving little room for profit.

The Christiansen family brand that started when deliveries were made by horse and wagon today uses old-school Divco-style trucks that deliver milk and a variety of other products, such as its famous eggnog and chocolate milk, to doorsteps. Those trucks were already attracting a lot of attention from potential buyers, according to social media posts this week.

Christiansen said the family was frustrated that the news of their planned closure got out before they were ready to announce it last week. Letters are going out to all customers letting them know that they can keep getting milk from Munroe and asking them to pay their final bills to Christiansen’s.

“We want to get paid,” said Christiansen, saying there are numerous unpaid weekly and monthly balances.

Alfred Christiansen originally bought some baby chicks, a few cows, and a horse and wagon, delivering milk and eggs from house to house. Back then, the milk was in large milk cans. When Christiansen arrived at a home, the customer would come out with a pitcher, and Christiansen would use a quart-sized ladle to measure out the amount of milk the customer needed. The ladle was both a means of distribution and pricing.

As time went on and business prospered, Christiansen bought the land where Christiansen’s Dairy is presently located, at 1729 Smith St. He built the dairy, purchased processing equipment, bought a bottle washer, and invested in a few Divco trucks.

Through the years, Christiansen’s Dairy has bought several dealers in response to the arrival of Cumberland Farms and other convenience stores. Milk is purchased from local farms.

“We are into the third generation of Christiansen’s Dairy and we love our family business,” state the owners on their previous website, which has since lapsed. “We have grown with sheer determination, hard work, long hours, dependable employees and, last but not least, a sense of humor.”

Mayor Charles Lombardi said last Friday he was surprised as anyone to learn that Christiansen’s was preparing to close down operations.

“That’s scary, all these older companies closing,” he said. “It’s a sign of the times. Who ever thought Benny’s would wrap it up?”

Lombardi said he was “sick about” the news, and said he’ll visit the owners this week to see if there’s anything the town can help with during this time and “thank them for their years of service here.”

It was only last month, said Lombardi, that David’s Furniture across the street from Christiansen’s closed after 40 years in business.

Christiansen’s Dairy has always played an important part in the community, said Lombardi. The company has sponsored a variety of youth sports teams in North Providence and Smithfield, and donated goods and money to various church, school, elderly and town organizations.

Following last week’s announcement, there was an outpouring of support from residents. “My mother is beyond devastated. Service for over 60 years,” posted one resident. “It will be missed. That is a landmark in North Providence ... thank you for all these years,” said another.

“So sad. My father-in-law drove for them back in the day, and we still get our milk and eggs from ‘Billy’ every week,” said resident Megan Hall. “It’s nice to have the basics delivered right to our door.”

If the current Christiansen’s property does welcome a brewery in the future, it would be the second in as many years for North Providence. The Providence Brewing Company opened at 1920 Mineral Spring Ave. last year.

Jay Christiansen loading milk onto one of his company’s trademark trucks back in 2013.