BLACKSTONE – When Nancie Gaucher first started out as a delivery driver at Richco in Smithfield, she said, there weren’t many women in the auto parts industry.
Now, 42 years later, that’s just one of the things that’s changed.
“It probably used to be a surprise,” she said. “It’s not a surprise anymore.”
Gaucher, the manager of Advance Auto Parts on Social Street in Blackstone, retired last week after more than four decades in the industry. A Warwick native, she said she stumbled into the industry when her daughter was a 1st-grader, bringing with her no automotive background but a strong willingness to learn.
“That’s when auto parts was fun,” she said. “There were a lot of little stores.”
At the time, the industry was made up mostly of small chains and independently owned stores. Over time, those chains gave way to larger and larger companies, with the Smithfield location changing names several times before it became a Carquest.
In 2001, the company moved her to its Woonsocket store, which was then located in the former car barn on the corner of Social Street and Diamond Hill Road.
“I had never been to Woonsocket in my life,” she said.
Through all the merges, said Gaucher, it was rare to find another woman in the company. Mostly she worked alongside men, directing them as manager of the Smithfield and Woonsocket locations. Though one or two men gave her a hard time, she said, most of them were supportive, eager to pass along their automotive knowledge.
When Carquest moved up the street to Blackstone in 2008, she took that knowledge with her, earning a reputation as the head of one of the largest commercial stores around. Even today, when it’s been an Advance Auto Parts for the past seven years, many of the mechanics and regulars in the industry know it simply as “Nancie’s store.”
“Everybody knows me. You don’t think of it that way though,” she said.
Her reputation spread within the company, too, even reaching the ears of a female vice president who approached her at a company event.
“She said, ‘I just wanted to let you know if it wasn’t for women like you, I wouldn’t be in the position that I’m in,’” Gaucher said.
“It was so nice, it made me cry,” she added.
At age 67, and with her husband also set to retire in May, Gaucher said she’s confident she’s leaving the store in good hands. Eddie Rainey of Coventry will be taking over management of the Blackstone location. Meanwhile, at her home in Burrillville, Gaucher said she’s looking forward to sleeping in and enjoying her morning coffee.
“I’m going to have a vegetable garden for the first time in my life. I am so excited,” she said.