Originally published on Torontoist on November 15, 2011.
Toronto Star, October 21, 1976.
For a child growing up in the 1970s or early 1980s, a trip to a PoP Shoppe depot was an eagerly awaited adventure. Running around the stacks of red cases filled with a rainbow of soda flavours, you’d wonder which varieties your parents were going to let you pick: Black Cherry? Lime Rickey? Tall bottles or stubbies? Spokespeople like Captain Cola and former Maple Leaf Eddie Shack didn’t need to do much enticing to get kids to drink the stuff.
Launched in London, Ontario, in May 1969, the PoP Shoppe built its initial business model on selling cases directly to the public from its own factory/warehouse facilities, at prices that were half of what supermarkets charged. Customers were, however, charged a three dollars deposit per case to ensure the bottles would be reused. The company estimated that the fee, considered high at the time, was responsible for 99 per cent of bottles being returned. When this ad appeared, most of the bottles produced when the company launched were still in circulation, in fact. In an interview with the Toronto Star, president Bruce Westwood touted the PoP Shoppe system’s benefits to the environment: “Can you imagine the amount of energy that would go into the manufacture of 35 cases of canned pop and the cartons, and the extra energy needed to destroy them all?”
The company was in rapid expansion mode by the time the Dufferin and Lawrence location opened; sales rose from $1.2 million in 1973 to $17.1 million in 1976. Officials believed they could open 15 new plants a year, widen the franchisee base, expand into the United States, and enter joint ventures around the world. But the company was too ambitious in its goals: its debt-ridden foray south of the border proved the beginning of the end. Bottlers and franchisees complained of massive mark-ups designed to recoup corporate losses, and supermarket chains improved the quality and selection of their generic soda offerings. After the corporate parent went into receivership in late 1982, several bottlers attempted to keep the PoP Shoppe name alive, but it slowly faded from view until 2004, when the brand was revived as a nostalgic drink.
Google Maps image of 944 Lawrence Avenue West, August 2011.
As for the location celebrated in today’s ad? The site was last used as a medical supply store. Hints of the building’s past lay in its architecture—compare the shape of the white section above the storefront to the PoP Shoppe logo in the ad.
Additional material from the May 25, 1977, edition of the Toronto Star.
944 Lawrence West was later torn down. As of 2019, the site is occupied by Centura Tile.
Windsor Star, June 15, 1976.
I grew up drinking plenty of PoP Shoppe sodas, thanks to a giant depot in south Windsor (the Ouellette Place location listed in the ad above). My memories are faint, but I recall buying it by the case load, and that black cherry and lime rickey were among my favourites.
Toronto Star, July 17, 1975.
Alas, Captain Cola was never as popular as other caped crusaders.
Toronto Star, June 23, 1977.
Al Biggs, who went to elementary school with Eddie Shack and was employed by PoP Shoppe during the 1970s, described Shack’s impact on the company in Ross Brewitt’s book Clear the Track: The Eddie Shack Story (Toronto: Stoddart, 1997):
Eddie was the Don Cherry of the 1970s. People, ordinary people, gravitated to him because he related to them so well. And though he might appear to be a buffoon, every time he went into a plant he’d touch all the right buttons instinctively. He stressed cleanliness, keeping the place looking shipshape, having pride in your job. He told the workers that he spoke from his own experience as a butcher, from the early days in Sudbury and as a hockey player. Everywhere he went his talks had a tremendous effect on the staff, their morale and productivity, stuff you could actually measure before and after he made an appearance.
Toronto Sun, December 22, 1972.
PoP Shoppe had its share of competitors and imitators, such as this one. An upcoming post will look at one who had ties to the Loblaws grocery empire.