Vintage Toronto Ads: Adam’s Knicker Knack

Originally published on Torontoist on August 25, 2009. This is one of numerous Vintage Toronto Ads posts where I let my imagination run free…usually during a morning lull at my then day job.

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Globe and Mail, September 30, 1971.

Once upon a time, the managers of Eaton’s men’s clothing department were preparing a hiring call for designers for their 1971 fall line. Just as they were about to post the position, an eccentric designer approached the retailer with a portfolio of exciting ideas. The man called himself Adam, and rumour had it that he had been a rising star in the fashion biz until overwork and several personal crises induced a nervous breakdown. He now believed he was the Biblical figure whose name he had assumed and claimed many of his ideas were simple suggestions delivered nightly by a higher figure. Most of the time these ideas had worked, but even “the first man of fashion” had his off days, such as the time he tried to sell an American department store chain on a line of fig leaves dyed to match the colours of fall.

Intrigued by Adam’s enthusiasm and willing to put aside his eccentricities, Eaton’s hired him. Shortly after his hiring, Adam heard his invisible advisor speak two words: “knicker knack.” Rushing into the office the next day in an excited state, Adam flipped through every magazine in the office to find out what the words meant. He came upon an article on the revival of styles from the 1920s and decided that he had received a hint to resurrect Jazz Age golf knickers. What could be more elegant? Adam even hoped that the proper publicity push would make “knicker knack” a lasting expression.

Alas, this was not to be. Tweed knickers for men failed to catch on with the general public and Adam was soon let go. Convinced that “knicker knack” still had mileage, the last anyone heard of Adam was a deal he made with a snack food company to use the expression as the name of a Cracker Jack knockoff. It was also said he no longer received tips at bedtime.

We weren’t able to find a matching “Eve” line of clothing, but we did find another elegant Eaton’s ad from the same newspaper that allowed female shoppers to unleash their inner harlequins.

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Vintage Toronto Ads: Short Cuts 1

Some weeks while working on Vintage Toronto Ads my mind overflowed with ideas. Others, whether due to brain fog, a heavy load at my then day job, or a hectic personal life, produced ridiculously short pieces I’m amazed the editors accepted. Rather than give all of those pieces their own posts, I’m collecting them in batches such as this.

Suitable Attire

Originally published on Torontoist on July 29, 2008.

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The Globe, May 12, 1883.

While P. Jamieson tried to raise a ruckus with their dare to the dozen or so other dry goods retailers located in the vicinity of Queen and Yonge, two competitors would have the last laugh—T. Eaton and R. Simpson expanded rapidly after 1883, with the early versions of their landmark stores in place by the end of the 19th century.

Who Are the Educational Trustees in Your Neighbourhood?

Originally published on Torontoist on September 2, 2008.

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The Leaside Story, 1958.

With today marking the first day back to school for most students in the city, we take this opportunity to let parents know who runs the institutions that will mould your children into upstanding young citizens…or at least the people who ran the show in Leaside 50 years ago.

Founded in 1920, the Leaside Board of Education operated out of Leaside High School by the time today’s ad appeared. Besides the high school, the board’s responsibilities in 1958 included three public schools (Bessborough, Rolph Road, Northlea) and one separate school (St. Anselm). The board merged with East York’s educational overseers when the two municipalities amalgamated in 1967.

Do 1010 Ads Use Stereotypes? We Need to Talk

Originally published on Torontoist on January 27, 2009.

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Sources: Toronto ’59 (left) and CFL Illustrated, July 4, 1978 (right).

The provocative stunt-based advertising campaign currently employed by CFRB has been one of Torontoist’s favourite targets for ridicule. This prompted us to dig deep and see if “Ontario’s Family Station” had any promotional skeletons in the closet, as most old CFRB ads we have encountered tend to be warm and friendly.

You be the judge as to whether this pair of ads, one designed to tout the station’s potential reach during the city’s 125th anniversary, the other meant to draw in Argos fans, retain the quaint, humorous charm the ad designers intended or demonstrate how attitudes towards First Nations people and leering football players have changed since they were published.

Look for representatives of either of these groups holding signs for the station on a street corner near you.

When Restaurateurs Go Editorial

Originally published on Torontoist on February 3, 2009.

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Source: Upper Yonge Villager, July 16, 1982.

Most ads for restaurants tout the eatery’s virtues (smart decor, well-prepared food) or highlight special offers. Less common, unless the restaurant has bought ongoing advertorial space, are spots where the owner takes a stance on burning issues of the day. Ads for Oliver’s in community papers usually highlighted the menu, but today’s pick tackles the economic problems of the early 1980s with the subtlety of a talk radio caller, though modern callers would not tack on an apology to those who enjoy statutory holidays.

Opened in 1978, Oliver’s was the first of a series of restaurants Peter Oliver has operated in the city on his own and as part of the Oliver Bonacini partnership.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Family Craftsmanship for Urban Feet

Originally published on Torontoist on August 19, 2008.

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Toronto Life, January 1975.

Though one tends to think of Roots as primarily a clothing retailer these days, it was a trendy shoe that launched the chain 35 years ago this month.

After studying several retail business ideas, company founders Michael Budman and Don Green settled upon the growing craze in the early 1970s for the Earth Shoe, a Danish-designed piece of footwear whose heel was lower than its toe. After failing to secure the Canadian franchise for the Earth Shoe, the budding entrepreneurs designed their own version. After a meeting with Bata to produce the line flopped, Budman and Green contacted the next shoe manufacturer listed in the Toronto Yellow Pages. The Boa Shoe Company, operated by the Kowalewski family, agreed to produce 120 pairs of negative heel shoes.

The first store opened on August 15, 1973 at 1052 Yonge Street in the Crescent Road Apartments complex across from Rosedale subway station. The building, constructed in 1927, was designed by Charles Dolphin, whose other Toronto buildings included the Gray Coach Bus Terminal on Bay Street, the Canada Post Delivery Building (portions of which were integrated into the Air Canada Centre), and the Consumers’ Gas Showroom at 2532 Yonge Street (now a Puma store).

In Team Spirit: A Field Guide to Roots Culture, Geoff Pevere outlined how quickly the store took off:

On day one, the store moved seven pairs of the “Roots Shoe” at a hefty $35 a pair. Hardly through the roof. The next Saturday thirty pairs walked out the door, which meant the doors could remain open-for another week. The following Saturday, for reasons only slightly less fathomable than the Seventies themselves, the ethereal forces of fashion faddism converged above the little shoe store on Yonge Street, and they were smiling. There were lineups around the block. The shoes sold out, and there were waiting lists for customers at the end of the line.

By the time the negative heel fad burned out a few years later, the store had introduced other styles of footwear and made its first moves into clothing and leather goods lines.

Vintage Toronto Ads: The Beautiful Garden of Shops

Originally published on Torontoist on July 1, 2008.

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Toronto Life, April 1971.

Indoor gardens. A climate-controlled shopping experience to deal with harsh winters and humid summers. The most stores under one roof in Canada. Plenty of directions for those using their vehicles or public transit. All of these drawing cards were used when Sherway Gardens opened in 1971.

On the drawing board since the early 1960s, construction of Sherway Gardens was delayed for eight years due to legal challenges from merchants in the nearby communities along Lake Shore Boulevard (who feared bankruptcy once the centre opened), rival Cloverdale Mall (due to competition), and from the townships of Mississauga and Chinguacousy (who feared the effects on their growth plans). After a final appeal at the Supreme Court of Ontario favoured the developers, ground broke in 1969. The original owner was Baltimore-based Rouse Company, whose other properties in the 1970s included Faneuil Hall in Boston.

The initial phase consisted of 127 stores filling 80,000 square feet, a third less space than was occupied by Yorkdale Shopping Centre. An “S” design was used to eliminate long corridors, with the developers beaming that shoppers would always be within 60 feet of a place to rest. Four of these stops were gardens designed by landscape architect George Tanaka with Japanese, cactus, hanging plant, and tropical themes.

At the ends of the “S” were initial anchors were Eaton’s and Simpsons. Grocery giants Dominion and Loblaws spent hundreds of thousands on their stores, with each keeping a close eye on the other’s prices. The list of stores on opening day is filled with vanished retailers such as Agnew Surpass, Dominion Playworld, Elk’s Menswear, Maher Shoes and Sam the Record Man. Two nameplates caught our eye: The Pink Poodle and Very Very Terry Jerry.

Within two hours of unlocking the doors on February 24, 1971, over 20,000 shoppers passed through the new mall. The Globe and Mail compared the festivities to “opening day of the CNE without the rides.” Police pipe bands, choirs and beauty queens entertained the crowds, while broadcaster Gordon Sinclair was on hand to open the Dominion store. Simpsons chairman G. Allan Burton joked: “I hope the only mechanical failure is an overheated cash register.” Tight security saw 70 guards mingling among the crowd, which Rouse Company officials hoped would prevent issues with drug dealers they encountered on opening day at several of their American properties.

Reaction from shoppers and high school students playing hooky was generally favourable, most enjoying the number of downtown retailers with outposts in the new mall. One shopper who wasn’t quite sure about their feelings was Mrs. R.O. Phillips of Etobicoke, who noted that “it’s a real asset to the area, but it’s more sterile looking than I expected. There’s certainly a lot of glass and steel in modern designs.”

Additional material from the February 24, 1971 edition of The Toronto Star and February 25, 1971 edition of The Globe and Mail.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Honest Ed’s Smells Out Bargains For You!

Originally published on Torontoist on July 17, 2007.

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“Honest Ed” Mirvish was many things—successful merchant, theatrical impressario, civic booster. For almost as long as his store at Bloor and Bathurst has operated, he also brought smiles to the faces of advertising bean counters at local newspapers.

Large-scale discount stores gained popularity in the 1950s, as post-war shoppers looked for economical ways to support their families and new lifestyles. First came the local store, often an outgrowth of a pre-existing department store, dry goods seller or grocer. 1962 was the turning point, as K-Mart, Kohl’s, Meijer, Target, Wal-Mart and Woolco all opened their first large-scale locations, pitching items from popcorn to parakeets. In Ontario, Steinberg’s (later Miracle Mart), Towers and Zellers gained a foothold in malls and plazas, while K-Mart and Woolco quickly ventured across the border.
The competition for newspaper space among discounters was fierce, as copies of the Star and Telegram from this period also feature large ads for Steinberg’s, Towers and Rite-Way. Honest Ed’s ads were blockier than the competition, with more featured products and no line-drawn/clip art fashion models.

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Since the main ad doesn’t feature any of the store’s trademark jokes (though the logo vaguely resembles the early human-filled masthead used by Mad magazine), here are banners from their other ads that week. These included deals on Geritol ($1.67/bottle), pellet guns ($3.55 each; 59 cents for ammo), herring (three tins for 31 cents) and wading pools ($7.99).

Sources: Toronto Telegram, July 13, 1967 (main ad), Toronto Telegram, July 15, 1967, and Toronto Daily Star, July 20, 1967 (banners).

Past Pieces of Toronto: Towers Department Stores

From November 2011 through July 2012 I wrote the “Past Pieces of Toronto” column for OpenFile, which explored elements of the city which no longer exist. The following was originally published on June 3, 2012.

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Toronto Star, November 16, 1960.

As the 1960s dawned, the discount department store heralded a new era of shopping. While Toronto had been home to stores such as Honest Ed’s for some time, the new breed of bargain emporiums were large, suburban sites which promised low prices, self-service and plenty of parking. Two years before future industry giants K-Mart, Target, Wal-Mart and Woolco opened their first stores in the United States, Towers brought Metro Toronto consumers a taste of the future of retail.

Launched as the Canadian division of U.S.-based Towers Marts International, the chain’s plan was to erect stores, sell them to recover the capital costs, then lease them back. Concessionaires rented space inside each store to operate individual departments—one merchant ran men’s clothing, for example, while another ran the pharmacy. The initial 14 concessionaires, including familiar names like Coles books, signed a one-year deal, with the cost of the lease afterwards determined by their sales volume. By coming together under one roof, everyone saved money by using common cashiers, bags and fixtures.

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Toronto Star, November 15, 1960.

After six weeks of construction, the first Towers store opened at Lawrence Avenue East and Midland Avenue in Scarborough on November 17, 1960. An ad printed in the Star two days earlier depicted a child clad only in a rain barrel declaring “I’m not buying another thing” until the doors opened. The ad promised shoppers “bargains in sufficient quantities to fill your needs,” “forty-eight self-service, pressure-free departments on one floor to fill every need for all the family,” and “acres of free parking.” The festivities included the crowning of Mrs. Canada, who represented “the nation’s happiest housewife,” or at least the happiest homemaker to shop at Towers.

More gimmicky touches were used when Towers opened its third store on Dundas Street West between Bloor and Roncesvalles in June 1962. The first 1,000 customers could spend money to get more money—in this case, silver dollars for 80 cents. Seven sets of triplets, ranging in age from 3 to 34, were on hand to perform duties that including modelling the chain’s latest fashions and burying a time capsule intended to be left untouched until 2062.

Whether Towers would survive one more year, let alone 100, was a reasonable question. Messy relationships with its concessionaires, an inability to sell properties as fast as they were built, and a split with its American parent led to Towers falling into receivership in March 1963. During a creditors meeting at the King Edward Hotel that month, the receiver noted that untangling Towers’ affairs was “the most complicated matter I’ve ever been connected with” thanks to numerous unfavourable agreements it had made. Sales weren’t helped whenever customers unhappy with one concessionaire’s products said to heck with the rest of them and never set foot in Towers again.

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Toronto Star, September 11, 1980.

The ultimate solution to the company’s problems was a gradual acquisition by grocer Oshawa Wholesale (later known as Oshawa Group) between 1965 and 1967. The chain’s numbers were boosted when Oshawa converted its Rite-Way discount stores to the Towers banner. The concessionaire model was phased as leases expired. Many stores built thereafter were paired with a Food City supermarket. Apart from some bumpiness in the mid-1970s, the chain became profitable and opened stores around Toronto in spots like the Galleria on Dupont Street.

Despite appearances in shows like Degrassi Junior High, Towers’ modest store count made it an attractive proposition for a sell-off as the 1990s loomed and Oshawa Group concentrated on its food and drug businesses. A bidding war erupted between the Hudson’s Bay Company and Woolworths for the 51-store chain, with HBC emerging the victor in October 1990. Over the next year, most of the stores were converted into Zellers locations. Figuring out where Towers locations were in Toronto without a store list isn’t too difficult: the tell-tale signs are malls and plazas where Zellers was/is located in close proximity to a FreshCo/Price Chopper/Sobeys grocery store.

Additional material from the September 9, 1960, November 15, 1960, November 16, 1960, June 14, 1962, April 1, 1963, and September 11, 1980 editions of the Toronto Star.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

The first time I wrote about Towers was the following installment of “Vintage Toronto Ads” originally published on Torontoist on October 30, 2007:

Vintage Ad #370: The Devil's Polyester (or Satan's Slacks)

Toronto Star, October 2, 1972.

With Halloween almost upon us, the mind turns to the dark side. Though today’s ad seems innocent enough on the surface, its evil intentions are evident from its most prominently displayed sale price. While humans usually sell their soul to demons for wealth, power or self-sacrifice, all your eternal fate will earn you at Towers is a pair of cheap polyester pants.

Halloween items were likely among the products on sale when Towers opened their Galleria location in the fall of 1972. The mall site was previously home to the Dominion Radiator Company. An essay on the industrial life of Dupont Streetreferred to the heating manufacturer’s replacement as “soulless,” so perhaps devilish dealings were afoot beyond these pants.

Towers was one of Canada’s earliest discount department store chains. After being purchased by Oshawa Group in 1967, several locations included or were built next to their grocery (Food City) and drug (Kent) stores. The chain had 51 stores across Ontario, the Maritimes and Quebec (as Bonimart) by the time it was sold to the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1990. Within a few months most locations, including the Galleria, were converted to Zellers stores.

Other than the price, the main eye-catching element is the artwork. The legs are so spindly that the “B” model snapped in two after attempting to stand straight.

Vintage Toronto Ads: Signaling Fall at the Eaton Centre

Originally published on Torontoist on September 18, 2007.

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Source: Toronto Life, September, 1985.

Fall officially arrives this week, a season that signals fresh starts. While some changes signal endings, such as leaves changing colour, events ranging from the first day of school to the launch of the new slate of television shows are opportunities to forge fresh paths. Shopping malls are no exception, as stores unveil their fall wardrobes in which consumers can strut their stuff at the office or on the town.

But is the interplay of fabrics at the top of every consumer’s mind?
The clearest signal that this ad sends out is its age. The colour scheme, the half-reversed headline with a skinny font, the tilted photo with neon background, and the contrasting moods of the model add up to a pure 1980s layout.