Vintage Toronto Ads: Terminal Time

Originally published on Torontoist on June 8, 2010.

20100608queensquayterminal

Financial Post 500, June 1982.

The pitch Olympia & York used to entice businesses and residents into the still-under-construction Queen’s Quay Terminal seemed to work. As the spring of 1983 approached, nearly all of the retail space was leased and the seventy-two luxury condos were selling quickly despite being among the most expensive boxes in the sky in the country (up to $520,000 per unit).

When the Terminal Warehouse Building was constructed in 1926, it was the first large poured-concrete structure in Canada. The site was used for regular and cold storage of merchandise under a variety of owners who allowed the structure to decay over the next half-century. By the time architect Eberhard Zeidler was commissioned to revamp the building for Harbourfront, rot had set into both the concrete and the roof. “If the warehouse hadn’t been so grossly over-constructed in the first place,” Zeidler told the Star, “if it hadn’t been so damn muscular, it would have sagged to its knees years ago.”

20100608qqtopening

Globe and Mail, June 18, 1983.

Comments about the building were generally positive in the newspapers. The Globe and Mail’s “By Design” column found fault only with the size of the condos relative to their cost. Critic Adele Freedman was most impressed with the way the southeast corner of the façade was cut open to expose the interior and provide a great view of the harbour. She praised how the site was reused instead of being knocked down to make way for the atriums in vogue at the time (Atrium on Bay was the comparison point). “It demonstrates that the true heritage of public architecture in Canada resides in its indigenous agricultural and industrial buildings,” she noted, “which can survive adaptation and change. Of how many new public buildings in Toronto will that be true 53 years from now?”

The first major preview for the public on March 21, 1983 had a few hiccups. The plan called for the tower’s clock to start ticking as soon as spring officially arrived in England. Guests watched as 4:39 p.m. rolled around…and nothing happened. Mother Nature decided to bestow the event with the worst snowstorm the city had seen that year, which resulted in the layers of ice that froze the clock’s hands. An hour passed before workers cleaned off the clock enough for it to operate. The clock did not cause any problems when opening ceremonies were held in June.

The ad listing day one’s festivities left one Globe and Mail reader fuming. Given his complaint, we wonder if Harvey H. Bowman of Islington wasn’t using his real name when he let loose his bile:

Why do so many advertising promotion pictures featuring the violin show the instrument in the hands of a person who has obviously never played a note in his life, certainly not a note that deserves to be heard? The Queen’s Quay Terminal advertising supplement…showed a picture of a violin lying across a score, with the bow underneath the instrument. Symphony and concert violinists pay large amounts of money for their bows, and would never treat them that way. It’s just not done.

Additional material from the June 25, 1983 and July 8, 1983 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the March 22, 1983 and June 22, 1983 editions of the Toronto Star.

Vintage Toronto Ads: The Beautiful Garden of Shops

Originally published on Torontoist on July 1, 2008.

2008_07_01sherway

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.

2007_07_17honested.jpg

“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.

2007_07_17edbanner.jpg

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.

towers image

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.

star 1960-11-15 towers

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.

ts-80-09-11-towers-history
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: Western Days in Don Mills

Originally published on Torontoist on March 9, 2007.

Vintage Ad #191 - The West Moves East

Source: Toronto Life, August 1968.

“Hey kids, let’s dig out that cowboy gear we bought for Halloween last year and hum the theme to Bonanza on the way to the Western Days hoe-down in Don Mills! Don’t forget the toy gun, pardner!”

Suburban shopping centres used plenty of gimmicks in the early days to get consumers to hop in the car and drive out to stores where they didn’t have to worry about paying for parking or carrying their goods home on the TTC. Modern indoor sidewalk sales have nothing on their ancestors — when was the last time you received free grilled meat from a server in a Stetson at Bayview Village or Yorkdale?

Note the description of the aboriginal element of the event. Based on everything else in the ad, it’s easy to imagine a depiction of Native culture as sensitive as a 1940s B-western.

Much of the advertising for the Don Mills Centre from this period plays on Wild West terminology, appropriate for a pioneer in Toronto retailing. One of the region’s first large-scale suburban shopping centres, it was designed to be the heart of the Don Mills development. The centre opened in 1955 as an open-air plaza which included long-term tenants like Dominion, Brewers Retail and Koffler Drugs (which evolved into the Shoppers Drug Mart empire). Eaton’s built their first suburban store at the centre in 1961, to be joined by Zellers in 1965. A roof came with a 1978 expansion.

The closure of Eaton’s when the chain was sold to Sears in 1999 began the stampede towards the centre’s demolition last year, to make way for an outdoor “lifestyle” shopping area. The current blank space is large enough to hold a decent-size carnival and rodeo, if anyone is interested…

Vintage Toronto Ads: Shoulders by the Grange

Originally published on Torontoist on July 10, 2007.

2007_07_10grange.jpg

Source: Toronto Life, December 1984.

To borrow a line from an old Saturday Night Live parody of Talking Heads frontman David Byrne’s fashion sense, you may ask yourself “why such a big suit?”

Village by the Grange opened on McCaul St in the mid-1970s as a mixture of residential and retail spaces. Any secrets the complex held by the time this ad appeared were hidden in each model’s shoulder or loose jacket. The toll of those stuck in narrow passages or otherwise injured by wide clothes across Toronto during the mid-1980s is unknown (though if anyone wants to check the police accident records, your perseverance will be admired).

If you look at the Emy’s model from a certain angle, her outfit resembles a heart—raised curves at the top, narrowing to a point by the waistline. A subliminal suggestion that anyone would love to wear this, or an early hint for Valentine’s Day gift ideas?

BEHIND THE SCENES

Now that “Vintage Toronto Ads” was rolling along, I began buying cheap used copies of old magazines to widen my selection of source material. This was one of the first from a batch of mid-1980s issues of Toronto Life I found at a bookstore along Yonge Street (I want to say ABC, but don’t quote me on that). Dated fashion quickly became handy if I was in a hurry to write the column, or when the inspiration well ran dry. I might collect some future installments together, since I usually didn’t have a lot to say – the images told a better tale than I could. What more is there to say about the ridiculously puffed up shoulders on the Emy’s model?

There will be more about Village by the Grange – rebranded in recent years as Yorkville Village – in future posts.