MEMORABLE MOMENTS IN ONTARIO RETAILING

 

© John Winter Associates Limited

Two Wheeler Avenue, Suite 201

Toronto, ON, M4L 3V2

416-691-1870, fax: 416-694-6258

 

INTRODUCTION

 

A distribution system is a wonderful thing: a competitive process with its own inner dynamic. This essay highlights the way goods and services reached the Ontario customer: over the past 50 years, population increased 150 percent and affluence increased sales 560 percent (click thumbnail for total sales and sales per capita). Numbers like that not only change history: they change way we live.

In the beginning of the 1950s, four of the twentieth century's great retail innovations, of how goods reach the consumer, had arrived in Ontario:

1.         Free parking, from the 1920s onwards. Of course, it’s an oxymoron, there is no such thing as free parking, you just don’t have to pay directly when you use it.

 

2.         The supermarket (self-service applied to the sale of food, assisted by the 1930s invention of the shopping cart). According to The Food Industry in Canada (1979, John Warnock), the average size of an Ontario supermarket in 1950 was 4,500 square feet, approximately the size that so terrified us in Holywood when one arrived in the mid-1950s (see The Early Years).

A 4,500 square foot store is approximately the size of the 1950s supermarket beside my office, the IGA (noe Foodland), at Queen and Lee (click here for photo). Notice the adjacent Beach Mart (now Carload on the Beach). It competes in this high margin sector the way my Uncle Johnnie did, by being at the market first in the morning, and bringing the spectacularly fresh produce back right away for the shelves at opening time. No matter how good Sobeys is at stocking the IGA shelves, Sue is faster. And she knows each customer by name. She does it better than Uncle Johnnie as she drives a much better car (a Mercedes compared to a Ford).

No-one seems to know where the term supermarket came from. It may be related to the heyday of Hollywood (two "ll"s) spectaculars, when everything was "colossal" or "super". (Clarence Sauder opens Piggly-Wiggly in Memphis in 1916 with self-service and a check-out counter; the idea is perfected by Michael J. Cullen in 1930—after Kroger and A&P weren't interested—in a former garage at 171-06 Jamaica Avenue, Queens).

 

3.         The shopping cart. On his deathbed, the inventor of the shopping cart, Sylvan N. Goldman, explained why he designed the first grocery carts: “The customers had a tendency to stop shopping when their baskets became too full or too heavy” (New York Times, November 27, 1984). Brilliant: instead of shopping until they dropped something, consumers could continue to shop until they themselves dropped.

 

4.         The chain store. Chains, which could buy in quantity and eliminate middlemen, undercut smaller competitors, and were proven sales generators.

 

Each retail innovation was successful because it provided shoppers with more choice, or greater convenience, or better quality, or lower prices, or some combination of any or all of these. Each store innovation attacked one of the main costs faced by retailers: the variable costs of labour and stock, and/or the fixed costs of store and the ground it sits on.

Four more retail innovations were to arrive in Ontario over the next half century:

5.         The discount department store (self service applied to general merchandise);

 

6.         The shopping centre, combining supermarkets, department stores and free parking;

 

7.         The electronic revolution, as it applied to inventory control; and,

 

8.         The membership warehouse club, which demonstrated how lower costs and service structures could be incorporated into retailing. Such discounters have been one of the twentieth century's main catalysts for change.

 

The Journal of Retailing, Fall 1989 notes: "There is an apparent ancestral lineage running through the concepts: the supermarket applied self-service, lower priced retailing to food items; the discount store expanded that basic concept to durable goods; finally the warehouse club drove the limited service, lower price idea to a much more dramatic point. In all three instances, consumers were trading in a traditional set of services for lower prices ... What is important is that the history of retailing innovation over the past fifty years is the exclusive domain of lower service/lower price concepts. Innovation on the specialty store side has been virtually non-existent. The 25 years between the supermarket (early 1930s) and the discount store (mid-1950s) was followed by another 20 years or so to the emergence of the warehouse club (mid-1970s). Seemingly, environmental pressures build up in the market over time to create an opportunity for yet another revolution. Given the rapid change in society at present, another revolution seems due ... ".

Remember the secret to success in retailing: understand the fundamentals of the business, execute well, and improve on the fundamentals. That’s all there is. Simple, but excruciatingly difficult. Try it sometime, and you’ll find it not that easy.

The door opens in the morning, and it’s show time. Anyone can observe, copy or improve. Everything is transparent. The best ideas are out on the floor for all to see. All you need is the eyes to see.

 

THE FIFTIES

Turning Point: November, 1954

Highlights: Don Mills, evening shopping, Victor Gruen.

1950    Ontario had 4½ million people, three shopping centres and 50,000 stores (equivalent to 90 consumers per store). The most frequent store type was grocery (without fresh meat), apparel, grocery/combo (with fresh meat) and general stores. A fifth of the stores did less than $10,000 in annual sales (even at a 30 percent gross, there was not much left over for the proprietors, which explained why a third of Ontario business failures were in the retail trade). In 1950, personal expenditures on automobiles exceeded personal expenditures on food for the first time. The lunch room (restaurant) was replacing the lunch pail.

 

Affluence reigned: retail sales per capita had increased 10 percent in the previous two years and by a stunning 42 percent since the end of the European war, 1944 (click here for details). But, there had practically been no new construction (click here for details).

1950    Fifty seven percent of Ontario’s population lived in towns, according to the Dominion Bureau of Statistics. The country had four shopping centres of which three were located in Ontario. A half century later, any small town in Ontario would have at least four shopping centres. No significant pocket of population would be out-of-reach of a mall.

 

(Another comparison of how things have mutated: Eniac had just been invented, with 18,000 vacuum tubes, was 100 feet long, and IBM thought there might be a market for ten to 15 of these computers in the entire world).

1950    Eaton's starts the decade with half the Department Store Type Merchandise (DSTM) sales of the Province. My father-in-law describes getting back from the war and there being six people deep at the counters, all trying to buy things. Timothy Eaton (1834-1907; click here for statue) had revolutionized commercial practice by selling for cash at a fixed price. The T. Eaton Co. was established in 1869.

 

Nationally, department stores would do a billion dollars in sales in 1950, of which half would go to the 50 Eaton's stores and their catalogue (which was the largest in the Commonwealth), and another $200 million would go to the five Simpson's stores and their smaller catalogue. There was also a range of independent (“family”) department stores and some smaller chains.

All roads led to the city centres. So did the streetcars.

Timothy Eaton (1834-1907) came to Upper Canada in 1854 and ran a general store with his brothers in St. Mary’s. In 1868 he went into the dry goods business in Toronto and the next year founded The T. Eaton Company.

Robert Simpson was born in the same year as Timothy (1834-1897). He was trained in the drapery trade in Scotland. He came to Upper Canada a year after Timothy, in 1855. He worked in a Newmarket dry goods store and then set up his own store there. In 1872 he opened a pioneer department store in Toronto and ten years later moved it to the corner of Queen and Yonge. Charles Burton (1876-1961) joined the Robert Simpson Company Ltd. in 1912 and became president in 1929. His son Ted succeeded him.

For many citizens of the late 1800s, the massive department store epitomized the prosperity and urbanity of their cities; the same phenomenon occurred in Detroit with Hudson’s, in Philadelphia with Wanamaker’s and Strawbridge & Clothier’s, Marshall Field’s in Chicago, Rich’s in Atlanta and in New York, Bloomingdale’s, Lord & Taylor, Macy’s, Altman’s and Gimbels. The first modern department store was probably Bon Marché in Paris (1852).

1950    Mervin and Evelyn Goodwin establishes Lipton's in Toronto's west end. The chain will survive 43 years.

 

1950    Regent Park is occupied. Ultimately with 10,000 residents, someone forgot these people had to eat, so there was no retail provided. This model gets used repeatedly over the next forty years: in Tunney’s Pasture, the remarkable name for the federal office towers in Ottawa, someone also forgot the needed retailing; even in 1990, when planners should have known better, an apartment building for the disabled at the end of Queens Quay was built one mile from any store. The poor, the bureaucrats and the physically-challenged deserved better.

 

1951    An apocryphal story is told about Toronto Council's zoning of University Avenue. "Let's have a majestic avenue that looks like the Champs-Elysées" says one Council member. "Yes" says another, "With no retail". The last time they had seen the Champs-Elysées was from the top of a tank.

 

University Avenue becomes a dull, monumental arterial with no retail to animate its sidewalks (until a Business Depot opens 42 years later).

1951    There are 500 Fuller Brush Men and Fuller Brush Girls knocking on the Province's doors twice a year, according to Maclean's.

 

1951    Steve Stavros opens an open-air fruit and vegetable stand in the south west quadrant of Queen and Coxwell in Toronto’s east end. From these humble beginnings, he skips the supermarket stage, and launches a Food Terminal in 1963 on the old NRC plant between Lansdowne and Dufferin.

 

1951    Independent Grocers’ Alliance (Chicago) grants OshawaWholesalers Ltd. the first Canadian franchise. At first, there were 49 small IGAs. Max Wolfe had started the same way as Steve Stavros, with a stall in the old Toronto fruit and vegetable market. In 1911, he bought a horse, a wagon and a barrel of apples. Three years later, the Ontario Produce Company was born. The Wolfe family branched into stores in 1948, and bypassed the wholesalers.

 

1952    Billings Bridge Plaza opens in suburban Ottawa (click here), along with Cliffside (Scarborough) and Sunnybrook Plaza (Toronto).

 

1952    CBC begins monochrome television broadcasting. Soon a quarter of the Canadian households have television sets. In this era, two-thirds of Toronto goes to the cinema weekly. In 1952, Ontario converts to the North American standard, a 60 cycle electric current.

 

1952    August: the Robert Simpson Company and Sears Roebuck announce a joint venture: they are contributing $20 million each to construct new stores, Simpsons-Sears, in any suburb but Toronto (Simpson's had almost a million square feet downtown to protect). The existing Simpson's catalogue will go to Sears in the deal. Simpson's celebrates in August with the proven Sears Roebuck promotion: "A ten spot gets you anything in the store" (the minimum deposit for any item was dropped to $10). Sears in particular knows the suburban market since it opened its first store there in Aurora, IL in 1928.

 

There were no suburban department stores in Canada; all were downtown. It is a marvellous leap of faith: it worked in the U.S., it had to work in Canada too.

 

The deposit on goods had previously been ten percent at the two leading Ontario chains. The ten dollar deposit was an especially attractive promotion for hard goods, like appliances (particularly freezers), furniture, boats, motors, TV sets, radios, cameras and the other paraphernalia of the emerging acquisitive society.

 

1952    Patti Page asks on Columbia “How Much is that Doggie in the Window?” She never answers the question. But it has to be, “what the market will bear!”

 

Notice how much time we spend shopping, and how few songs there are about this popular activity, no “Tra la la I’m off to the mall”, no “I love my Power Centre”, only a song about a dying institution, Downtown.

 

Notice too how much time we spend shopping and how nobody has said anything witty about it (except us: see Sound Bites: What we have said about them). Look at any dictionary of quotations in vain for “shopping” or “shopping centre”. The best these tombs can do is quote: (1) Mr. H. George Selfridge’s improvement on Timothy Eaton, the addition of an adverb, “Satisfaction guaranteed, or money cheerfully refunded” (1911); (2) Mr. Arthur Miller’s rant, in The Price (Act One), that people now sublimate anxiety in shopping, rather than creating something, “Because you see the main thing today is—shopping. Years ago a person, he was unhappy, didn’t know what to do with himself—he’d go to church, start a revolution—something. Today you’re unhappy? Can’t figure it out? What is the salvation? Go shopping” (i.e. if it wasn’t for Home Depot, the bourgeoisie would be revolting); and (3) John Kenneth Galbraith, on The Affluent Society, chapter 11, on “Consumer wants can have bizarre, frivolous, or even immoral origins, and an admirable case can still be made for a society that seeks to satisfy them. But the case cannot stand if it is the process of satisfying wants that creates the wants”. Not very witty, eh! Nothing like Marilyn Monroe and the baked beans (see Sound Bites: What they have said about us).

 

1953    January: The new Simpsons-Sears winter catalogue is published. For the first time, the rival is thicker than the Eaton's catalogue (566 compared to 552 pages). The credit deposit is dropped to $5 for items less than $200. Because Simpsons-Sears is targeted to suburban dwellers, not farm labourers; there are fewer varieties of long johns (35 compared to 56) and no snowshoes (zero compared to four). Both organizations will deliver baby chicks and turkeys with a live-delivery guarantee. The summer catalogue is 32 pages larger than Eaton's, 708 pages compared to 676.

 

Both organizations have two major catalogues per year (winter and summer) and various smaller ones (the smaller ones get rid of the merchandise that didn't sell, and test merchandise that might make the big book).

1953    Ford locates in Oakville.

1953    Cadillac Development Corp. is established. It builds houses, offices and plazas. Whenever you see older apartment buildings in a light buff colour (which Eaton’s was later to term ‘aubergine’), that was Cadillac's trademark (i.e. Bretton Place, St. Clair and Yonge).

 

1953    Morgan's is first outta the paddock; it anchors Lawrence Plaza at the beginning of the 1950s building boom (click here for details). The building boom is facilitated by a clever American invention: the net lease, in which municipal taxes are billed by the Landlord separately from the rent. It would not take entrepreneurs long to realize that many other costs could also be passed through, with the net-net leases of the 1970s and the triple-net leases of the 1980s.

 

Henry Morgan (1819-1893) established Canada's oldest department store chain beginning on Notre Dame Street in Montreal in 1845. Henry Morgan and Co. was the first to recognize the potential of shopping centres as they opened various suburban stores in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal in the 1950s. See "Bargain is a Naughty Word at Morgan's", Maclean's, June 15, 1953.

 

1954    Metro Toronto is formed with 1.1 million inhabitants. Metro would not have a blueprint for growth, an Official Plan, until 1980, 26 years later, when a few motherhood issues were approved, but with no policies about the retailing that animates the life of the city, nor any policies about the urban retail core.

 

1954    September Maryln Bell swims Lake Ontario in 20 hours, 57 minutes. Teams at the two department stores flanking Queen Street work feverishly through the night, behind closed curtains, to present the exact same celebratory windows the next morning.

 

1954    Dominion anchors Eglinton Town Square. Across Eglinton, Avie Bennett builds the Golden Mile Plaza, a strip with another food store and a cinema. (It is redeveloped 33 years later for the Golden Mile Supercentre). The Township of Scarborough is so enamoured with the cutting-edge Golden Mile Plaza that Queen Elizabeth is brought there in 1959.

 

“Canada’s Golden Mile of Industry” was the result of a 1948 municipal land assembly, “an oasis of industrial opportunity and harmony”. The U of T is so impressed with this fabled strip that they take their geography students there to see the wonders. There is industrial, commercial, institutional (the second Scarborough town hall) and housing. The industrial park produces consumer goods for the post-war population boom, fridges, toasters, plastics and car parts.

 

1954    Town and Country Square opens in Niagara Falls, Brant Plaza (Burlington), Humbertown (Etobicoke) and Downsview SC (North York).

 

1954    NOVEMBER 17, 1954 IS THE DEFINING MOMENT OF CANADIAN RETAILING. Simpsons-Sears opens its first store in the suburbs, Hamilton's lower town, Barton Street at Kenilworth. Eaton's sends a bouquet of white mums in congratulation. The mums would have been better kept for the funeral.

 

November 17 is also the Hamilton opening of Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye in "White Christmas", shot in VistaVision.

Hamilton was under-stored. There was no choice outside the downtown stores of Eaton's, Robinsons, Zellers and The Right House. Hamilton had been dominated by the downtown Eaton's, 190,000 square feet, on six levels. A week before their rival's opening, Eaton's runs the ad: "It's Fun to Shop Downtown--Where the Shops are Tops".

The new Simpsons-Sears is 131,500 square feet with two stories, and picture windows so customers could look in as they traversed the covered walks around the store (click here). Simpsons-Sears has an external lawn and garden centre, a farm equipment centre and a gas station. It has 17 acres of free parking for 1,600 cars (more parking spaces that the entire Hamilton downtown). It is open to nine p.m. on Fridays and six p.m. on Saturdays, while Eaton's closes at 5.30 p.m. on Fridays and all of Saturday afternoons.

The Hamilton Spectator assures Hamiltonians that the store is hurricane proof (Hurricane Hazel struck only one month earlier, October 15, 1954). The store eschews conventional store counters for self-service. It has terrazzo floors and carpets.

The new suburban store is also described as "a suburban wasteland far from the downtown area". Wasteland or not, seven thousand people turn out for the 10 a.m. Wednesday morning opening. Gridlock, which fifty police cannot control.  It sells out of its inventory of 105 refrigerators on opening day. It sells out of the 59Ę nylons on opening day, all 12,000 pairs.

OK, it’s a turning point; something radical has changed. After this type of performance, wouldn't you think twice about opening another store downtown?

A Simpsons-Sears executive notes: "People are moving into the suburbs, so we are moving out there after them. The automobile has become the biggest factor moulding shopping habits and the modern store must make adequate provision for automobile parking". Plus: "Property values are lower and, perhaps most important, it permits outward instead of upward expansion. Cooping people in an elevator like cattle in a car is a poor way to promote sales. You've locked them in a box where they can't see the goods you want them to see. Escalators are better. At least they take your purchaser to every floor. But the single-story or two-floor store is best of all. No selling time is lost while you go through the costly business of lifting your customers to shopping areas" (Pierre Berton, Canada in the Fifties, page 64).

Right location + right processes = success.

Multi-level stores—like the ones downtown—need more staff, more washrooms, more cash registers and a giant walk-in elevator for customers pushing baby carriages.

Eaton's responds (as the retailers would do during another cross-border battle four decades later) by waving the flag. It's now "Eaton's of Canada", with little maps in the catalogue, and an emphasis on British products. Santa also arrives in its store.

Simpsons-Sears opens a brilliant roster of stores that will dominate markets such as Windsor, Kitchener, Guelph, Hamilton, Sarnia (1954, Northgate), Oshawa, St. Catharines, Barrie, Peterborough and Thunder Bay (1957; originally in a marsh, but between the two cities of Fort William and Port Arthur; rebuilt in 1997). Sears real estate alchemy turns a bog in Thunder Bay into retail gold, and assures a secure future for Ontario’s teachers in their pension plan.

Simpsons-Sears features Geiger counters. In the 1950s, many Canadians were spending their free time up north hunting for more uranium. It’s the Cold War!

1954    Toronto's Yonge Street subway line opens on March 30, which ultimately saves the downtown from oblivion. It cost $66 million and was 4.6 miles long. Three tokens for a quarter. Eaton's refuses access to its store (click here for its dowdy-looking store). In the 1950s, half of Ontario's non-auto, non-food sales are conducted in the Province's downtowns; the Toronto downtown is the undisputed retail node with all three of the City's department stores click here for the Toronto shares).

 

1954    First Swiss Chalet opens.

 

1954    A free-standing Loblaws opens on St. Clair West at Bathurst, on land conveyed at a pittance by a religious school. The site turns out to be a former dump, and the basement cannot ever be used for storage, because you can fry eggs on the basement floor due to the methane.

 

Theodore Pringle Loblaw established the chain in 1919 with J. Milton Cork.

 

A free-standing Dominion opens on Bloor Street West at Spadina, near the University of Toronto, where I meet Robinson Davies pondering over his bananas just a decade later.

 

1955    Simpson's pioneers Friday evening shopping, then Thursday evening shopping. Consumers get paid on either Thursday or Friday. When people have money in their pocket, they change, they swagger, they can indulge themselves. Simpson’s jumps on the bandwagon first.

 

1955    E.P. Taylor builds Don Mills Centre as an open concept mall at the centre of his New Town. It only has 3.9 parking spaces per thousand square feet. E.P. regularly gets his hair cut at Walter's, the plaza's barber; then he patronizes the unlicensed restaurant, Unitas Brothers, for a coke. The Murray Koffler drug store there expands to become the Shoppers Drug Mart empire.

 

Unlike other New Towns, in Britain or the United States to date, Don Mills (and then later Erin Mills) has a shopping centre and large parking fields at its core, rather than a main street.

 

1956    Frederick Mall opens in Kitchener, Shenkman’s Westgate (click here) opens in Ottawa beside the Shenkman hotel, and Rexdale Plaza opens in north Etobicoke.

 

1956    Dorwin Plaza opens on Dougall in suburban Windsor.

 

1956    Dixie Mall opens in Toronto Township at a cost of $4 million. It will slide into receivership in 1962 (when new in-board malls open in Etobicoke), but is promptly rescued by a Sayvette discount department store.

 

1956    Ontario now has 41 shopping centres with a total of 530 stores (the average number of stores per centre is 13). Shopping centres get 3cents of every consumer dollar, according to the Dominion Bureau of Statistics. Toronto area malls averaged 13 stores per mall in the 1925-1955 period. Those malls built in the later 1950s averaged 24 stores per facility.

 

1956    Ottawa's second mall, Carlingwood, is opened on the urban fringe of the City, away from highway locations (click here).

 

1956    Cloverdale opens as an open-concept mall with only 3.7 parking spaces per thousand square feet.

 

1956    Edgar “Ted” Burton, President of Simpson's, appears before the Royal Commission on Canada's Economic Prosperity and notes: (a) "Evening shopping is going to become the norm in more and more cities in the years ahead. In a minority of municipalities there still exists antiquated store hours legislation which prevents giving the people what they want. It is certainly inconsistent to allow a manufacturer to operate his plant around the clock if he wishes to do so, and at the same time prohibit a retailer from utilizing his capital assets in the same way"; (b) "Downtown department stores are not facing the prospects of a decline in their commercial importance as a result of the growth of shopping centres but rather that their future growth will be at a slower rate as suburban shopping centres develop. A great deal more must be done to improve transportation facilities ... I am sure that this will be done and that the downtown department store will more than maintain its position in the future years"; (c) "A shopping centre is really an addition to the competitive facilities offered Canadian consumers and it is not adaptable to every city or town. Rather it is limited to certain urban areas with large-scale suburban developments. Many of the shopping centres that are being developed are merely replacing the kind of strip growth in retailing that is characteristics of Danforth Avenue, Bloor Street and many other streets in Toronto"; and (d) "The most important single fact about retailing in Canada is the strong competitive position of the independent retail store in most categories of merchandise, with perhaps the exception of food. There is no overall trend toward monopoly conditions, despite the rather rapid expansion in the department store field in recent years" (Telegram, February 3, 1956).

 

Ted Burton is right about (a).

 

1956    Mountain Plaza is established in suburban Hamilton above the escarpment. Kingston Centre and Oshawa Centre open their doors; they both grow to regional status in their respective communities.

 

1956    Interstate system begins in the United States.

 

1957    Eaton's plans the first enclosed downtown mall in North America for London. A year later, Victor Gruen puts forward the same idea, an enclosed solution for downtown retailing, for Dallas, TX.

 

Victor Gruen (Grunbaum; 1903-80) runs a cabaret in Vienna. When he is warned that the Gestapo is searching his apartment, he escapes to the airport wearing the Nazi lieutenant's outfit from the show. He arrives in New York in 1938 with eight dollars and a T-square. When Dayton Hudson wants to build a suburban store eight miles from their downtown flagship of one million square feet and 25 stories (closed in 1983), they hire Gruen Associates. Northland (1954) is a strip mall; it has one anchor. (In total, there’s a million square feet of commercial, the majority of which is office).

 

Northland (1954) begins as a strip mall with one anchor, Hudsons. It is in the middle of a new suburban office park. Northland also sets a new trend of locating to the north of Eight Mile Road, in neighbouring Oakland County, away from the high taxes and ridiculous closing restrictions of the central city. After some 50 years, the landscaping is delightfully mature (click here). But another population group has moved into the trade area (click here) and the centre of chic commerce is now at 16 miles, Big Beaver Road (where my daughter’s favourite store is located: click here). The Gruen fountain still operates outside the old Hudsons store (click here).

 

Gruen writes Shopping Towns USA (1960) with his associate, Larry Smith (in which they explain how a mall is engineered to encourage spending: a constant flow of shoppers in front of the greatest number of storefronts in the least amount of time). Southdale (1956) allows shoppers to move quickly and effortlessly among different stores and floors. Everything was engineered to cause people to spend: clocks, for instance, were excluded (click here).

 

Detractors warned that the two department stores of Southgate (in a Minnesota cornfield) would kill each other off by ruinous competition. But Dayton's and Donaldson's drew shoppers in unexpected numbers: there was more than enough business to go around to the department and specialty stores there.

Gruen's concern for "quintessence urban" was manifested under the magnolias in Southgate's central court and in his jewel, downtown Fresno, CA (1964). He consults on Yorkdale. In 1968, Gruen returns to Austria to retire, and repudiates the commercialism that malls bring.

1957    Eaton's anchors Dufferin Mall. It is their first small step away from the security of the downtown economy.

 

1957    Niagara Pen Centre opens in southern St. Catharines, New Sudbury Mall opens in north Sudbury along with Alderwood Plaza (Etobicoke) and Northtown (Toronto). Forty years later, Northtown would be reused as office and residential.

 

1957    Fairview Corporation is established with Bronfman money.

 

1957    Reichman’s move their tile business to Toronto, but because their new building quotation is too high, they decide to build it themselves. York Developments, named after the surrounding county, is set up to handle their real estate.

 

1957    Jack Stupp opens the first Consumers Distributing warehouse in Toronto. It goes public in 1969 and then Provigo buys it and it becomes private again. Consumers expires after 40 years, the apparent victim of over-expansion.

 

1958    Webb and Knap buy the Fleming Estate just off the Don Valley in Canada’s largest single land transaction to date. The office, residential and retail core is called Flemingdon Park.

 

1958    Canadian Tire issues its first funny money.

 

1958    The same year of Victor Gruen’s Dallas proposals, Toronto Planning outlines its “Pedestrian in Downtown Toronto” for walkways, enclosed malls, sheltered sidewalks and the vertical separation of pedestrians and vehicles.

 

1958    The first of the baby boom become teenagers. The hi-chair set has become the hi-fi set: of the 150,000 records sold per week in Canada, teenagers buy 60 percent. An Elvis 45-rpm costs 90 cents.

 

Canadian High News reports that 80 percent of teenagers have watches, 70 percent have a bank account and 60 percent have cameras. They drink three bottles of pop, eat two candy bars, and buy one record a week. The next year they would buy in great numbers the first teen/adult cross-over album, Bobby Darin’s, Mack the Knife.

The baby boomers are the first cohort to grow up with the mall.

1958    Speedvale Plaza opens in suburban Guelph. Just one new plaza in Ontario that year.

 

1958    Brian Berry outlines the Central Place Theory, the range and threshold of a good, in Economic Geography, vol. 34. No other idea has had such influence, over such a long period (1958 was the year that the Cha Cha was in vogue, Gigi won best picture and Pasternack won the Nobel). While central places should be spaced, the central place concept when applied to shopping centres did not work well (in their ultimate format there is little "nesting", plus the concept was static not dynamic like the market) and the concept was frequently used as an intellectual justification to establish trade area monopolies.

 

1959    A free-standing Loblaws opens on Dupont near Bathurst. It will operate 40 years, until replaced by the new “Main Street in a Box” at Dupont and Christie.

 

1959    Markham Centre Plaza opens on Highway No. 7, McArthur Plaza in suburban Ottawa, Parkway Plaza in Scarborough and Parkwoods Village, a second mall in innovative Don Mills.

 

At the end of the decade there were a plethora of small strip malls with free parking: in central Etobicoke built prior to 1950 along Dundas Street and, as the population growth shifted in the later years of the decade, to north Etobicoke (particularly the Islington and Albion axes); in Scarborough, in the early years of the decade in south-western Scarborough (particularly Kingston Road), then an explosion of 36 strip centres in the latter part of the decade, particularly along the Lawrence Avenue axis to service the newly growing suburbs there. (Most of the existing plazas between Pharmacy and Birchmount along Lawrence were built in this period). In North York, the Wilson and Sheppard axes were where the new building was taking place and where the new strip malls located. Write this down: retailing goes where the people are. It was ease of communication that ultimately killed the downtowns (people began living too far away). No one had a claim on this new population.

 

Developers found that after building their subdivisions, they could obtain a permanent annuity by providing the convenience shopping, where the new families could pick up their necessities on a daily, or on a very frequent basis (turning the new communities into buying machines). In the central city, in comparison, only Dufferin Mall was opened during the 1950s.

 

The development business is one of sheep and shepherds: success by one developer encourages others to follow.

 

For the small stuff on the arterials, there is no pre-leasing. Tenants want to see what they are getting. In the subsequent big malls, however, tenants can choose from the maps provided by known developers.

 

 

 



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corrections please send to

john.winter@sympatico.ca.