Monday, April 21, 2014Partly Cloudy 8°C
City

What variety stores used to look like in Toronto

Posted by Derek Flack / March 7, 2012

history variety stores TorontoTracking the history of variety stores in a city like Toronto is probably one of the surest ways to evoke nostalgia, what with their pastiche signage and general mom-and-pop aesthetics — both of which seem to harken back to putatively simpler times. It's somewhat amusing (and surely uncritical), but even the branding from Coca Cola and various cigarette companies seems free of the corporate baggage that one associates with these logos today. Everything just seems so, well, pleasant in these photographs.

The modern day variety store starts to appear in archival records in the 1910s. Alternately referred to as smoke shops, cigar stores, and food markets (only later are they called convenience stores), at this point many also double up as pharmacies and tobacconists. There's even a few that appear to be part corner store, part barber shop. I haven't been too picky about the selection process here, as the spirit of this post is aesthetic more than anything else.

Many of these corner stores have survived in this very capacity for longer than you might think. Local photographer Patrick Cummins has been documenting this particular element of our streetscape — one which somehow feels distinctly our own — for the better part of 35 years. His photos present these storefronts as urban palimpsests, where the history of the city and its neighbourhoods is written across the ever-changing facades.

That's a wonderful way to think about an urban element that tends to be so easily overlooked and yet enjoys such a rich history in our city. Here's a look back at what variety stores looked like in Toronto before the rise of Beckers, Mac's Milk, and 7-11.

PHOTOS

201237-1923-714queen-west.jpg714 Queen West, 1923

variety store torontoYork and Front, 1925

201237-hooper-drug-store-1927-pc-s0071_it5435.jpgHooper Drug Store, 1927

201237-scotts-grocery-store-f1231_it2080.jpgScott's Grocery, 1930

201237-yonge-eg-1930.jpgYonge and Eglinton, 1930

201237-davenport-1930.jpgStop and Shop, 1930

201237-306-Davenport-1930.jpg306 Davenport, 1930

2011122-to-newspapers-lead.jpg908 Queen Street East, 1930

201237-nw-yonge-gerrard-1938-f1231_it0094.jpgYonge and Gerrard, 1938

20111116-markham-queen-1940.jpgMarkham and Queen, 1940

201237-gerrard-pharmacy-1947-s0372_ss0003_it1415.jpgGerrard Pharmacy, 1947

201237-patoff-grocery-1950s-f1257_s1057_it7643.jpgPatoff Grocery, 1950s

2012119-yonge-stores-1950-s0574_fl0020_id49398.jpgYonge Street near Gould, 1950

201237-437-jones-1952-s0372_ss0058_it2337a.jpg437 Jones, 1952

201237-greenwood-gerrad-1954.jpgGreenwood and Gerrard, 1954

201237-roach-1956-s0975_fl2247_id32729-1.jpgRoach Drugs, 1956

201237-woodbine-1956-s0065_fl0121_it0010.jpgWoodbine Avenue, 1956

201237-queensway-1957-s0065_fl0100_id0045.jpgThe Queensway, 1957

2012123-loblaws-1959-avenue-s0065_fl0056_id0031.jpgAvenue Road south of Dupont, 1959

201237-630-queen-s0372_ss0100_it0399.jpg630 Queen Street, 1960

201237-bay-bloor-1970s-f0124_fl0002_id0039.jpgBay and Bloor, 1970s

Variety Stores TorontoFor more photos of the changing face of Toronto's variety stores, check out Patrick Cummins' collection here.

Photos from the Toronto Archives unless otherwise noted

Discussion

32 Comments

cosmosuave / March 7, 2012 at 10:52 am
user-pic
908 Queen St East now a Starbucks (Queen & Logan)...
W. K. Lis / March 7, 2012 at 10:59 am
user-pic
Those variety stores also appeared inside residential areas, not just the main street. Zoning nowadays makes that impossible today. It also makes it more expensive for a new store owner to set up shop because of landlords, and not being able to own the property.
Hurp / March 7, 2012 at 11:12 am
user-pic
The Woodbine photo looks like it could be from Woodbine and Queensdale?

http://g.co/maps/gnxgz
Hurp replying to a comment from Hurp / March 7, 2012 at 11:30 am
user-pic
My bad - The Community Theatre was at 1202 Woodbine, which is just north of Queensdale.

Rob / March 7, 2012 at 11:45 am
user-pic
Growing up, I loved visiting my local variety store...the kids would ride their bikes there to buy all types of junk - chips, pops, freezies...I especially liked them when they had the odd street fighter 2 machine. GTs
Alan / March 7, 2012 at 12:00 pm
user-pic
"Roach Drugs". LOL.
Erica / March 7, 2012 at 12:12 pm
user-pic
Love it, it's so interesting to see what the city looked like in the past!
Ajay replying to a comment from Rob / March 7, 2012 at 12:20 pm
user-pic
Oh the memories of spending hours on end at the local convenience store playing Street Fighter! Those were the days, that's for sure!
Dov Eles / March 7, 2012 at 12:21 pm
user-pic
My great-grandparents owned a corner store when they came to Canada from Galitsie. Then my great-uncle and aunt owned one for years in Forest Hill, I have faint memories of visiting in the early eighties.
Great pics and info but I find it interesting that you did not mention that corner stores are often the first businesses that many immigrants to this city own. Related, and also interesting is the transition in Toronto from Anglo to Jewish to Chinese to Korean and now Middle Eastern owners.
Den / March 7, 2012 at 01:04 pm
user-pic
437 Jones is still there and still run as a variety store. Nice to see a survivor.
Teena / March 7, 2012 at 01:05 pm
user-pic
Are any still around? It would be great to see pix of what they look like today.
Nathan / March 7, 2012 at 01:16 pm
user-pic
Man, Coca-Cola owned this town....
Woody / March 7, 2012 at 01:28 pm
user-pic
Do you know where that top photo is located? (I think I can make out St. Clair something...)

I have long thought that my two-storey apartment building must have been a corner store at one point, and it's on Wychwood north of St. Clair. I wonder if that old photo is my current home!
~EvidencE~ / March 7, 2012 at 01:33 pm
user-pic
Interesting & cool shots. The house I live in now was the corner store. I found some very cool 1950's Orange Crush & 7up
and Coke signs under the floor when I ripped it up.
iSkyscraper / March 7, 2012 at 01:39 pm
user-pic
I miss Beckers.
Yes / March 7, 2012 at 02:44 pm
user-pic
The Woodbine shop looks almost identical to what used to be the Dufferin Smoke Shop at Dundas and Dufferin. It's now two shops: Woodlawn and Chief Salvage, but they kept the sign up with the distinctive red Coke 'buttons'. You have to admit, it's eye-catching.
Woody / March 7, 2012 at 02:47 pm
user-pic
Thanks, lemur.

Huh, it really looks like my building on Wychwood. Maybe same architect?
talkfirst / March 7, 2012 at 03:59 pm
user-pic
There is still a convenience store at the corner of Queen W. and Markham. Still looks a bit like the photo, too--minus the big cigarette ads.
Derek replying to a comment from Yes / March 7, 2012 at 04:14 pm
user-pic
Here's the Dufferin Smoke Shop when it was, well, a smoke shop (2001).

http://www.flickr.com/photos/davetill/3249510934/in/faves-dflack/
Derek replying to a comment from Derek / March 7, 2012 at 05:00 pm
user-pic
Correction: On second look, I'd say the Dufferin Smoke Shop was already in transition when that photo was taken.
Todd Toronto replying to a comment from the lemur / March 7, 2012 at 05:18 pm
user-pic
That's insane! That building is still there! It's not at the corner, but about three stores in.
Marc / March 12, 2012 at 11:14 am
user-pic
Nothing beats those classic corner versions either on the main street (BIA) or inside a residential zone. The building and bricks make a huge difference and feel.
Hope / March 14, 2012 at 02:08 pm
user-pic
Amazing shots. I think the one labeled "Greenwood and Gerrard, 1954" might be from 1934 based on the clothing and cars and the fact that at the bottom it says "15/10/34"
Paula / June 16, 2012 at 02:58 pm
user-pic
I lived on Clinton st as a child and there was a
Variety Store on the corner of Clinton and I think it was Barton , not sure tho. was Mannix's. I think thats the proper spelling but also not sure on that either now. the little girl who was my playmate who lived there was Helena Mannix . I did a google search and the building is still there but no longer a store.
Paula / June 16, 2012 at 03:00 pm
user-pic
that was back in the early 1950's, I moved away in 1954.right after Hurricane Hazel.
Paula / June 16, 2012 at 03:00 pm
user-pic
does anyone have any photos of Mannix's variety or grocery store?
rajeshkumarngn / August 12, 2012 at 11:41 am
user-pic
Wedding Limo Toronto : The automobile meaning evolving from a type of cloak and hood that was worn by the inhabitants of the Limousin region that later resembled the covering of a carriage and much later used to describe an automobile body with a permanent top that extended over the open driver's compartment. Toronto Wedding Limo
Mamun Sultanpur / December 6, 2012 at 04:24 am
user-pic
Jordan forex trading, you can Every type Forex Information. if you new Forex than must be read all topics.
Mamun Sultanpur / December 6, 2012 at 04:24 am
user-pic
Jordan forex trading, you can Every type Forex Information. if you new Forex than must be read all topics.
Mamun Sultanpur / December 6, 2012 at 04:24 am
user-pic
Jordan forex trading, you can Every type Forex Information. if you new Forex than must be read all topics.
Mamun Sultanpur / December 6, 2012 at 04:24 am
user-pic
Jordan forex trading, you can Every type Forex Information. if you new Forex than must be read all topics.

Add a Comment

Other Cities: Montreal