Chatham, ON chain grocery/supermarket history, 1925-2019

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Andrew T.
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Chatham, ON chain grocery/supermarket history, 1925-2019

Post by Andrew T. » 07 May 2019 20:20

It's been a while since I last cracked the books for the site and did some city research. So this week, I scooted down the road to Chatham to see what I could find (sorry Mike Harris, I refuse to call it "Chatham-Kent"):

Chatham, ON chain grocery/supermarket history, 1925-2019.

All the city directories at the Chatham-(ahem) Public Library are kept behind lock and key. As luck would have it, the first staff member I spoke to there was very standoffish, and adamant that I could only look at three directories at once. Fortunately, the second staff member was a librarian who was much more helpful...and was quick to point out that they had digitized the directories online. (So why did I come there?)

What is there to say about Chatham's supermarket history? Unsurprisingly, it parallels Sarnia, London, and other southwestern Ontario cities to a large degree. As usual, Dominion entered by 1925 with four neighbourhood stores...and as usual, A&P and Loblaws opened up shop by 1930 with a single store apiece. A small player called M&P thrived in Chatham in the 1930s...as in Sarnia. My 1940s research is somewhat sketchy (the library had only a single directory between 1933 and 1954, and it didn't have a classified listing), but it looks as if the major players traversed that decade without any surprises. Carroll's and Grand Union never operated in Chatham, and Steinberg didn't either until belatedly opening a Miracle Food Mart at the ill-conceived Downtown Chatham Centre mall in 1982.

Is that all there is to say? No. I did find one mystery:

Loblaws operated in Chatham through at least 1975. Zehrs started operating in Chatham by 1989, and two of its stores were former Loblaws locations. Yet, the disposition of these locations is a complete question mark for the 14 years in between! The 1980 directory doesn't list Loblaws or Zehrs in the alphabetical section at all. (These are Vernon directories, so no grocery classified listings were published in those years.)
"The pale pastels which have been featured in most food stores during the past 20 years are no longer in tune with the mood of the 1970s."
Andrew Turnbull

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Re: Chatham, ON chain grocery/supermarket history, 1925-2019

Post by Andrew T. » 07 May 2019 20:38

Unfortunately for photos, Chatham didn't have much in the way of perfect, unaltered 1950s and 1960s grocery relics to speak of...
sdm.jpg
The best find was this 1960s A&P at 414-416 St. Clair St., which was open through at least 1989. The adjacent shopping centre has interesting contrasting-colour brick patterns visible.
storefront.jpg
Even the storefronts were a disappointment, since there's been a lot of redevelopment in the downtown centre over the last 94 years. The right half of this building is the location where one of Dominion's very first stores operated...if this is the same building that stood on this site in 1925. I'm not convinced; it looks more modern than that.
foodbasics.jpg
As far as currently operating supermarkets go, the most visually-interesting is this Food Basics store at 448 St. Clair St. The greenhouse glass motif is similar to that I've seen on Canadian A&P stores of the 1970s and 1980s; however, the directories say that this used to be a Loeb IGA.
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"The pale pastels which have been featured in most food stores during the past 20 years are no longer in tune with the mood of the 1970s."
Andrew Turnbull

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Re: Chatham, ON chain grocery/supermarket history, 1925-2019

Post by Groceteria » 10 May 2019 16:07

Excellent.

It's really too bad that there is no authoritative list or repository for all freely available (i.e. outside Ancestry or other paywalls) city directories online. Someone should start one. Hmm...

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Re: Chatham, ON chain grocery/supermarket history, 1925-2019

Post by Groceteria » 10 May 2019 16:33

Andrew T's Chatham list has been added to the site:

https://www.groceteria.com/place/ontario/chatham/

Thanks!

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Re: Chatham, ON chain grocery/supermarket history, 1925-2019

Post by Andrew T. » 10 May 2019 17:56

Groceteria wrote:
10 May 2019 16:33
Andrew T's Chatham list has been added to the site:

https://www.groceteria.com/place/ontario/chatham/

Thanks!
Great! With this done, we now have the historical Highway 2 corridor covered from Windsor to Lake Ontario.

I may be able to flesh out the table a little more using the reverse-lookup sections of the online directories. In the meantime, however, I have a research project for another Ontario city on my hands! More on that soon.
"The pale pastels which have been featured in most food stores during the past 20 years are no longer in tune with the mood of the 1970s."
Andrew Turnbull

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Re: Chatham, ON chain grocery/supermarket history, 1925-2019

Post by Groceteria » 10 May 2019 20:05

More Ontario is always a good thing.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7zwsP7I6Cp4

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Re: Chatham, ON chain grocery/supermarket history, 1925-2019

Post by Andrew T. » 13 May 2019 17:03

I've fleshed out and updated the CSV upthread, filled in some post-1960s gaps from the reverse lookup sections, and also added some 1934-50 dates from digitized directories that I didn't have access to earlier. As usual, I discovered a few surprises...

* I've solved the mystery of the 1980s "gap" in Loblaws' and Zehrs' existence! For a time, their stores did business under the Gordon's name, which was described in one listing as a "division of Zehr Mart Ltd." What operational difference there was between Zehrs and Gordon's is anyone's guess.

* That said, Loblaws > Gordon's > Zehrs was not a clean transition. The first "Gordon's Super Save" stores appeared by 1971, when Loblaws was still operating in Chatham under their own name. And one 1950s Loblaws location (835 Queen St.) actually stood vacant for half a decade before reopening as Gordon's around 1985.

* 595 Grand Ave W was actually a Kmart Foods site! It opened by 1971; became Loblaws, Gordon's, and Zehrs in succession, and closed after 1999. The adjoining Kmart store eventually became a Zellers and Target, and of course it's a vacant carcass now (though the Target wall neon was still aglow when I drove by!)
"The pale pastels which have been featured in most food stores during the past 20 years are no longer in tune with the mood of the 1970s."
Andrew Turnbull

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Re: Chatham, ON chain grocery/supermarket history, 1925-2019

Post by Andrew T. » 15 May 2019 00:28

Chatham is getting better and better. First I get the table filled in. Now I've discovered something even greater: A treasure trove of historical photographs of local buildings! Here's what I found from a quick browse-through:

* A stunning night shot of Food City on 440 St. Clair St., 1971.
* Dominion on 351 Richmond St., 1959. The building's a beauty...and it's identical to another Dominion from this period that still stands in London!
* Thames-Lea Mall at 671 Grand Ave., 1967. A Dominion is visible next to Zellers near the centre of the image. (I guess I was wrong about the Target carcass that now stands at this location being a Kmart.)
* Colour photo of Loblaws at 244 King St. W., 1960 I had assumed this store had been demolished, but now I think the facelifted Employment Resource Centre at 240 King is actually the same building.
* Aerial photo of Kmart and Kmart Food at 595 Grand Ave W., 1969. Yes, Kmart Foods existed in Canada. This was demolished, and Canadian Tire now stands on the site.
* Loblaws at 835 Queen St., 1955. Yet another photo forcing me to re-examine what I thought I knew: The store in this picture is built right up to the curb. The No Frills that currently sits at this address is set back far from the road...so now I know that it was rebuilt.
* Gordons $uper $ave (that's how it's styled on the sign), 545 Queen St., 1966. And a colour photo from 1969, showing how it was paired off in the same building as a bank. This building is a bit dull, but it survives intact.
* An old downtown Gordon's Super Market in 1950. Whew, Gordons may be older than I thought! This picture was taken in Blenheim, not in "proper" Chatham, but I may have to crack the books again to trace the origins of this chain...
* Gordons $uper $ave at 65 King St., 1977.. This was a downtown location that was formerly a Dominion. And it turns out that this building is also intact after all.
"The pale pastels which have been featured in most food stores during the past 20 years are no longer in tune with the mood of the 1970s."
Andrew Turnbull

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Re: Chatham, ON chain grocery/supermarket history, 1925-2019

Post by Groceteria » 17 May 2019 20:42

Updates deployed and thanks for lovely photos and more research.

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Re: Chatham, ON chain grocery/supermarket history, 1925-2019

Post by Andrew T. » 18 May 2019 13:11

Great!

One minor footnote: I double-checked my pre-1970 directory notes, and it turns out that the mysterious Gordons had a store in Chatham as early as 1965. Unfortunately the address was given only as "north side Grand Ave W" with no number, and this location was replaced by 1971, so there's no telling where it actually was.
"The pale pastels which have been featured in most food stores during the past 20 years are no longer in tune with the mood of the 1970s."
Andrew Turnbull

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