Sault Ste. Marie, ON chain grocery/supermarket history, 1925-2019

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Andrew T.
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Sault Ste. Marie, ON chain grocery/supermarket history, 1925-2019

Post by Andrew T. » 14 Jun 2019 13:36

Earlier this week, I spent a few days vacationing on the Canadian shores of Sault Sainte Marie...the third-largest city in northern Ontario. Of course, "vacation" in my book always means "research"...so here's one more city down for the count!

Sault Ste. Marie, ON chain grocery/supermarkets, 1925-2019.

This nicely complements the research I did earlier on the Michigan side. While the Michigan side offers up the Soo Locks and a few tacky tourist attractions, however, the Ontario side has more of the workings of a "real" city...and a complex retail history brimming with surprises.

* There were no chains to speak of in Sault Ste. Marie in 1925, although three of that year's independent grocers later established branch stores.

* Chains had finally emerged by 1930. Dominion, A&P, and Loblaws came to Sault Ste. Marie later than in southern Ontario, however, allowing local players a chance in the meantime to fluorish to a greater degree. The largest of these was J.C. Pinch, which blanketed the city with four to six stores from 1930 to 1955. Pinch disintegrated by 1959, however, with Dominion snapping up their flagship store.

* Apart from A&P and a fleeting appearance of "Sault Co-Operative Stores Ltd." in 1950, there was no cross-channel pollination between Sault, Michigan and Sault, Ontario's grocers.

* Neither Safeway nor Steinberg ever operated in this city.

Dominion and Loblaws both had tortuous histories in the Sault...

* Dominion opened two stores on Queen Street by 1930. After 1939, however, they closed their stores and pulled out of the city! This isn't the only place where this happened (Dominion pulled the same stunt in Sarnia), but that doesn't make it any less strange.

* By 1959, Dominion was back in town with a host of brand-new shopping centre locations. The bulk of these survived the transition to A&P after 1985 (with no Mr. Grocer divestments), and two are still in operation as Metro today.

* An A&P location at 691 Pine Street gave way to one at 701 Pine around 1985 (with both stores appearing in the 1985 directory). I suspect this was a case of a new store being constructed in the parking lot of the old one, since the surviving store (now a Food Basics) looks like it's from the 1980s.

* Loblaws did not expand into Sault Ste. Marie until the early 1950s, some 20 years after the company swept southern Ontario.

* In the early 1980s, Loblaws scaled down its presence in the city and actually sold two of its three stores to A&P! (This is the first place I've ever seen that happen.) By 1995 they had completely divested their company-operated stores, and their presence since has been shored up solely by Your Independent Grocer and No Frills franchises.
independent.jpg
* A Loblaws-affiliated store has existed at 44-50 Great Northern Road almost continuously from 1955 to present, although it's undoubtedly been rebuilt or relocated within the shopping centre several times over. (The current store is enormous, and thoroughly modern.) The brand has changed several times: Loblaws 1955-80, Loblaws Superstore 1985-90, Carlucci's Your Independent Grocer in 1995, then Rome's Your Independent Grocer from 2000 to the present. The 2000 directory went so far as to list both a Your Independent Grocer and a No Frills store at this address, and your explanation for this is bound to be as good as mine...

Also:

* In 1965, the townships of Korah and Tarentorus were amalgamated into Sault Sainte Marie. The directory publisher jumped the gun, and included Korah and Tarentorus addresses by 1955.

* As usual, the Vernon company ensures that all 1970-90 location research requires hair-tearing and nail-biting!

* M&M appears to be a meat market, not a general-interest supermarket, and is not included here.
"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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Andrew T.
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Re: Sault Ste. Marie, ON chain grocery/supermarket history, 1925-2019

Post by Andrew T. » 15 Jun 2019 10:29

Great! The Ontario side of the Sault is a place brimming with personal memories and family connections, so I'm happy to add it to the list.

I found the record of physical artifacts here disappointing, however. As late as the 1950s, grocers were opening new stores in pre-existing downtown buildings that had nothing to physically distinguish themselves as supermarkets. Almost all the stores just a few years newer are still in use as supermarkets...and have been renovated several times over, leaving no trace of their original appearance. There's a dearth of buildings that fall into the middle: 1950s-era Dominions and A&Ps that have been stopped in time, and now house non-grocery businesses.
124queen.jpg
124 Queen St. E. is one of the few surviving artifacts in Sault Ste. Marie that fall into this latter category. It's an early 1950s freestanding, street-flush A&P that persisted into the 1980s. Unfortunately, the building also got a horrendous re-facading somewhere along the way...
"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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Andrew T.
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Posts: 531
Joined: 18 Oct 2007 14:26
Location: Thunder Bay
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Re: Sault Ste. Marie, ON chain grocery/supermarket history, 1925-2019

Post by Andrew T. » 25 Jun 2019 10:06

Here's something of possible interest: Video footage of the A&P (formerly Loblaws) at Wellington Square Mall, 625 Trunk Road, in the late 1980s. Too bad they didn't go inside...
"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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