Thunder Bay, ON chain grocery/supermarket history, 1975-2019

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Andrew T.
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Thunder Bay, ON chain grocery/supermarket history, 1975-2019

Post by Andrew T. » 15 Sep 2019 18:29

Here's a city I'd been yearning to do: Thunder Bay, ON chain grocery/supermarket history, 1975-2019

Why a 1975 cutoff? That's because Thunder Bay didn't come into existence until 1970! It was named and formed from the amalgamation of Fort William, Port Arthur, and two adjacent townships. It is by far the largest city in Canada in the vast expanse between Winnipeg and Sudbury, with 50% more population than Sault Sainte Marie. It's also a gateway to western Canada...and the point on the map where Safeway country begins! Yes, Thunder Bay has Safeway stores, and these are currently the easternmost Safeway stores in Canada.
"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."
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Re: Thunder Bay, ON chain grocery/supermarket history, 1975-2019

Post by Andrew T. » 15 Sep 2019 19:03

How does Thunder Bay fare for historical stores and artifacts? Not badly at all.

* There is a Safeway Marina in Thunder Bay that's still open for business as a Safeway! The store in question is at 70 Court Street North, and it's been false-fronted and drop-ceilinged (blech). But at least it still exists.

* A second Safeway Marina (also false-fronted, alas) stands at 820 Red River Road. This one operated until the 1990s, and is currently subdivided.

* Yet another historical Safeway is located at 146 Centennial Square, and features an unusual arched exterior resembling a Kroger Superstore. And...am I dreaming, or does it still have modified 1960s Safeway signage on the walls inside?

Safeway appears to have always been Thunder Bay's de facto grocery leader, and has matched or led others in store count continuously from 1975 to present.

Thunder Bay is also one of the rare places where Safeway and A&P both operated and competed. I've sometimes been frustrated by the lack of good 1950s and 1960s A&P artifacts in southern Ontario...so I'm only too happy to note that Thunder Bay has plenty to go around!

* 570 Syndicate Avenue South is an ex-A&P with a perfectly intact 1950s-modernist exterior, complete with a fieldstone column and porcelain enamel tile.

* 161 Court Street South has a narrow pylon that almost certainly had the A&P circle mounted to it at one time, and glass block windows. It's still selling groceries today as a branch of the local Renco Foods chain (which also reoccupied the Safeway with the arches).

* Surprisingly, A&P didn't reoccupy any of the stores that Dominion once had in the city...nor did any Dominions become Mr. Grocer. Both of their stores in Thunder Bay were instead sold to Safeway, who operated them into the 1990s. After brief stints as independent grocers, both were later converted to No Frills franchises in a surprise twist of fate.

* Of the chains that once operated in Thunder Bay, Loblaws has had the most scattered history. The company withdrew from the city altogether in the early 1980s, selling two of its stores to A&P (in echoes of Sault Ste. Marie) and a third to Skaf's, a local operator. They don't seem to have returned until after 2000s, when a Real Canadian Superstore popped up along with the aforementioned No Frills franchises.

* I have no idea of the whereabouts of the Loblaws at Loblaws Market Place, 230 Park Street, that briefly existed around 1978. Park Street in Thunder Bay must have been renamed, since I can't find it on the map.
"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: Thunder Bay, ON chain grocery/supermarket history, 1975-2019

Post by Groceteria » 15 Sep 2019 22:12

Great stuff and more thoughts to follow, but the interior package at the Centennial Square store doesn’t even really look modified. The paint job behind the departmental signage with the contrasting sans-serif font was actually part of the later versions of that Safeway interior package. That’s a pretty spectacular find, and I may have to visit in person soon.


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Re: Thunder Bay, ON chain grocery/supermarket history, 1975-2019

Post by Andrew T. » 12 Oct 2019 18:51

FYI, I now live in Thunder Bay. I plan to expand the location spreadsheet shortly (and hopefully find more Safeway artifacts in the process!)

Although Thunder Bay per se didn't exist until 1970, Port Arthur and Fort William were always combined into a single city directory. This was published as "Twin Cities" in some years and "Lakehead" in others. Unfortunately not all the old directories contain classified listings, so this project may take a while before I consider it complete. Also complicating research is the complexity of Thunder Bay's shifting street names and inconsistent address numbering, as you might expect from any city assembled from pieces of others. This post kind of scratches the surface of this.

One discovery I've already made: Eaton's Groceteria lasted a lot longer in Port Arthur than it did in...well, everywhere else in Ontario. It was still in business in 1959!
"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: Thunder Bay, ON chain grocery/supermarket history, 1975-2019

Post by Andrew T. » 13 Oct 2019 18:42

Greatly expanded and improved CSV, now covering Fort William and Port Arthur back to 1929: Thunder Bay, ON chain grocery/supermarket history, 1929-2019. I may still be able to expand this even further, so I haven't "flown in" the updates to Groceteria yet.

Not much in the way of pre-Marina Safeway artifacts, alas. But lots of surprises.

* Although Safeway got an early start, the biggest chain in Fort William and Port Arthur for many years was a local outfit called Shop-Easy. This chain seemed to get its start in the early 1930s under the unlikely name of "Bargain Johnny Groceteria," adopting the Shop-Easy moniker by 1940. By the late 1950s Shop-Easy was in decline, and by 1975 they were gone.
* Dominion and Loblaws both had surprisingly starts in Thunder Bay. Loblaws didn't enter the area until 1959, Dominion not until 1975! And neither name lasted to the mid-1980s.
"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: Thunder Bay, ON chain grocery/supermarket history, 1975-2019

Post by Andrew T. » 19 Oct 2019 13:31

I made a few more tweaks to the location table (adding a couple columns and a few precise store opening dates, which I was able to find through my special archivist's powers), and flew in the updates. I now consider this city "complete!" (David will still have to update the map, though.)

Though Thunder Bay's address numbering is discordant, the city and its predecessors have had fewer street renamings than I feared. The historical Arthur Street in Port Arthur is now Red River Road, while John Street North in Fort William is now McKellar Street North (and cut into non-through bits and pieces). And really, that's 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."
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Re: Thunder Bay, ON chain grocery/supermarket history, 1975-2019

Post by Groceteria » 19 Oct 2019 21:33

Updated (from within the same province as you, appropriately enough). Thanks!

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