Early Loblaw on Dundas West
In 1919, Toronto grocers Theodore Pringle Loblaw and J. Milton Cork opened the first Loblaw Groceterias store modelled on a new and radically different retail concept, namely “self serve.’ The traditional grocery store provided a high level of personal service but was a labour intensive operation. Customers typically had to wait while a clerk fetched items from behind a counter. Other goods, such as sugar and flour, had to be individually weighed and the order then tallied by hand and added to the customer’s account. Home delivery, by wagon, was usually included free of charge. Loblaw and Cork, friends from the days when both worked as young clerks in the Cork family grocery store, believed they could cut costs by introducing self service combined with ‘cash and carry.’ While cash stores were not new, the idea of allowing customers to select their own merchandise was. The pair had heard of the Piggly Wiggly “self serving store” in the United States and travelled to Memphis, Tennessee, to see it in operation first hand. With customers allowed to browse freely, pick-up their own goods and then pay cash at a central checkout counter, with no credit or home delivery, operating costs were reduced. The two came away convinced that a similar style of operation could work in Canada. But Loblaw had his sceptics:
In the early days when I started the cash and carry business, I was told that it could not be done, but my contention was that the people of Toronto and Ontario would welcome the opportunity to carry their groceries home, providing I could offer them higher qualities at a much lower price than they were used to paying.
The first Loblaw Groceterias Co. store opened at 2923 Dundas St. W., Toronto, in June 1919. Months later, a second location, at 528 College Street, followed. The ’groceterias’ name was apparently derived from cafeteria – a popular self serve restaurant format. Along with the Loblaw name, the outlets featured big “We Sell For Less” signs across their storefronts. Inside, the stores were clean and well lit, with items neatly displayed and prices clearly marked. While produce and fresh meats were largely excluded from the early stores, sales proved strong. A year later, another Toronto grocer, C.B. Shields, joined with Loblaw and Cork.
I have read that when Piggly Wiggly first introduced self service and shopping carts that male actors were hired to push the carts and pretend to shop as the men, at the time, did not want to appear weak.
The original store below.