Saturday, September 19, 2009
Old Retail Ways
I can still see George standing by the restaurant cash register and looking out his big picture window on Dundas Street. Three piece suit. Gold chain watch. Ever present cigar. Diagonally opposite the old Hotel London. This was his street.
My Dad's sporting goods store was around the corner and he would often cut through the back parking lot and George's rear kitchen to go to the restaurant. Cooks. Waitresses. George's two sons, Gus the number two restauranteur, and Gary the high school teacher. "Nice boys." Mrs. Kerhoulis, short, neat, smartly coiffed and keeping an eye on the table service. Addressing many of the customers on a first name basis.
Often when I was working youth program or the swimming pool at the YMCA I would join Dad there for a lunch or Friday night supper. Meals were prepared to your specifications and the waitresses got to know "the usual" for many of the patrons.
This was retail as it used to be for those like George and my Dad. Big on customer service. Full-time skilled employees. Centre of town. Courtesy. Family owned. Long hours. Real sense of community. Good will abounding. "The customer must be satisfied." My Father campaigned hard for this to continue through his involvement with the Downtown Business Association.
Meanwhile the syndicated shopping malls conspired to suck the life out of the city's core with their warehouse atmosphere, zero customer service, ranks of half-trained part-time staff and location in the nameless, faceless suburbs.
Tom Munro Sporting Goods Ltd. was liquidated successfully and the property sold just months before the big New Year's Eve fire destroyed the London Central Y. I remember pictures of the ice castle charred remnant the morning after. Dad's store was empty and suffered extensive smoke damage. I often wonder what would have happened to Dad and his partner Roy if they had still been operating with inventories at peak level for the skiing and school seasons. But the partners had decided to get out and leave the trade to the encroaching department, tire and drug stores who were "butting in".
George also closed the Maple Leaf Restaurant. The Hotel London was knocked down for a banking and office tower. The complexion of Dundas Street changed dramatically.
Years later my Father passed the old corner and saw George sitting on a bench in a newly established green space and watching people pass by. George looked at his old friend as if through a fog. "Jack?" "Yes George, how are ya?"
Tears welled up in the old Greek gentleman's face. "My friend I have been sitting here for over two hours now, and yours is the first face I recognize." Dad joined him for a while in order to reminisce.