EATON'S STORE CHANGES THE FACE OF PORTAGE AVENUE IN 1905
By George Siamandas
On July 17, 1905 Eaton's opened their first store in western Canada. This Canadian retailer changed the face of Winnipeg and began the dominance of Portage Avenue.
He immigrated to Canada in 1869 buying a small dry-goods store. They started the catalogue in 1894. Eaton introduced two ideas to merchandising: one price rather than negotiation and the offer of goods satisfactory or money refunded.
BUILDING THE STORE
In those days they got things done fast. The building itself was built in four months. People said it was too big when they were building it. Originally only 5 storeys business was so good they added a sixth and then a seventh and eighth storey by 1910. The Winnipeg store had the same stature as the one in Toronto. Eaton's became a leader in merchandising North America. It had its own printing plant and research department.
Timothy Eaton and members of his family came out to open the Winnipeg store. He allowed no goods to be sold that Saturday of opening day. There were 700 employees. 25,000 toured the building that opening day. In those days you could check your hat, cane, and briefcase at Eatons. Everybody shopped at Eaton's then. If it wasn't right they would make it right. They never sold cigarettes.
The catalogue building was added in 1919. Everybody bought from the catalogue. All the way from Manitoba to BC and the north-west territories. The catalogues were useful even when they were out of date. Somebody once wrote to Eaton suggesting the catalogue would be even more useful if it were published in rolls.
THE OLD DELIVERY SERVICE
Eaton's had their own delivery wagons and kept a stall of 160 horses on St. Mary's Ave. Free delivery was offered until the 1980s.
They started to sell packages of pre-cut lumber for homes in the early 1900s selling from $300 to $1000. Everything was pre-cut including the nails. In the 1920s they sold cars. Eaton's was the first Canadian company to continue to pay the wages of men who went to WW1
IMPACT THE BUILDING OF EATON'S STORE HAD ON WINNIPEG
It had an immediate impact on the growth of Winnipeg. It shifted the focus from the Old City Hall location to Portage Ave. Within a decade values on Portage exceeded those on Main St. After this Winnipeg's banks began a move to Portage Ave. Portage became the retail street and in 1926 the Bay built as well creating a ribbon of businesses and shops more than a dozen blocks long.
Eaton's also became one of the city's largest employers. Together with the catalogue building built in 1920 and the old warehouse on Alexander Ave Winnipeg provided jobs for whole families. Up until 1998 it still employed about 3,000 Manitobans. Now the store is gone and the story of Eatons is but a memory.