Retail retrogression

The Runnymede Theatre started life in 1927 offering vaudeville in a 1,400-seat auditorium and then adopted various guises that reflected the changing times: a bingo hall, movies in a twin-screen format, a Chapters bookstore, and now – ta-da – a Shoppers Drug Mart.

The latest incarnation of this West Toronto location is an ignominious pratfall from what once was known as “Canada’s Theatre Beautiful.” Oh, the walls and mouldings have been restored, but the entire ground floor is foodstuffs and beauty products with at least 100 running feet of freezers, soft drinks and cold-food displays. There’s countless kinds of chocolates, canned fish galore, and cereal for every taste (or lack thereof).

But nowhere is there a tube of toothpaste, first aid item or headache pill to be found. Up the escalator to the second floor and finally the prescription counter hoves into view almost hidden amid more seasonal flotsam and jetsam. Is Shoppers trying to become Walmart? And to think that we were always told food had such thin margins. If profits are so slim, why is Shoppers avidly promoting packaged goods?

Such copycat merchandising is everywhere. The Cineplex VIP cinemas now sell beer, wine, and dinner delivered to your $25 seat so you can smell poutine being eaten beside you just as if you were watching A Star is Born at The Keg. Every burger and donut franchise is offering all-day-breakfast; as a result none of them varies much from the other. At this rate, soon you won’t need to spend much time shopping around. All your needs will be under one roof and every place will look – and smell – the very same. We’ve gone all the way back to the days of the general store. Hope there’s a cracker barrel and a few chairs to reflect on what’s been lost.

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