The changing nature of downtown
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Jul 16, 2014  |  Vote 0    0

The changing nature of downtown

St. Marys Journal Argus

Last weekend, the Stonetown Heritage Festival welcomed visitors to St. Marys. Events like this also offer local residents the chance to note the features that make this town attractive. The downtown core is one of these features but, as everyone knows, the challenge to maintain its vitality is ongoing. The town has measures such as the Heritage Conservation District and various grant incentives to encourage preservation of the “feel” and appearance of the downtown. But retail is — and always has been — volatile. Businesses constantly come and go.

This week’s picture, a postcard view from the early 1950s, shows the north side of Queen Street between Church and Wellington Streets. The buildings are instantly recognizable and have changed very little in six decades. However, with the exception of the banks at either end of the block and the drugstore part way down, none of these retail outlets is being used as it was in 1950. Even the building that seemed most stable — Andrews Jeweller, anchoring this streetscape — currently sits vacant, waiting for a new purpose.

On the right at the top of the block, the Bank of Toronto looks well-established and so it was, surviving today as TD Bank. But in 1950 older residents would remember that the bank replaced another well-established business in that location — A. Beattie & Co., a large department store that led local retail in groceries, dry goods and clothing until it was gutted by fire in 1903. The original limestone façade was replaced by this solid, red brick front but the business itself could not recover and all traces vanished from the streetscape.

The Lyric Theatre next door to the bank is another business that has vanished but it is very fittingly remembered by the name of the flower and gift shop now in that location. Just west of the theatre entrance was a narrow, crowded store where Eleanor Albert sold newspapers, magazines and books. Miss Albert sat at the back with a full view of her premises, keeping an eye on all customers, especially youngsters.

In 1950, the next business to the west was Harris Electric. This two-and-a-half storey limestone building is the oldest on this block and today is home to one of the town’s newest businesses — Little Red’s Pub and Eatery. It has a distinguished history, built in the mid-1850s for George McIntyre who had a shoe and boot-making establishment. He was also a private banker, a justice of the peace and mayor of St. Marys in the year of Confederation. After his death, the building was a grocery store for decades until Bert and George Harris purchased it in 1944. Subsequently an antique business, a butcher shop, a stationery store and several pubs and restaurants have operated on the premises. It is a good example of the changing nature of the downtown.

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