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Where have all the department stores gone?

- As read in Silver and Gold's "Fall 2018" issue.

Where have all the department stores gone? We recall that when we first moved to Burlington in the early 1960’s, there were many department stores in the area where we could shop for all that we needed.

In Hamilton, there were Robinson’s, The Right House, Eaton’s, Simpsons, Zellers, Kresge’s and Woolworth, to name a few. In addition were some smaller chains of family owned and operated stores, including Eames, whose owners were Burlingtonians. They had a store located in the former Skyway Plaza.

When Burlington Mall opened, you could shop at Simpsons–Sears and Robinson’s, and buy your groceries at the Dominion Store, and in the mid 1970’s, Eaton’s opened their Burlington location. These stores carried a wide variety of merchandise at very competitive prices. The staff were knowledgeable, courteous and went out of their way to assure your satisfaction. Your purchases were guaranteed, or your money was cheerfully refunded.

If required, many offered free home delivery, while Simpson’s and Eaton’s sent out beautifully illustrated catalogues to their customers, several times during the year. You could order any item with a simple phone call. I know that our children really looked forward to our receiving the annual Christmas catalogues, to browse through and come up with their “Christmas Wish List”, which of course was a big help for parents. Service was the order of the day, and the customers always came first.

In my research, I learned that Thomas C. Watkins opened his first location on James Street in Hamilton in 1847, which in 1893 evolved into the Right House. This was the first large department store in the area, and it lasted for 136 years – until 1983. They also had branches elsewhere in Ontario.

Kresge’s Department Stores, who at one time had hundreds of stores across Canada, closed its doors in 1994, with the Hamilton location being the last of its Canadian locations.

We still have Christmas decorations that we purchased from Eaton’s many years ago. For a number of years after we were married, my job required me to be away from home for the better part of each week. This meant that Joan browsed through catalogues and newspaper ads very carefully, prior to doing much of her shopping, especially gifts for me. The amazing thing is that Joan cannot recall ever having to return anything, as all was as advertised. I still have many of these gifts today, and cherish each of them.

Today we can shop online without having to leave home, but to me, and many others, it is just not the same as paying a visit to a department store. Seeing the actual merchandise and being able to discuss any questions with staff was the most important part of any purchase. Quality and service were the mantra of those department stores. They are indeed missed.•

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To read more of Don Crossley's "Seniors Moments" articles, please visit our Forum on this website, and click on "Seniors Moments".

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