Elgin Street Loblaws, 1940

It may be Hooley's today, but it was born a Loblaws. Image: July 2016.
It may be Hooley’s and Yuk Yuks today, but it was born a Loblaws. Image: July 2016.

292 Elgin, the building that currently hosts Hooley’s and Yuk Yuk’s, has always caught my eye. Between the buff brick and the smart detail above the door, it has always seemed like a building that has had an interesting past life.

The lot, marked by a red dot, was owned by Henry Aylen, a local lawyer. Image: uOttawa / NAPL Flight A4571 Image 24, May 5, 1933.
The lot, marked by a red dot, was owned by Henry Aylen, a local lawyer. Image: uOttawa / NAPL Flight A4571 Image 24, May 5, 1933.

On October 5, 1939, the Journal reported that Loblaw Groceterias had purchased the lot at 292 Elgin street from Henry Aylen for $6,000.1Ottawa Journal, October 5, 1939, p. 22; Aylen was a local lawyer who died the following summer. See “Henry Aylen, Noted Lawyer, Dead at 83,” Ottawa Journal, June 14, 1940, p. 12; “Henry Aylen, KC. Leaves $221,855,” Ottawa Journal, June 22, 1940, p. 11. Two weeks later, it was reported that Loblaws was to construct a one-storey brick and concrete store on the west side of Elgin street and that the building permit had a value of $20,000. The contractor on the project was Bennett & Pratt Limited of Toronto.2”New Elgin Store,” Ottawa Journal, October 26, 1939, p. 12. While there was no architect indicated, it may have been James A. Parrott, who was the company’s in-house architect.3PARROTT, James Allan,” Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Canada, 1850-1950.

Construction of the new Loblaw's was completed quickly and the store opened on February 9, 1940. Source: Ottawa Journal, February 8, 1940, p. 7.
Construction of the new Loblaw’s was completed quickly and the store opened on February 9, 1940. Source: Ottawa Journal, February 8, 1940, p. 7.

The store, which was Loblaw’s third company store and seventh outlet in the city, was the second chain grocer to set up shop on the increasingly commercializing Elgin street.4The first, an A&P, opened on Elgin at Lisgar on September 5, 1935. The four storefronts were constructed by Charles Kert and Isidore Stone. See Ottawa Journal, August 29, 1935, p. 13. The 5,000 square foot store was decorated “in a cheerful shade of pastel brown with silver trims that add an extra gleam of attractiveness to the white fixtures.” The advertisement-article published in the Journal repeatedly stressed that not only was as much of the stock as possible sourced from Ottawa-based dealers, but so was the store’s entire staff.5”Loblaw’s Open Seventh Store,” Ottawa Journal, February 8, 1940, p. 10.

Ottawa's first Loblaw's was located on Rideau street. Source: Ottawa Journal, December 22, 1927, p. 12.
Ottawa’s first Loblaw’s was located on Rideau street. Source: Ottawa Journal, December 22, 1927, p. 12.

The first Loblaw’s in Ottawa opened on December 2, 1927 and was located at 139 Rideau street. Much like its Elgin outlet, it was a company store and was constructed at a cost of $20,000.6”Building Values Increase $487,812 Over First Nine Months Last Year,” Ottawa Journal, October 5, 1927, p. 3. Though Loblaw’s advertisements stressed the innovation of the chain’s self-serve cash-and-carry system,7Loblaw’s is widely credited with introducing the system to Canada in 1919 following a visit to Nashville’s Piggly Wiggly store, the first true grocery store of that model.First Loblaws store in Toronto, 511 Yonge Street. - [ca. 1919] the concept that been introduced to Ottawa six years earlier, by A.A. Fournier in his store’s grocery department.8It was a “new epoch in economical merchandising.” See: Ottawa Journal, September 29, 1921, p. 5; Ottawa Journal, September 30, 1921, p. 4.1921-09-29-Fournier-Self-Serve-Page-5 Nevertheless, the chain entered the Ottawa market to great fanfare and expanded rapidly.9By 1927, Loblaw’s had boasted 60 stores across Ontario. See “The Loblaw Groceteria To Open Here On Friday, December 2,” Ottawa Journal, December 1, 1927, pp. 11, 21. In 1940, there were stores at 139 Rideau, 292 Elgin, 1237 Wellington, 206 Bank, 724 Bank, 1115 Bank, and 317 Bank.

Advertisement for Loblaw's. Source: Ottawa Journal, January 17, 1939, p. 25.
Advertisement for Loblaw’s. Source: Ottawa Journal, January 17, 1939, p. 25.

As far as commercial ventures are concerned, the Elgin street Loblaw’s experienced a downright quiet existence. Unlike, for example, the Stephens Block at Bank and Queen, there were no fires, few robberies,10While not the only one, there was one break-in reported in August of 1940. See “Break Into Grocery,” Ottawa Journal, August 2, 1940, p. 13. and it does not appear that it was ever enmeshed in the gears of civic politics. It would eventually be, however, joined by other self-serve grocery stores on Elgin, including the Party Palace, Goldstein’s, and Boushey’s.

Loblaws 1960s redesign. Source: Ottawa Journal, February 13, 1969, p. 9.
Loblaws 1960s redesign. Source: Ottawa Journal, February 13, 1969, p. 9.

Beginning in the mid-1950s, just as the self-serve chains had displaced the traditional neighbourhood grocer, the 5,000 square foot chain store had come to be displaced by the much larger supermarket. Once the Loblaws “super groceteria” at Metcalfe and Isabella was completed in 1959, it’s likely that the smaller outlet’s days were numbered.11”City Negotiates For Nine New Industries,” Ottawa Journal, February 27, 1959, p. 5. Below is an aerial of the new supermarket in 1965.1965 It was likely in the face of flagging sales that the store’s lease was terminated in 1972, and the equipment liquidated.12Ottawa Journal, February 14, 1972, p. 12. Loblaw’s was not alone in its departure from Elgin street. The A&P closed in the Spring of 1974 (replaced by Elgin Home Hardware),13Ottawa Journal, January 30, 1974, p. 30; Ottawa Journal, May 13, 1974, p. 14., Party Palace in 1996 (replaced by McDonald’s), Goldstein’s in 2007 (replaced by Dollarama), and the most recent, Boushey’s in July 2016.

1972 was the end. Source: Ottawa Journal, February 14, 1972, p. 12.
1972 was the end. Source: Ottawa Journal, February 14, 1972, p. 12.

Much like the remainder of Elgin street, after Loblaw’s left 292 Elgin, the space was repurposed as a restaurant. In 1977 Hal and Mike Saikaly opened the Royal Palace Restaurant, which specialized mainly in North American food, though as Dave Brown suggested, it had a “solid Middle East theme.” The upstairs offered a quiet dining experience, while the downstairs, dubbed the Casbah, offered nightly entertainment, including belly dancing.14Ottawa Journal, July 15, 1977, p. 27; “Elgin St. newest mecca,” Ottawa Journal, July 29, 1977, p. 17.

Belly dancing was one of the Royal Palace's main entertainment attractions. Source: Ottawa Citizen, December 23, 1977, p. 33.
Belly dancing was one of the Royal Palace’s main entertainment attractions. Source: Ottawa Citizen, December 23, 1977, p. 33.

It does not seem that the venture was a particularly successful one. Although it appeared promising in the early days, the unusually large space (for a restaurant at the time) may have been difficult to fill. By the end of 1978, the stock, furniture and fixtures, and the remainder of the 25 year lease were put up for sale by tender.15Ottawa Citizen, November 30, 1978, p. 77. The closure would not have been entirely surprising: the restaurant business in Ottawa was in a certain state of flux. John Wylie of the Ottawa Journal characterized the restaurant scene as being “like musical chairs.”16”Eating out a puzzle,” Ottawa Journal, April 16, 1979, p. 17.

Even at the best of times, the restaurant game can be a tough slog. In the late 1970s, it was brutal. Source: Ottawa Journal, April 16, 1979, p. 17.
Even at the best of times, the restaurant game can be a tough slog. In the late 1970s, it was brutal. Source: Ottawa Journal, April 16, 1979, p. 17.

Eddie Karam picked up the ball,17Brother-in-law to Michael Saikaly, previous owner. Saikaly had been embroiled in a dramatic drug charge trial and chose to flee the country in 1980s. See Dave Evans and Jim Withers. “Caught in explosion, charged with arson,” Ottawa Journal, May 3, 1980, p. 3; Mike O’Byrne. “Six charged in explosion at downtown restaurant,” Ottawa Journal, May 5, 1980, p. 3. being the successful purchaser of the restaurant space. To signify the change of ownership, he changed the name to The Stage Door, but did not change much else about the restaurant’s operation.18Ibid. In her June 20, 1979 review, the Journal’s Marilyn Minnes was disappointed to find that the menu had not changed along with the ownership, though was pleased with the service.19Marilyn Minnes. “Name new, menu the same,” Ottawa Journal, June 20, 1979, p. 19.

Karam retained the entertainment at The Stage Door. Source: Ottawa Citizen, November 29, 1979, p. 56.
Karam retained the entertainment at The Stage Door. Source: Ottawa Citizen, November 29, 1979, p. 56.

Much like the Palace before it, The Stage Door does not appear to have been a financial success either. On May 2, 1980, the Journal reported that an explosion at the restaurant had caused extensive damage and injured a person on site.20Mike O’Byrne. “‘Bomb blast’ shatters downtown restaurant,” Ottawa Journal, May 2, 1980, p. 1. The following day, police charged the injured individual with arson. When asked, owner Eddie Karam could not speculate on who would have wanted to burn his restaurant, though he did note that he had been making attempts to sell it.21Evans & Withers. On May 5, Ottawa Police laid charges on a number of others, including Karam himself. Total damage to the restaurant was estimated at $1 million.22Ibid, O’Byrne, May 5, 1980. I am not certain about the outcome of the trial.

From the ashes of The Stage Door emerged the Penguin Café. Source: Ottawa Citizen, April 24, 1981, TGIF Insert, p. 3.
From the ashes of The Stage Door emerged the Penguin Café. Source: Ottawa Citizen, April 24, 1981, TGIF Insert, p. 3.

Through the remainder of 1980 and the beginning of 1981, the space was rehabilitated. In its place, the Penguin Café was opened. Though the Citizen‘s Tom Ford was at first confused by the menu,23Tom Ford. “Food Beats Spelling at Penguin,” Ottawa Citizen, April 24, 1981, p. 3. then-owner Bill Bousada soon won hearts and minds with friendly coverage from Dave Brown.24Dave Brown. “Free meal awaiting Good Samaritans,” Ottawa Citizen, June 10, 1981, p. 65.

The Penguin was more Batman than polar bird. Source: Ottawa Citizen, December 3, 1982, p. 82.
The Penguin was more Batman than polar bird. Source: Ottawa Citizen, December 3, 1982, p. 82.

The Penguin remained in business until 1988.25Adam Mohammed. “Penguin Cafe opens as L’Avant-Garde,” Ottawa Citizen, September 17, 1988, p. C7; Elizabeth Elmsley. “L’Avant-Garde: Concept confused but cuisine fine at former Penguin,” Ottawa Citizen, October 28, 1988, p. C5. Over its 7 year run, it was perhaps best known for its dedication to entertainment (both in-house and out) and service of meals to the hungry during Easter.26Henry Giniger. “What’s Doing in Ottawa,” New York Times, June 27, 1982; Michael T. Kaufman. “What’s Doing in Ottawa,” New York Times, September 4, 1983; Bobbi Turcotte. “Penguin Cafe offers meal and a movie,” Ottawa Citizen, February 21, 1986, p. F4; “Weekend Best Bets,” Ottawa Citizen, June 20, 1991, p. D3; “Penguin to stage benefit,” Ottawa Citizen, November 30, 1991, p. C11; Ottawa Citizen, April 17, 1995, p. A1; Chris Cobb. “You get way more out of giving than you contribute,” Ottawa Citizen, December 17, 2006, p. B6. The name had become so resonant with Ottawans that it was resurrected in 1990.27Ottawa Citizen, April 1, 1990, p. A3.

A partnership between The Penguin and the Elgin Theatre was just what the doctor ordered. At least for a little while. Source: Ottawa Citizen, March 7, 1986, p. F18.
A partnership between The Penguin and the Elgin Theatre was just what the doctor ordered. At least for a little while. Source: Ottawa Citizen, March 7, 1986, p. F18.

In the intervening years, the two floors have served as Bravo Bravo, the Roxy, and the Bytown Tavern. The basement was taken over by the Yuk Yuk’s in 200928Tony Lofaro. “New digs, new era; Yuk Yuk’s, the club that brought comedy to Ottawa, takes its shows down the road — to Elgin Street,” Ottawa Citizen, January 15, 2009, p. E1. and the upstairs by Hooley’s in 2006.29Jennifer Campbell. “Elgin street carries on as usual,” Ottawa Citizen, April 5, 2006, p. B3.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Ottawa Journal, October 5, 1939, p. 22; Aylen was a local lawyer who died the following summer. See “Henry Aylen, Noted Lawyer, Dead at 83,” Ottawa Journal, June 14, 1940, p. 12; “Henry Aylen, KC. Leaves $221,855,” Ottawa Journal, June 22, 1940, p. 11.
2. ”New Elgin Store,” Ottawa Journal, October 26, 1939, p. 12.
3. PARROTT, James Allan,” Biographical Dictionary of Architects in Canada, 1850-1950.
4. The first, an A&P, opened on Elgin at Lisgar on September 5, 1935. The four storefronts were constructed by Charles Kert and Isidore Stone. See Ottawa Journal, August 29, 1935, p. 13.
5. ”Loblaw’s Open Seventh Store,” Ottawa Journal, February 8, 1940, p. 10.
6. ”Building Values Increase $487,812 Over First Nine Months Last Year,” Ottawa Journal, October 5, 1927, p. 3.
7. Loblaw’s is widely credited with introducing the system to Canada in 1919 following a visit to Nashville’s Piggly Wiggly store, the first true grocery store of that model.First Loblaws store in Toronto, 511 Yonge Street. - [ca. 1919]
8. It was a “new epoch in economical merchandising.” See: Ottawa Journal, September 29, 1921, p. 5; Ottawa Journal, September 30, 1921, p. 4.1921-09-29-Fournier-Self-Serve-Page-5
9. By 1927, Loblaw’s had boasted 60 stores across Ontario. See “The Loblaw Groceteria To Open Here On Friday, December 2,” Ottawa Journal, December 1, 1927, pp. 11, 21. In 1940, there were stores at 139 Rideau, 292 Elgin, 1237 Wellington, 206 Bank, 724 Bank, 1115 Bank, and 317 Bank.
10. While not the only one, there was one break-in reported in August of 1940. See “Break Into Grocery,” Ottawa Journal, August 2, 1940, p. 13.
11. ”City Negotiates For Nine New Industries,” Ottawa Journal, February 27, 1959, p. 5. Below is an aerial of the new supermarket in 1965.1965
12. Ottawa Journal, February 14, 1972, p. 12.
13. Ottawa Journal, January 30, 1974, p. 30; Ottawa Journal, May 13, 1974, p. 14.
14. Ottawa Journal, July 15, 1977, p. 27; “Elgin St. newest mecca,” Ottawa Journal, July 29, 1977, p. 17.
15. Ottawa Citizen, November 30, 1978, p. 77.
16. ”Eating out a puzzle,” Ottawa Journal, April 16, 1979, p. 17.
17. Brother-in-law to Michael Saikaly, previous owner. Saikaly had been embroiled in a dramatic drug charge trial and chose to flee the country in 1980s. See Dave Evans and Jim Withers. “Caught in explosion, charged with arson,” Ottawa Journal, May 3, 1980, p. 3; Mike O’Byrne. “Six charged in explosion at downtown restaurant,” Ottawa Journal, May 5, 1980, p. 3.
18. Ibid.
19. Marilyn Minnes. “Name new, menu the same,” Ottawa Journal, June 20, 1979, p. 19.
20. Mike O’Byrne. “‘Bomb blast’ shatters downtown restaurant,” Ottawa Journal, May 2, 1980, p. 1.
21. Evans & Withers.
22. Ibid, O’Byrne, May 5, 1980.
23. Tom Ford. “Food Beats Spelling at Penguin,” Ottawa Citizen, April 24, 1981, p. 3.
24. Dave Brown. “Free meal awaiting Good Samaritans,” Ottawa Citizen, June 10, 1981, p. 65.
25. Adam Mohammed. “Penguin Cafe opens as L’Avant-Garde,” Ottawa Citizen, September 17, 1988, p. C7; Elizabeth Elmsley. “L’Avant-Garde: Concept confused but cuisine fine at former Penguin,” Ottawa Citizen, October 28, 1988, p. C5.
26. Henry Giniger. “What’s Doing in Ottawa,” New York Times, June 27, 1982; Michael T. Kaufman. “What’s Doing in Ottawa,” New York Times, September 4, 1983; Bobbi Turcotte. “Penguin Cafe offers meal and a movie,” Ottawa Citizen, February 21, 1986, p. F4; “Weekend Best Bets,” Ottawa Citizen, June 20, 1991, p. D3; “Penguin to stage benefit,” Ottawa Citizen, November 30, 1991, p. C11; Ottawa Citizen, April 17, 1995, p. A1; Chris Cobb. “You get way more out of giving than you contribute,” Ottawa Citizen, December 17, 2006, p. B6.
27. Ottawa Citizen, April 1, 1990, p. A3.
28. Tony Lofaro. “New digs, new era; Yuk Yuk’s, the club that brought comedy to Ottawa, takes its shows down the road — to Elgin Street,” Ottawa Citizen, January 15, 2009, p. E1.
29. Jennifer Campbell. “Elgin street carries on as usual,” Ottawa Citizen, April 5, 2006, p. B3.

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