Woolworth’s on Rideau

The Woolworth’s on Rideau Street in 1978. Image: HBC Heritage.

In 1993, after 78 years in business, the Woolworth’s on Rideau Street announced its closure. The ailing chain of discount stores, then in throes of death, undertook to reorganize and closed 150 stores across the country. In Ottawa, aside from the Rideau Woolworth, the Woolco in the Merivale Mall was slated to close.1Kelly Egan, “Cashing out after 78 years; Customers, staff lament downtown Woolworth closure,” Ottawa Citizen, October 23, 1993, C1. According to Woolworth officials, it was tentatively scheduled to close its doors for the last time on December 24, leaving the 50-odd employees with something of a bittersweet Christmas.2”Woolworth to close Byward landmark,” Ottawa Citizen, October 16, 1993, 6.

there’s nothing you can do about this recession stuff.

In what must have felt like a bit of a Christmas miracle, it was announced on December 24 that rather than close entirely, the store, like the Woolco at Carlingwood, it would be converted into a Bargain! Shop. Although the store’s employees were largely relieved, few of the locals were able to get themselves particularly excited about the prospect of a “generic” discount store.3Anne Vis, “Woolworth turns on a dime to refit Rideau street store for bargains,” Ottawa Citizen, December 24, 1993, D2.

An example of how I remember The Bargain! Shop’s branding in the 1990s. Image: Kelowna Now and When.

Of course, under Woolworth’s ownership, The Bargain! Shop was at best an attempt to stop the bleeding. In 1995, it was announced that Chapters (the company resulting from the merger of Coles, SmithBooks, and Prospero) was preparing to defend its turf against the expectation that Borders was going to enter into the Canadian market and opened a number of large-scale bookstores in cities across the country. The new Ottawa store, which stiffened more than a few local spines, was to be located in the old Woolworth’s space.4Randy Boswell, “Bookstore giants flip page to Ottawa; Battle between Chapters, Borders worries independents,” Ottawa Citizen, December 22, 1995, B5.

In the end, Borders was prohibited from entering the Canadian market by federal regulation and the strategy left many cities with some very large book stores.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Kelly Egan, “Cashing out after 78 years; Customers, staff lament downtown Woolworth closure,” Ottawa Citizen, October 23, 1993, C1.
2. ”Woolworth to close Byward landmark,” Ottawa Citizen, October 16, 1993, 6.
3. Anne Vis, “Woolworth turns on a dime to refit Rideau street store for bargains,” Ottawa Citizen, December 24, 1993, D2.
4. Randy Boswell, “Bookstore giants flip page to Ottawa; Battle between Chapters, Borders worries independents,” Ottawa Citizen, December 22, 1995, B5.

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