It might seem odd to get excited about the opening of a grocery store. After all, it is just another place to buy food. However, when Canada’s largest food distributor decides to launch a new 85,000 sq. ft. store in the former home of Toronto’s favourite sports team, people take note.
On Wednesday morning, over 250 people lined up—some overnight, braving the cold and rain—to catch a glimpse of the new Loblaws grocery store at Maple Leaf Gardens. In an opening that more closely resembled a Saturday night on King West, patient patrons waited behind a velvet rope while security staff manned the doors. Uniformed employees passed out hot drinks and breakfast rolls to warm the crowd.
“We usually don’t do the big openings,” said Loblaw executive chairman Galen Weston, “but we made an exception because of the historical nature of the building.” Spread out over a single floor, the massive supermarket is divided up into a series of stations that focus on raw groceries, prepared foods, baked goods, sweets and more. Upstairs there is a new LCBO and an 8,500 sq. ft. Joe Fresh.
And while Weston has said that the new store is an attempt to reimagine the large urban supermarket, he’s also careful not to underplay the historical significance of the building. Throughout the store there are constant reminders of glories past: the tables next to the prepared-food section are collaged with pictures of entertainers who played at Maple Leaf Gardens. Likewise, the pillars holding up the roof are adorned with etchings of famous faces (like The Beatles, who played the Gardens on Sept. 8, 1964). In an homage to the Toronto Maple Leafs, the large centre-ice red centre dot remains on the floor in its original location (now known as Aisle 25), and old blue chairs have been welded together in the shape of a giant, blue maple leaf at the store’s entrance.
By the time I left at 9 a.m., well over 1,000 people had come and gone, and more were still lined up outside. Among the draws for this particular store are: an 18 foot wall of cheese featuring a 100-pound wheel of Stilton (one of only 100 in the world); a large patisserie booth where you can get chocolate by the chunk; an ACE Bakery section where bread is baked fresh in front of you; a tea emporium with over 100 flavours of tea; a sushi bar and Asian grocery section; and of course, aisles upon aisles of fresh and frozen, prepared and raw foods.
For those not wishing to risk life and limb to get a glimpse of the store today, click on the gallery for a view of what to expect: