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Yorkdale at 50: The Shopping Centre's Expanding Size and Prominence

Photo Credit: Chris Nagy

The last weekend ahead of Christmas is typically a time when foot traffic inside Canadian shopping malls pounds the floors with rhythmic fury. The enclosed environment known as the Yorkdale Shopping Centre opens to shoppers providing more than the polarizing holiday music and crowded parking lots associated with other malls. For 2014, Yorkdale offers a host of guest services such as valet and lounges for some customers as well as rare Canadian shopping experiences such as Versace, the Microsoft store, The Lego Store and even a Tesla Motors sales centre (the first in Canada).

Photo Credit: Chris Nagy

In February of this year, the Yorkdale Shopping Centre celebrated 50 years of serving customers by setting new expectations for how we spend our money. I've written a tribute to the golden anniversary of the shopping centre in February but decided to largely capture what the complex was in 1964. As a writer who deeply enjoys relating where we have come from to where we are today, the 50th year of the Yorkdale Shopping Centre was a golden opportunity to indulge myself in my interest in Canadian history. Wanting to detail how the Toronto-based mall has evolved, I'm writing this sequel to my original work.

Opening with the capacity for just over 100 stores in 1964, Yorkdale Shopping Centre has gone through several growth spurts. A modernization of the mall in the mid-1980s expanded Yorkdale's capacity to 200 stores.

Illustration created by Chris Nagy

Renovations to the Yorkdale Shopping Centre completed in 1984 also refined the ambience of the retail space. Additional skylights added a greater amount of natural light to the interior that featured all-new marble pillars and black olive trees. Stores were also permitted to extend out three feet to allow larger window displays. Other major renovations in 1999 and 2005 has allowed the mall to evolve to the shape we currently find the Yorkdale Shopping Centre. Originally designed with wide pathways and a massive parking lot, the shopping centre was able to accommodate the growing customer traffic that came with the expansions. Currently more than 250 stores occupy a building that has more than doubled in overall size as of 2014. At one time the largest mall in Canada, Yorkdale is now the fifth largest enclosed retail space in the country.

This illustration is an overlay of the 1964 Yorkdale Shopping Centre floor plan compared to the 2014 layout. Please beware that this image is not to scale. (Illustration created by Chris Nagy)

Of course, the store names and even the types of stores inside Yorkdale have changed over the course of five decades. Prominent anchor stores Simpson's and Eaton are long gone. The Simpson's store is now occupied by Hudson Bay retaining much of the original building's exterior and interior facades. As for Eaton's that met a painful demise in 1999 before being absorbed by Sears Canada, the Yorkdale location was one of a handful that briefly operated in the 2000s as Sears attempted a short-lived effort of maintaining Eaton's stores as high-end retail brand. Today, the floor space occupied by the 1964 Eaton's department store has been divided with retailers Pottery Barn, Coach and Old Navy settled on the location. A related development this year also saw the Sears location (added during the late 1980s) closed as part of the company's massive restructuring.

Photo provided by Sears Canada

Other notable changes from 50 years ago is the absence of a Dominion supermarket (or any grocery store in Yorkdale as of 2014). SS Kresge Company Limited (later morphing into K-Mart) has been long gone from the mall as is retailers like Yorkdale Auto Specialities. A two-floor Indigo bookstore now serves bookworms who 50 years before frequented a smaller Coles. The CIBC branch has been reduced to a banking machine while the Plaza Drug Store was effectively replaced by a Shopper's Drug Mart. The interesting detail about the current Shopper's Drug Mart location is roughly in the same place as the original drug store. For movie-goers, the two-screen Yorkdale theatres of 1964 has been replaced and dwarfed by the current SilverCity Yorkdale Cinemas.

After 50 years, a few of the Yorkdale Shopping Centre's original tenants remain. For all 50 years, men's fashion retailer Tip Top Tailors has one of the enduring staples inside the ever-changing mall. Still in the front hallway, the Tip Top Tailors location has been moved closer within the mall. Fairweather as well as jewelry stores Birks and People Jewellers current Yorkdale retailers also found in the 1964 floor plan. The 1964 store map for the mall also contained Holt Renfrew in front of Eaton's in a more modest location. The 2014 location for the Holt Renfrew store is positioned over where the Dominion grocery store originally stood.

Photo Credit: Chris Nagy

Always a shopping centre that appealed to high-fashion, Yorkdale has attached some of the most elite stores in the world. Yorkdale Shopping Centre was the first location of an Apple store in Canada and later the country's first Microsoft store. Zara Home, GEOX and John Varvatos are also international retailers who launched Canadian operations in the complex.

For 2016, the floor plan of the Yorkdale Shopping Centre will once again be enlarged. A $331-million expansion is set to include a Nordstrom and a recently-announced Longchamp (a French luxury retailer opening its first Canadian store). When finished, the Yorkdale Shopping Centre is destined to be the second-largest mall in Canada based on square footage.

With Christmas quickly approaching, Yorkdale Shopping Centre is destined to be abuzz with immediate activity for what has been a tradition for 50 years now. Knowing a bigger, brighter future is ahead for the Toronto mall, diamond and platinum anniversaries will suit Yorkdale.

For this article and my other post relating to Yorkdale Shopping Centre's 50th anniversary, I want to thank Oxford Properties (Yorkdale Shopping Centre's management company) in providing me with the original floor plan as well as other historical items. Also special thanks to Tip Top Tailors and Sears Canada for providing me with requested information that has assisted me this year.  


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