Paul Wilson: Grand & Toy quits store in core; Roots rolls on

Grand & Toy, stationers, opened their first Hamilton outlet in 1956. They shut their stores in the suburbs eight years ago, and now downtown will fall too. Meanwhile, at the other end of Jackson Square, Roots is still in business – even though it too left the suburbs of Hamilton behind.
Grand & Toy has been in Jackson Square since the mall opened in 1972. It closes next week. (Paul Wilson/CBC)

Fifty-seven years after Grand & Toy stationers chose Hamilton for their first store outside of Toronto, the last sign is coming down.

The one remaining outlet in the city, in downtown’s Jackson Square, is closing. It’s a shame, but maybe not a surprise.

It was getting harder and harder to find what you needed there. For much of my adult life, I’ve been in the habit of carrying a little black book to keep track of things to do. It fits nicely in the back pocket.

I always bought a supply at Grand & Toy. They were right there on the shelf.  And then they weren’t, but staff would order me a batch. A year or two ago, they stopped offering that service. I had to start going to Walmart.

James Grand and Samuel Toy started their stationery business in Toronto in 1883. (Grand & Toy )

James Grand and brother-in-law Samuel Toy started the business in 1883.

The chain grew to more than 100 stores across the country.

But along came the ‘90s. The Big Box operators marched across the border and Grand & Toy took a pounding. Stores closed. The chain got bought out by OfficeMax of the U.S. (It merged just last month with Office Depot, and is headed by a guy who used to run Wendy’s.) 

Shut Lime Ridge and Centre Mall

Eight years ago, when there were about 60 stores left in the Grand & Toy chain, they shut down the outlets at Lime Ridge Mall and Centre Mall, where that first store in the city had opened in 1956. That left only Jackson Square. 

The chain has been trimmed to 20. With the Hamilton closure, make that 19.

Jeff Hayward is the company’s general manager of marketing. He says that with a jumbo competitor like Staples going after the consumer market in the suburbs, Grand & Toy is serving the business sector with stores downtown – but only in major markets. In Ontario, that’s Toronto and Ottawa.

Get your rubber fingers tips now – 40 per cent off! (Paul Wilson/CBC)

In secondary markets like Hamilton, the company’s sales will be largely online. Plus, there is a sales office here, located in The Spectator building on Frid Street.

These final few days are clearance. No little black books, but they do have titanium scissors, a Swingline stapler that can punch through 210 sheets at a time and boxes of rubber finger tips, just like my grandfather used to use.

The store closes Friday, Dec. 20. It was on an honour roll at Jackson Square. Along with just a few others, like Coles and Laura Secord, Grand & Toy had been in the mall since it opened in 1972.

Roots left the suburbs too

When Grand & Toy closed their stores at Lime Ridge and Centre Mall – Christmas of 2005 – management at Jackson Square were pleasantly surprised that the downtown store was spared. They couldn’t recall it happening that way ever before, where the suburban locations took the hit instead of the core.

But it did happen again, three years ago. 

That’s when Roots checked out of Lime Ridge Mall, leaving only the Jackson Square store.  It’s been there more than 25 years. And the chain itself – an enterprise that still makes Canada proud – is celebrating its 40th anniversary.

Alex McKenzie says that while Hamilton's only Roots store may be small, "it's more intimate." (Paul Wilson)

The store downtown is not a big one. Most are twice the size. But acting assistant manager Alex McKenzie, 27, says small is good. “It’s easier to form a connection with the customer here. It’s more intimate.”

Sales at the store are good, she says. “We’re beating our target for the year.”

Students from Mac, Mohawk, Columbia, are big customers, and office workers too. It’s no surprise that sweatpants, sweat shirts and leather bags move best.

Martin Short's a friend

A special item on the shelf this year is the anniversary book: Roots – 40 Years of Style.  And there on the inside cover is a quote from Hamilton’s Martin Short:

"Style is knowing who you are, what to say, and not giving a damn. Roots=style. Lucky me to have been a part of it." 

Roots left Lime Ridge Mall behind, but has been part of Jackson Square since the late Eighties. (Paul Wilson/CBC)

Was Short part of Roots in a formal way, or is his connection as a fan? We ask Robert Sarner, head of communications for Roots. He e-mails back: 

“Marty Short has been a good friend of Roots since even before its inception in 1973, when he was beginning his career as a performer in Toronto. He has a close relationship with both Roots co-founders Michael Budman and Don Green.”

As for Budman, the latest issue of CAA magazine carries this factoid: 95 per cent of the clothing in his closet is Roots, including a pair of sweatpants for every day of the week. Now that’s style.

Paul.Wilson@cbc.ca  |  @PaulWilsonCBC

To read more CBC Hamilton stories by Paul Wilson, click here.


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