Department Store Food Floors

David Spencer Ltd.

The food floor at Vancouver’s David Spencer Ltd. was fundamentally different from the other local department stores mentioned in this post. Its name was original: “David Spencer’s Model Food Market”. And it wasn’t located with the other departments of the store — it was off-site, at 4th Avenue and Vine Street.

Staff in front of Spencer’s Model Food Market, 1934. Photo courtesy of the late (and greatly missed) Gordon Poppy.

The Model Food Market opened at the end of 1926, and it continued until ca1946. In 1947, when the retailer had just another year or so of life before Eaton’s purchased it, Spencer’s ceased referring to the Model Food Market in their print ads and began to refer to their “culinary world” and to their “service and specialty” food shop. It seems as though in its last year or so, Spencer’s brought their food department into the main store on West Hastings along with other departments.

T. Eaton Co.

Sun. 7 Jan. 1953

The (poorly-named) Eaton’s Foodateria began advertising in local newspapers shortly after the retailer moved into David Spencer’s former space at what is today SFU’s Harbour Centre campus, in 1949. According to long-time Vancouver resident, Angus McIntyre, the Foodateria was on the sub-basement level facing Cordova Street. Eaton’s established a “Parcel Checking Centre” inside their customer garage ca1955 (about the same time as Woodward’s got the better-named “Parcel Pickup” at their department store – it isn’t clear which retailer had the idea first).

By 1959, Eaton’s had made an arrangement with Dominion Markets (at Main & 14th and Kingsway at Willingdon) to take over their food floor (Province 9 Jan 1959). This collaboration was reportedly the first of its kind in Canada. In the full-page ad to announce the Dominion/Eaton’s collaboration, it was announced that the former Foodateria would be known henceforth as Dominion at Eaton’s. Eaton’s Home Delivery Service (another service also offered by Woodward’s; there was a ‘nominal fee’ charged by both stores) and Eaton’s charge accounts would continue to be honoured on the new food floor. Eaton’s Foodateria employees were taken on by Dominion. They did not lose their pensions, seniority or other employee benefits; Dominion assumed all of those (Province 28 Apr 1959). The lease of Eaton’s food space to Dominion appeared to last until 1968.

The logos of T. Eaton Co. and Sears Canada on the door handles at the Granville/Robson St. locations of both department stores. ca1990s. Greg Burke photo.

Eaton’s moved to what would prove to be its final location on Granville Street in the early ’70s (where Sears and later Nordstrom’s would be located) with the opening of Pacific Centre Mall. My wife and I both recall there being a grocery department in the basement of the Granville outlet during the years after 1991 (when we moved to Vancouver) until Eaton’s closed its doors for the last time in 1999.

Hudson’s Bay Co.

CVA 586-10783. Hudson’s Bay Company’s Food Dept. 1948 Don Coltman Photo.

Yes, Vancouver’s Hudson’s Bay Co. had a food floor, too, at one time. It was located in the basement of the flagship store on Granville Street from the early 19-teens until the late-1960s. It’s likely that HBC sold food even earlier than the 19-teens — probably from the 1880s out of its first store at 150 Cordova, but it didn’t have the space to dedicate an entire floor to groceries until it moved into the larger space on Granville.

Woodward’s

CVA BuP704. Interior of Woodward’s Grocery Dept. (Hastings & Abbott). 1904.
Screen capture of Vancouver ad man, Fin Anthony (1929-2017) doing an ’80s TV spot for “Woodward’s Famous Food Floors”

As with HBC, I suspect that Woodward’s sold groceries from their very start as a business (in the case of Woodies, that was in 1892). However, Woodward’s didn’t have the space for a dedicated food floor until ca1902, when they moved into the large piece of real estate at Hastings and Abbott which they would hold onto (along with many other properties) until the chain closed in 1993.

When I think of Woodward’s (about which I freely admit that I am sentimental; I was a clerk on the food floor in Lethbridge, 1981-1986), among other memories are those of Fin Anthony, a Vancouver advertising man who became the face and voice of Woodies on TV (and also on radio, I think). He is rumored also to have been the wind behind the famous $1.49 Day whistle. Whether that is true or not, I do not know. The jingle was composed by the late Tony Antonias.

This appears to be one of the name tag variants worn by Woodward’s Food Floor staff. It was never one of the tags that I wore; either this came into use before my time on the food floor or (more probably) it was a tag worn exclusively by food floor managers. This was part of a display at the New Westminster City Hall lobby a few years ago.

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4 Responses to Department Store Food Floors

  1. Angus McIntyre says:

    Our family moved here in 1965, and I soon explored all the department stores and noticed they all had food floors. The old Eaton’s on Hastings Street included the grand Spencer’s building on Richards, but also several older structures on different levels near Seymour Street. There were places where you had to go up or down a few steps to enter another section. Escalators went to the top floor but as I recall you had to walk down stairs from 6 and 5 to find a down escalator. All three downtown department stores had manual elevators. My mother loved Woodwrad’s food floor at the Oakridge Shopping Centre, and even found Kangaroo Tail Soup in the specialty section.

    Because of the slope of the land, when you entered Eaton’s on Hastings Street you had to walk down to the basement, and then the sub-basement before you popped out onto Cordova Street. There was a narrow old escalator if you knew where to look. The food floor was in the sub-basement facing Cordova. After Dominion left I think it was an IGA. I took interior pictures of the last day of the old store on Hastings Street, and at closing time it was a very sombre crowd of people.

  2. fotoeins says:

    I have many fond memories of Woodward’s on East Hastings: their $1.49 days and their delicious Food Floor in the basement.

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