There hasn’t been a line up at the Gardens for 10 years. But there was today. Maple Leaf Gardens is the heart and soul of many Torontonians and yet inside now sits a grocery store.
The launch of the new Loblaws in the heart of Toronto is clearly a stake in the ground to say “we love food”. In fact, Loblaws screams it. I must confess that I love grocery stores, big and small, everywhere on earth. I’ve been known to sneak into grocery stores on my holidays just to look around—from Paris to Edinburgh, from Monaco to Auckland and from St. Petersburg to San Francisco. And now in Toronto, I’ve seen the nicest grocery store I’ve ever seen.
From the turnaround in the 1980s, with Dave Nichol and the creation of the President’s Choice brand that enticed so many, Loblaws reached Beloved status, clearly ahead of any competitor in sight. Consumers admired Loblaws and the great things they were doing while competitors and vendors feared them.
As Loblaws stumbled in the early 2000s, with mergers and internal politics, they became obsessed with beating Wal-Mart and started to look like Wal-Mart. Before 2003, Loblaws and Westfair operated seperately. With Wal-Mart getting stronger, the desire to be a Mass Merch was taking over. They were no longer a grocery store and now clearly a Mass Merch store. They launched glorious sized stores that they named “Real Canadian Super Store” which is about as generic of a name as you can get. In fact, Wal-Mart calls theirs “Super Centre”–almost the same. These mega sized stores are filled with cheaper versions of T-Fal pans and $15 blankets. The Loblaws name was nowhere to be seen. Why? Because of internal politics. Competitors were catching up, Sobeys and Metro launched some pretty good copy cats. Loblaws didn’t really do anything in a while. And Loblaws was falling from Beloved back to Liked and it was now the same as the rest.
Today, as I approached the new Loblaws store, the first thing I noticed was “Great Food” attached to the logo. And once inside, that’s all I saw–Great Food. I saw all the cupcakes, the cheeses and of course the Chocolate Mound where I bought some freshly carved slices of chocolate.
Everyone was making stuff: freshly cooked chickens and freshly baked breads. Rejoice in the love of food. I kept saying “wow” at every turn. The fresh bread, baked right before your eyes. Most grocery stores say Fresh all the time, this one was showing it.
Loblaws took a giant step forward, a step back from liked towards beloved, helping to separate themselves from the competition. And as I said many times in the 80s and 90s, “I can’t wait to see what Loblaws does next”. Exciting.
Here are some more photos of the New Loblaws at Maple Leaf Gardens.