Vintage Toronto Ads: A G.E.M. of a Store
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Vintage Toronto Ads: A G.E.M. of a Store

Source: The Telegram, October 12, 1961.

As the wordier second page of today’s ad boasted to this smiling nuclear family:

Starting at 4 p.m. tomorrow, the pay cheques of thousands of government employees will suddenly go further! Everything from furniture to fashions…gasoline to groceries will be priced for LESS as the opening of G.E.M. signals the start of a merchandising revolution in Canada!…a store so different in concept that it is years ahead of its time in the Dominion.

A G.E.M. membership cost two dollars and was open to active and retired members of any level of government, the military, educational institutions, businesses with government contracts, and non-profit organizations. Besides the services mentioned above, ailing members could have purchased their medical subscriptions inside the store from concessionaire Koffler Drugs, which was the forerunner of Shoppers Drug Mart.

Source: The Telegram, October 12, 1961.

G.E.M. (which, depending on the source, stood for Government Employees Mart or Government Employees Mutual) was one of a number of discount department stores with similar names (such as G.E.X. and Gemco) launched during the 1950s that limited access to bargains galore to government employees. According to the January 1964 issue of The Rotarian, the appeal of these chains was low prices coupled with snob appeal that instilled in store members “a feeling of belonging to something unusual or unique…a sort of country club for shoppers,” which was especially appealing for eligible members on fixed incomes. By 1964, over a million consumers in the United States and Canada carried G.E.M. membership cards. A crowded field caused many of these chains to ease their membership requirements or drop them entirely so that more plebeians could empty their wallets—ads for G.E.M. from the early 1970s make no mention of any restrictions for meriting a card.
As the ’70s wore on, the G.E.M. store was joined by other tenants at 7171 Yonge Street, including an Eaton’s bargain outlet and a Safeway grocery store. Judging from references from its neighbours in newspaper ads, it appears to have closed by 1977. The site is currently occupied by Galleria Supermarket, though signs on the property indicate the future includes condo towers.