Cleanup at Centre Ice
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Cleanup at Centre Ice

After lying fallow for more than a decade, Loblaws re-opens the doors of Maple Leaf Gardens to Torontonians.

The lineup outside the new Loblaws, formerly Maple Leaf Gardens, on Carlton this morning.

It’s probably not the first time people have done this. Surely others have camped on the sidewalk outside the Carlton Cash Box, hoping to be first let in the next day. Maybe they were there to see the Beatles, or watch a Stanley Cup game, or marvel at the skating carnival. But today the more than 300 people lined up as of 7:20 a.m. were definitely the first to camp out on that sidewalk to score early entry to the produce section.

After cutting a seven-foot-long baguette (in lieu of a ribbon), Loblaws’ executive chairman Galen Weston welcomed the crowds into the new stores at the old arena. In addition to the main floor grocery store, the Gardens’ new tenants include Loblaws’ clothing store, Joe Fresh; the freshly minted Peter Gilgan Athletic Centre; an LCBO; a tea shop; and a President’s Choice cooking school.

Building on the multi-purpose model Loblaw Companies Limited uses across their grocery chains, this new Loblaws is aimed at being more of a food destination than just a food buying place. In his opening remarks, Weston billed the new store as a re-imagination of the large urban supermarket that recognizes the character and needs of the neighbourhood as well as the history of the building. And as far as large urban supermarkets go, this place has it covered.

The main floor supermarket has all the modern-day usuals like a custom-order sushi counter and a large bakery. Plus there are plenty of eat-in tables, a cafe with free wifi, and 14 in-house chefs on hand to whip up fresh meals. With giant cheese walls and a butcher display case replete with dangling meat, the food is hard to ignore. Food takes centre stage, as Weston says. But the history of the Gardens does not go unnoticed.

Today may end the grand visions for the Shrine to become a shrine of anything it once officially stood for, but judging from the crowds, people are ready to move on. And Loblaws is trying its best to abate the outpouring of nostalgia with some design flourishes. The facade remains mostly intact with the marquee restored to vintage glamour. Inside the store, some original window frames and lighting fixtures have been refurbished. There is a replication of the mural that graced the Gardens’ walls since 1994. And old arena seats are scattered throughout the building, a bank of them refurbished and all ready for sitting in the cafe area, as well as a chair sculpture of a big blue leaf that hangs above the entrance.

And centre ice is there. It’s marked on the Loblaws orange floor with a Loblaws red dot, between the canned ham and “international sauces,” halfway down aisle 25.

Check back later for more images of today’s launch.