Vintage Toronto Ads: The Art Shoppe
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Vintage Toronto Ads: The Art Shoppe

A look at some historical ads and offers from the former fixture of the Yonge-Eglinton community.

Source: Saturday Night, March 1977

Source: Saturday Night, March 1977

No matter how timeless a business may seem, change inevitably occurs. Take the case of high-end furniture store the Art Shoppe, which was a fixture of the Yonge-Eglinton neighbourhood from the Dirty Thirties until this month, when it moved to a new location in the Castlefield Design District and left its old site to be turned into condos.

People thought Leon Offman was crazy to open a luxury goods store in 1936. Toronto was still feeling the effects of the Great Depression, which had crushed the high-end hopes of other retailers. Catering to the carriage trade, Offman’s store offered art deco and modernist designs inspired by the likes of Mies van der Rohe and the Bauhaus school.

In a 1956 Globe and Mail advertorial, Mary Walpole offered a glimpse into the shop’s early years:

From the smart façade, which we have always admired, right through the three floors, it is an exhibition of the finest names in the land of furniture and so artistically and tastefully displayed that you can sit back and relax and almost forget you are in a store … The floors are so spacious that the effect is beautifully uncluttered and it doesn’t take too much imagination to get the feel of things you like in your own house.

By the 1970s, the Art Shoppe’s scope had extended to designing and supplying furniture for international luxury hotels, Mount Sinai Hospital, Aeroquay One (at today’s Pearson Airport), and others. Much of the store’s business came from outside the country, as Canadians freshened up their home décor less often than did Americans. “The average American replaces his furniture every five years,” Leon’s son Allan told the Toronto Star in 1973. “In Canada it’s once every 20 years.”

Source: Saturday Night, March 1978

Source: Saturday Night, March 1978.

The store’s advertising was in step with trends and passing fancies of the era, from popular 1920s-inspired fashions to “pyramid power,” which the Toronto Maple Leafs once used in an attempt to improve their playoff chances. Ads also promoted office designs tailored to the specs of high-powered executives (such as the man above, who could almost pass for former Toronto mayor David Miller).

The store itself, according to the Star, had the sombre atmosphere of a funeral parlour: “Men remove their hats, voices are hushed, and the salesmen are as discreet as funeral directors.” And outside, tour buses regularly stopped to give visitors a look at the window displays.

In the ’70s the store expanded, taking up the full frontage of Yonge Street between Soudan and Hillsdale avenues. A Country Style donut shop at the south end of the lot gave way to a $2.2-million, four-storey atrium completed in 1975. Controversy briefly arose when local residents protested plans for a parking lot to replace six homes.

Given the skyward expansion of the neighbourhood, it was almost inevitable that the site would be sold for residential development. Freed Developments purchased the property in 2012 and revealed plans the following year for 29- and 38-storey mixed-use towers. Community resident associations and city councillor Josh Matlow contested the plan, resulting in mediation, which shrank the towers to 12 and 28 stories.

Where window displays previously tantalized bypassers with visions of stylish home interiors, they currently entice potential home owners with contact information for the Art Shoppe Lofts + Condos.

Additional material from the October 12, 1956, November 19, 1975, and September 13, 2003 editions of the Globe and Mail; and the April 12, 1973 and April 17, 1975 editions of the Toronto Star.

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