Real Canadian Big Box Blights Richmond Road

Shoppers at the Real Canadian Superstore along Richmond Road in Westboro are certainly aware of the ongoing renovations during the summer. Re-opening is this Thanksgiving Weekend.

What has happened, other than obvious things like replacing the gaudy “bargains here” yellow signs with more trust-appealing solid blue? Or repainting the interior from yellow to white? And more aisles of packaged carbs and sugar?


As the Friendly Giant didn’t used to say… “Look down. Look way way down.” That’s right, look at sidewalk level. The transparent windows have become untransparent. There is even less pretence that the store is a collection of smaller shops along a traditional main street. Now even the doors are blanked out.

Most of the block frontage along Richmond, the lively, pedestrian-oriented traditional main street that makes this neighbourhood so viable, has now become opaque. It might as well be a brick wall for all the liveliness it promotes. 

Behind this window, merchandise racks have been shoved right up to the windows, which are treated on the interior as just another perimeter wall to hold up shelves.

It is not 100% opaque walls yet. Two recessed sections of window have been left clear. These are in front of the check out lanes. And in Joe Fresh, the bright orange back of the change rooms or storage closet or whatever it is look like there may be room to put some Merchandise Joe right in the window to be seen from outside. But overall the sidewalk face of this Loblaws is now a blight on the street.

The bike racks on the north (street) side disappeared some months ago, rusted to death. Not replaced.

At least the bench stayed half way to the bus stop. Why is it that in a city where so many bus stops are mid block, the one spot where a mid block stop might be appreciated since I suspect grocery shoppers are the main users here, and there actually is a mid-block store entrance that still works, we find a corner bus stop, as far away from the store and its doors as possible. For your enjoyment when it rains, or is minus 40 [if it isn’t minus 40 yet, when until climate change ramps up…], or its a typical hot and humid late September day.

Elderly readers might recall that when Loblaws proposed a store here, they were not allowed to build a typical big blank box at the far end of a parking lot. Instead, it faces the lively pedestrian main street, it had doors offering direct access to the eating and coffee shop (now removed), a florist shop (now removed), a wine shop (but now there is a wine dept inside the grocery aisles…),  a photo processing place, each with its own sidewalk door. And outdoor tables in front of the cafe,  under a sheltering glass roof (mostly abandoned).

The Potemkin row of shops along a traditional main street has now been officially turned into a blank wall.

Mind, it is not all bad news. The parking lot is being rearranged, apartments are being built along the Byron park strip, and a better pedestrian plan is being put in place so folks living to the south of the store will have better access.

And look ! nifty new bike racks out front, although the only spot my bike will fit is either of the end positions, not any of the mid-rack or between rack positions.

There is still one lightly used outdoor space on the west side of the store with a glass roof. It used for dead grocery carts and sometimes out of season merchandise. It’s a shame Galen Weston didn’t turn it into a welcoming sheltered bike and stroller parking zone. Maybe even with a working door into the store.

Is it going to far to call the new Real Canadian Superstore a real drag on Richmond Road? (Except for car shoppers, of course, they are well catered for).

12 thoughts on “Real Canadian Big Box Blights Richmond Road

  1. I hate when stores blank out their interiors. The Rideau Centre has gone the opposite direction with more store windows featuring merchandise, another set of doors on Rideau Street and a corner restaurant in the old Olgilvy’s building. Much more engaging in from the street.

  2. Each time I go to that giant store near me I remember that several small entrances were to be built along Richmond road and the appeal if that is the right word even, was in the appearance of smaller shops. I contrast that with what they did build and wonder at our naivety. So now we shrug at the growing blanks there since it’s nasty but what can you do?

  3. I think the days of these large box stores and shopping malls are numbered with the future roll out and acceptance of online shopping ( eg Amazon Whole Foods). All you have to look at the the number of empty stores in Carlingwood SC and the empty retail space in Lincoln Fields SC to see what the future direction is.
    Future shoppers will either shop online for bulk items or go to attractive personable shopping areas( ie small shops or markets with local owners) for a more pleasant shopping experience.

    The next challenge will be what to do with all the excess vacant retail space. Affordable housing anyone.

    1. I fear Don is correct. The Loblaw’s web site appears to be making a big push for online purchasing. I presume this will be coupled with delivery services and/or some form of drive in pick-up.

      The “store” itself then becomes a central warehouse. The recent re-model of the interior certainly contributes to that feel.

      I suspect changing demographics will contribute to increased on-line purchasing. Young people will like it as they can order from work then arrive home to collect the makings of their meal and avoid the cost of car owner-ship. Senior citizens will also likely prefer on-line as it saves having to lug food to and from the car and permits getting rid of the car altogether.

      Note that Farm Boy has opened a location just north of the SuperStore. Better quality, slightly higher prices but a more human-centric environment with less of that “walk for miles in my warehouse in search of that bottle of Tabasco” feeling.

      1. RE: Farmboy- “slightly higher prices” is unfortunately the deal breaker. On an ODSP budget price is the important part of grocery shopping.

  4. I think they shouldn’t be allowed to do this on a main street. Is it that the city can’t make the street presentation part of the site permit, or that they didn’t, or that they’re just not enforcing it?

    Either way, we should fix whatever is getting in the way of preventing these kinds of things where the building is approved based on how it integrates with its surroundings, only to circumvent that integration when convenient.

    1. I dont know if the site agreement permits this or not, or if the city is just not enforcing it. A note to the councillor Jeff Leiper might prod some action.

      I am saddened that the reno has turned this sidewalk side superstore from being open to being just another big bog store in anonymity. Inside, the local paintings/murals have all gone too. This store could be anywhere in any parking lot in any suburb now.

  5. Since the chaos of renovation began in this location-which was my favourite grocery store- I have found that Farm Boy( much smaller and decidedly fresher and more organized) has supplied most of my needs. Non-food items can be purchased at smaller hardware stores with a much more pleasant experience. Bye-bye Superstore!

    1. Hi Sylvia- Unfortunately I can’t say bye-bye to Superstore. The reason is that I have to shop for the lowest prices. Superstore has lower prices than Metro. Your Independant Grocer and even Loblaws. I can’t even think of shopping at the Sobey’s on Metcalfe St. The pharmacy at Superstore is a lot less expensive for non prescription items than Shopper’s Drug Mart. I would like to be able to shop where ever I want but I just can’t afford it. I also don’t own a car so Superstore’s delivery is affordable as well. I do however lament the new look- much less engaging from the street. I’m emailing Jeff Leiper- anyone else care to join me?

      1. I encourage you to try farmboy, Glen. You’d be pleasantly surprised at the prices of their fresh produce. Pre-packaged and meats are more expensive, but shopping at Farm Boy encourages more healthy eating by price 😛 For your pharmacy items, yes, I suppose superstore is the one.

  6. Those bike racks are terrible. More decoration than bike rack.
    I don’t use a bike anymore cause I can not park it anywhere.
    Try to park a bike at St. Laurent Mall. Same thing elsewhere.

  7. I recall one time a several years ago when they still had a café thing in the main projecting peaked roof section near the west end. It was nice outside and after I bought a drink I headed for the door leading to the patio… only to find it had been turned into an emergency exit. Naturally no one was on the patio. The café thing, with no immediate access to or from the outside, disappeared some time later.

    When the Superstore was first built, my take on it went something like this: on the outside, they got it about 90% right. On the inside, they got it about 90% wrong. The 10% that was wrong outside (like the lack of easy entrance to the café thing) was related to the 90% wrong on the inside. The floor height differential probably paid a role in it.

    Sadly, the 90% wrong on the inside has long since spread to the outside. I’ve half convinced myself that the floor height issue – they set it to be flush at the back of the store where the parking lot was, which was higher up the slope – has bit-by-bit been the cause of the decline of the exterior. The more recent LCBO has the same issue. But the condo beside the LCBO, which, if anything, was on an even steeper site than either of the Superstore or LCBO, has got its ground floor at Richmond Rd street level.

    I sometimes wonder what the Superstore would be like today if they had simply lowered the site to match the Richmond Rd sidewalk.

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