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REMEMBER THIS: Back to school, Bayfield St. style

In 1973, a state-of-the-art Sears store opened in the new Georgian Mall. Still owned at the time by Simpson-Sears Ltd., it was the first store in Canada to operate solely under the Sears name

Mornings are cooler and there is a crispness in the air. It won’t be long now. Very soon, big yellow buses will return to the streets and groups of excited little ones will be hopping along the sidewalks in new school clothes, toting a colourful backpack full of fresh supplies.

Back-to-school shopping. I remember it well. It was the biggest seasonal outlay of dollars next to Christmas and it had to be well planned. Clothing, shoes, backpacks and lunch bags, paper goods and assorted writing instruments and, in my case, times five.

Before that, my parents did the same. From our rural home, we travelled to Barrie where Bayfield Street was fast becoming the place to go for most shopping needs.

For us, the timing was perfect. We had arrived in the region the same year that the Towers and Food City discount shopping complex was opened at 450 Bayfield St.

Barrie had never seen anything like this before. Technically, this new shopping centre was not located in Barrie, but rather in Vespra Township. One newspaper ad referred to the location as Cundles, the former name of this area just north of Barrie.

On opening day in October 1967, the OPP had their hands full directing long lines of traffic on what was basically still highway just outside of town. Thousands showed up and those who couldn’t find a parking spot simply parked across the road next to the future site of the Georgian Mall.

Four years later, Sayvette started its short but exciting run at what is now the location of the Planet Fitness gym. After the demise of Sayvette, Arch Brown brought his Canadian Tire store to this location.

Sayvette was a Canadian department store chain of the more affordable variety akin to Zellers and Woolworth’s. Launched in 1961, opened in Barrie during a large company expansion a decade later, it closed with the rest of the chain in 1976.

It was a multi-storey shop, which was quite the sensation for Barrie. Sayvette may have been the location of the first escalator in town. It was the first in my recollection anyway.

In 1973, a state-of-the-art Sears store opened in the new Georgian Mall. Still owned at the time by Simpson-Sears Ltd., it was the first store in Canada to operate solely under the Sears name.

Sears boasted computerized cash terminals, another first for Barrie. Sears, known for its higher-end quality goods, wasn’t Sayvette’s direct competitor, but Towers, across the street from Sears, certainly was.

It was to these halls of commerce that families headed for their back-to-school must-haves. Did you get some knee-high socks, Buster Brown shoes and a polyester dress? Maybe it was a stack or plaid shirts, some corduroy pants and a pair of desert boots.

Once greatly coveted by the back-to-schooler was the double pack of Laurentian coloured pencil crayons, as was the deluxe Crayola box containing 64 crayons. All of this plus a small ruler, an eraser and some new pencils tucked into a shiny new Snoopy pencil case, and you had it made!

A good shopping expedition might include a new lunch box. That battered plaid metal lunchbox that you kicked down the school steps last year could be replaced with a plastic one with The Six Million Dollar Man on the front.

These stores have come and gone. Fifty-five years of fashions and fads met the same fate, but Bayfield Street continues to attract parents and kids by the thousands each August.

Each week, the Barrie Historical Archive provides BarrieToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past. This unique column features photos and stories from years gone by and is sure to appeal to the historian in each of us.

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Mary Harris

About the Author: Mary Harris

Mary Harris is the Director of History and Research at the Barrie Historical Archive. The Barrie Historical Archive is a free, online archive that centralizes Barrie's historical content.
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