In the days before the Internet, if you were looking for a new job, you checked the back pages of the Barrie Examiner and looked in the want ads in the classified section. If you wanted to be quick off the mark, you picked up a copy of that paper at Player's on Dunlop Street because this shop was first in town to get the Examiner every day. It was printed just around the corner at 16 Bayfield St. I am sure that I found more than one job that way myself.
I wonder how many passersby never knew that there was a little diner in the back half of the store, or how many others popped in for cigarettes or a greeting card and were surprised to find a row of stools and little tables, high-schoolers with their Coke and fries, and downtown shoppers taking a break for coffee and pie.
For the better part of a century, a smoke shop stood on this spot at 20 Dunlop St. E. Many remember it as the United Cigar Store with its unforgettable wooden Indian statue out front. I have often heard it mentioned but never saw it. I suppose the figure would almost be considered politically incorrect these days, but in the past it was a common symbol of a tobacconist just as the barber's red and white pole is a symbol of his trade.
By the 1970s, the name above the door was Player's. When I first remember it, the colour of the sign was teal blue, the same shade as the packaging of my brand of smokes (oh yes, I did), Player's Light cigarettes. Was the store named after the brand? I still wonder about that. I am pretty sure that those cigarettes were less than $2 back then.
One year ago, about this time, as word spread of Player's impending closure, long time Barrie residents took to social media to share their sadness and also their brilliant memories of the last cozy downtown coffee shop left over from Barrie's small town days.
“I remember the juke boxes at the tables. If the song skipped, it was my job to go down and hit the side of the big one in the basement - scary basement!” - Sandy O.
“I remember my mom taking me there between Grades 1 - 4 as a treat. The fries and gravy were the best. I loved being able to sit right at the counter. I felt like a big girl.” - Samantha L.
“The United Cigar Store... I would go with my dad in the early 50s for a grilled cheese .. great memories.” - Valerie M.
“Jean's pies were awesome!” - Mary-Ellen G.M.
It must have been like homecoming week in the final days of Player's Diner. Many nostalgia seekers, myself included, stopped in for one last bite, to reminisce and to say goodbye to Moe, the last owner, who was looking forward to retirement.
Promenade Days was in full swing outside as my husband and I popped into the quiet of the little diner. Our waitress, (and she really was a waitress in the traditional Mel's Diner sort of way), served us coffee as we scanned the old school, low tech menu above the open kitchen. Toasted western sandwiches. Homemade pie. Cheeseburgers. Liver and onions. (Sorry, but yuck!) Milk shakes. All the old favourites were there. I ordered a mushroom omelette with home fries and Ron got an egg salad sandwich with fries smothered in gravy. Our food was cooked on a flat top grill and an ordinary household type stove by Moe's wife, Ranjeet. One cook, one server, plastic blue checked table cloths, 7-Up menu board, a phone book and leatherette stools - we will never see the likes of this again in Downtown Barrie.