Toronto's Earliest Elevators | The Eatons Centre

In 1869, Timothy Eaton sold his interest in a small dry-goods store in the market town of St. Marys, Ontario, and he bought a dry-goods and haberdashery business at 178 Yonge Street in the city of Toronto.

The first store was only 24 by 60 feet (7.3 m × 18.3 m), with two shop windows, and was located a fair distance from Toronto's then fashionable shopping district of King Street West. In its first year of operation, with Timothy Eaton responsible for buying the goods to stock the store, and a staff of four, expectations were low that a store with a no-credit and no-haggling policy would succeed.

The business prospered, and Eaton moved the store one block north in August 1883 into much larger premises at 190 Yonge Street. The new store boasted the biggest plate-glass windows in Toronto, the first electric lights in any Canadian store, three full floors of retail space featuring 35 departments, and a lightwell that ran the full-length of the store. The store's first telephone, with phone number 370, was installed in 1885. In 1886, the first elevator in a retail establishment in Toronto was installed in the Eaton store (although only customers going up were invited to use the elevator, thus requiring them to pass by the various store displays on their walk down).

Eaton maintained the lease on the empty store at 178 Yonge Street until its expiry in 1884 in order to delay the expansion plans of one of his competitors, Robert Simpson. Over time, the competition between the Simpson's and Eaton's department stores, facing each other across Queen Street West, became one of Toronto's great business rivalries. The pedestrian crosswalk on Queen Street West, just to the west of the intersection with Yonge Street, was for years one of the busiest in Canada, as thousands of shoppers a day comparison-shopped between Eaton's and Simpson's.

By 1896, Eaton's was billing itself as "Canada’s Greatest Store". The store continued to expand in size, and new buildings were constructed to house the mail order division and the Eaton's factories. The number of people employed in Eaton's operations numbered 17,500 in 1911. In 1919, the Eaton's buildings in Toronto contained a floor space of over 60 acres (240,000 m2), and occupied several city blocks between Yonge Street and Bay Street, north of Queen Street West.

Joshua Nelson