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Reproduced with permission from The Beacon Supplement August 2, 1995

EATON’S

Best sales per square foot

By Jennifer Peddle

The Eaton’s department store in Gander always had the best sales per square foot in the Canadian company while it operated, said Doug Sheppard, the former assistant manager and manager of the store.

Transport Canada officials invited Eaton’s to come to Gander and open a small store during the time of Confederation in 1949 because there were very few stores in the airport town and so many people were ordering from their catalogue, he said.

Sheppard said the first building made available for the store was behind the railway station.  It opened in September and Sheppard worked as assistant manager while Arthur G. Walker managed the store

eatons

Gander was a busy place in the early 1950s because it was a major stopover for commercial flights.  Many passengers like to check out the small shopping district while waiting for their planes to refuel.  Sheppard said it was typical to see famous movie stars and musicians in the store.

He recalls a day when he passed a man in a trench coat waiting at the airport for the bus downtown.  The bus was not coming for another hour so he offered the stranger a ride down to the shopping district, and then left for lunch.

“When I came back, some of the staff said ‘Did you see Frank Sinatra?’ and I said, no, I didn’t see him.”  He said, “they said ‘he’s over there in the children’s wear.’  He was buying a tartan skirt for Nancy.  She was only 7.”

He also remembers a time in 1967 when Mrs. Gvitsiani, daughter of Premier Kosgin of Russia, visited Eaton’s in Gander for half an hour before she left.  She had planned to do her shopping in Paris but stopped to shop in Gander instead.

Russian and RCMP patrolled the store and made sure no other customers entered while she shopped.  A letter from Eaton’s of Canada archives states she purchased two pairs of Hushpuppies, four pairs of expensive dress shoes, $60 worth of dress fabric and a quantity of cosmetics and toiletries.

Sheppard said the store supplied all the latest fashions, footwear and cosmetics. Fur coats were especially popular in the early days but the store didn’t stock many furs.  Sheppard would request that the Eaton’s offices in Toronto send down a good variety of furs, $5,000 minks and a professional furrier a couple of times a year.

“We had it for about a week,’ he said, “then we’d send a personal letter to every woman in the placed based on the telephone book.  We’d send an invitation to come look at the furs.  In a week, we would sell about 50 fur coats.

Much of the merchandise that Eaton’s of Canada sent to their small department store in Gander would sell for low prices.  Sheppard said they would sell men’s dress suits two for $100. and watches for half price.  He said they would even receive about 600 engagement rings for a good selection.  “A lot of the single guys would buy them for their girlfriends,” he said.

Eaton’s moved into the new town site in June, 1957.  It was located in the Elizabeth Drive Shopping Centre close to Toytman’s and Gander Drugs.  Sheppard said they put an Eaton’s of Canada sign on the roof of their store so passengers in flight could see it from the sky and maybe do business with them once they landed.

Walker retired in 1963 and Sheppard became the manager of the department store until 1968.  He said the position of manager required him to transfer a lot and he didn’t feel like moving out of Gander.

“You get into the rat race in Toronto or London, Ontario or any of those bigger places,” he said, “you’d be getting up at 6 a.m. versus taking five minutes to get to work.

Sheppard said the Gander Eaton’s branch closed down in the early 1980’s because the company sold all their stores under 100,000 square feet in size but he said even though the branch was small it was still a popular place to shop.

 

Researched by Carol Walsh

 

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