Skip to content

Column: Before dollar stores, Walmart and online shopping, Sudbury had SS Kresge’s

Former Sudburian Bruce Bell is back with more memories. This time, he delves into one of yesteryear’s great department stores

Before dollar stores, Walmart and online shopping there was S. S. Kresge (named for Sebastian Spering Kresge) a one-stop heavenly shopping emporium on the north side of Elm Street between Durham and Elgin (now 66 Elm Street).

It was my favourite store growing up in the 1960s in Sudbury.

You would enter Kresge's through wooden revolving doors on Elm Street (west entrance) and the first thing would be the cigarette counter, then the record department where I bought all my Beatles records.

Then, as you made your way to the back, you would pass through the greeting card section and then into the Richmond Room, a great cafeteria that served roast beef daily.

The Richmond Room (named for the Richmond Room at Toronto's Kresge's store on Richmond Street) was a pretty high-end establishment for a Kresge store.

The restaurant had red leatherette banquette seating around the edge and tables and chairs in the middle, and was a great place to meet after school, or as a respite from shopping on a busy Saturday.

Continuing on through the restaurant was the women's fashions and the downstairs restrooms. There was also a small customer service desk under the escalator that had a pneumatic vacuum tube relay system where office workers would put documents into a tube and whisk it upstairs to the main office.

As a child I was completely fascinated with this new-fangled gadget that pre-dated fax machines and email attachments.

In the centre of the store was the main staircase flanked by up and down escalators.

The story goes that Kresge's had the first escalator in Sudbury when it first opened in the mid-1930s.

When the store expanded after the Second World War, the escalators were updated and it was those new escalators I remember as having pale green siding.

The staircase and escalators in the centre of the store gave the space a grand look and what a better place to stage Kresge's secret weapon.

At the bottom of the staircase stood the formidable head floor walker, Mrs. (Doreen) Moore, gazing out at her employees and keeping an eye out for unruly customers, usually teenagers like me.

While her stern face is ingrained in my memory forever, I have since heard from former employees who absolutely loved her, and said she was a wonderful person with a great sense of humour.   

However stern her look, Mrs. Moore kept that store running in tip-top shape.

In the middle of the downstairs was the candy department, a vast area that took up two aisles.

Most of the candy was loose, wrapped up and measured out.

I remember at Easter when Kresge’s would have enormous life-size chocolate bunny rabbits all throughout the store.

At the front of the building you could find men's wallets and watches, and beyond that, at the very front of the store, was the famous Kresge's lunch counter with red leatherette swivel bar chairs.

Above the lunch counter was a vast mural of the INCO slag pour that ran the whole length of the north end of the store.

That epic mural defined the place, making no doubt that you were in Kresge's Sudbury store. 

Upstairs was the shoe and toy departments, pet store and household goods, and the very elegant women's lounge and restroom.

Kresge's always seemed busy, especially on a Tuesday night when INCO paid its employees, so the store stayed open late till 9 p.m.

This is how I remember Sudbury's fabulous S. S. Kresge store and how lucky some of us are to have known this great part of the Nickel City’s heritage.

Bruce Bell is a former Sudburian, now living in Toronto. He shared his memories of Christmas in downtown Sudbury back in the 1960s and 1970s back in December 2020. You can read that story here.