Knob Hill Farms
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|Greater Toronto Area|
Community grocery stores
Stavro's father operated Louis Meat Market in Toronto from the 1930s to the 1950s. By 1954, Stavro had gone off on his own, managing outdoor markets and grocery stores under the Knob Hill Farms name. By the late 1950s, he was operating at nine sites in Toronto.
In 1963, Stavro changed direction and opened his first "food terminal"—a forerunner of the big-box store with 65,000 square feet (6,000 square-metres) of space just north of Toronto at Woodbine Avenue and Highway 7 in Markham.
In 1971, Knob Hill Farms expanded into Pickering with its second terminal. A third location — the first within Toronto, at Lansdowne Avenue and Dundas Street West on the site previously occupied by a National Cash Register (NCR) plant — followed in 1975. A second Toronto terminal opened in 1977 at Cherry Street and the Gardiner Expressway. The fifth store, billed as the largest food store in North America, opened in 1978 at Dixie Road and the Queen Elizabeth Way in Mississauga. This was the first store in the chain to sell some non-food products and was initially two storeys tall. The second storey was later closed to customers and used for storage. A restaurant, drug store, and wine shop all rented space within the building.
In 1981, the opened a location in Oshawa, Ontario in the structure of the Ontario Malleable Iron Company Limited's factory. The building had been used as an iron foundry since 1898, although the company had operated at that site since 1872. The 226,000 square foot (21,000 square-metre) store opened in June 1983. It had spurs for both Canadian Pacific and Canadian National Railway lines running right to the store. A pharmacy, bakery (RH Bakery—the RH stood for Richmond Hill), dentist's office, video rental store, as well as a wine store (Wine Rack), and a card shop were among the other businesses initially located within the terminal.
The Ontario Municipal Board and the Ontario government approved a 12-acre (49,000 m2) site in 1982 for the seventh Knob Hill Farms terminal, this one at Weston Road and Highway 401 in the Weston community of Toronto. The 325,000 square foot (7.45 acres, or 30,200 square-metre) store opened in the fall of 1985.
The company proposed to convert an abandoned Canadian General Electric plant in Scarborough, Ontario into a store, but Scarborough City Council voted against the project in 1985 and that decision was upheld by the Ontario Municipal Board in 1987.
In 1988, the Ontario Labor Relations Board found that Knob Hill Farms had acted improperly two years earlier when it fired 14 employees who were trying to organize workers in Oshawa under the United Food and Commercial Workers union. The Oshawa store became the first in the Knob Hill Farms chain to be unionized.
The same year, construction began on a terminal in Cambridge, Ontario, the first outside the Greater Toronto Area. Construction was delayed repeatedly, resulting in penalties of about $2.4 million paid to the City of Cambridge. The 31,500 square-metre store finally opened in August 1991. The store began laying off workers less than two months after it opened. In 1999, the company proposed redeveloping the site into a convention centre.
The 10,000 square-metre, two-storey Riverdale food terminal at Carlaw Avenue and Gerrard Street in Toronto opened in 1992 and was the company's ninth location. A wholesale warehouse opened in Scarborough the following year.
In the 90's Knob Hill Farms was easily recognized in local newspapers with their one or two page ads printed in black and blue. Advertised on the air they used the jingle "You know you get good value when you shop, at Knob Hill Farms."
The store in Weston was considered the largest supermarket in the Greater Toronto Area for 15 years. The site was an industrial building dating back to the 1930s which was used for the construction and assembly of airplanes (de Havilland Mosquito) by Massey Harris during World War II. Features around the supermarket included a man-made waterfall with three structures to the northwest side which stopped running after its closing. This was featured at the end of its commercials. The area was about 250 to 300m (800 to 1,000 ft) from south to north and about 50 m (150 ft) from west to east, with an extra 50 m to the northern part featuring parking lots and another 50 m with shipping sectors.
The south side featured several shops, rides and a photo shop near the west exit. A mural by artist John Richmond and a team of assistants depicted a history of food, from Prometheus stealing fire for cooking to Canadian astronaut Marc Garneau eating in space. Another mural facing the south side featuring Southern Ontario from downtown Toronto, with a street written as "Baloor" instead of Bloor Street and the Don Valley Parkway, the western suburbs, the Hamilton Mountain, Niagara Falls and near Fort Erie. The supermarket also featured two doorways in the east and the west sides. The walkway featured streetlights that looked liked a promenade or a walkway.
In August 2000, Stavro announced that all stores would close. At the time, the company had about 800 employees at 10 locations. Knob Hill Farms had lost market share to new competitors, including Costco and large Loblaws stores, and had racked up significant debts. The final store — the Weston site — closed in February 2001.
The Markham site was sold for $11.5 million to Michael-Angelo's Market Place Inc. Loblaw Companies paid $34.2 million for three properties (Lansdowne & Dundas, Mississauga, and Carlaw & Gerrard). It subsequently purchased the Weston site, redeveloped as a Real Canadian Superstore, which opened in 2006. The Cambridge site is now occupied by Home Depot and Canadian Tire. The site in Scarborough became a Wal-Mart Supercentre. The Pickering store is now occupied by DOT Patio and T-Phat Supermarket. The Cherry Street site became a T & T Supermarket in 2007. The Knob Hill Farms building, at 500 Howard Street in Oshawa, became a discount/liquidation outlet and a flea market for a brief period of time before finally closing its doors and sealing off the property. In July 2014 the Oshawa location was expropriated for the new GO Station.
Knob Hills Farms Ltd., still exists with an office at 1598 Queen St E. in Toronto, with an active phone number: (416) 751-2300. Their existence however, is strictly as a holding company that owns several of the properties their retail stores were once situated on.