Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Stores of Yesteryear - Owen Sound style

I remember the corner grocery stores, not the chain convenience stores that we now have. When I was doing some research for a client, I counted up the number of corner grocery stores that were listed in one city directory. There were 75. Now in a city of less than 15,000 people (now 21,000) that was a lot. My dad had one from 1946 to 1958. We had a meat department in ours. Less than two blocks away there was another one. I will do full articles at a later date on our stores with photographs from the family album.

In Owen Sound, there was McKay Brothers when I grew up. That is where you went to buy material to make clothes, purchase blinds, fine ladies lingerie and much more. What was special about McKay's was the money monorail. The staff served you at tables or counters. They filled in the duplicate sales slip. You gave them your cash (no credit cards in those days. - I can't remember paying with a credit card there but perhaps in the latter years.) The cash and the slip were put into a small metal box and then attached to the monorail system. The box, then would magically it seemed, travel upstairs where someone was waiting to make change. Change was made and the cashier sent the box back to the clerk and the waiting customer. How did it know where to go? It was so much fun shopping there -- not just for the purchases but to watch the money monorail in action.

According to the city heritage register, the Ryan brothers originally opened the business in this location in 1905. The money monorail was originally powered by water power until electricity was added to the building. The Ryans left town and the McKay Brothers purchased the building in 1924. It remained in the McKay family until the business closed in 1989. Since then other businesses have operated out of this grand building. It is currently a interior design store -- Interiors, etc. -- with furniture, accessories and giftware. It is great to be able to still visit this beautiful building.


  1. JANET, Your post has reminded me of almost all of the "larger" store of the 1940s having either a monorail, cablecar, or pneumatic tube arrangement for the sales clerk to place your payment. It was sent away (usually up to an office overlooking the sales floor). There a cashier verified the sales slip, made the transaction, counted change, etc, while the customer waited below for the receipt. I guess no one trusted sales clerks with the cash registrar back then! LOL! Thanks for history lesson.

    Terry Thornton
    Fulton, MS

  2. I didn't know how common these monorail systems were. Thanks for the information.


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