Today, many people take shopping for granted, whether it’s from a brick-and-mortar store or online. But as the north was being developed in the early 1900s, retailers were among the pioneers who lead the charge to build the region into a thriving community.
In Timmins, the old Bucovetsky’s building on the corner of Pine Street and Third Avenue is a reminder of that past. Early settlers came to rely on S.I. and Sam Bucovetsky and their company, Bucovetsky Bros., for much-needed goods.
Sam Bucovetsky was born in Lutsk, Poland, in 1884. In 1903, he went to London, England, and arrived in Canada a year later. He opened his first store in 1904 in Cobalt. Buckovetsky Bros. built a chain of stores in northeastern Ontario and northwestern Quebec and was a trusted and beloved retailer.
As the north was being built underground by mining and on the surface by forestry, the brothers followed the pioneers — and the money — to create a retail empire.
The main store was in Timmins with branches in Schumacher, South Porcupine, Kapuskasing, Cobalt, Cochrane, Rouyn and Noranda. The first store in Timmins was open before the community became a city.
S.I. and Samuel were the Bucovetsky Bros., until the former’s retirement in 1917. Sam Bucovetsky then became the sole proprietor.
Sam Bucovetsky was an active member of the community. In addition to supporting local projects, he was a member of the Kiwanis, Shriners and Timmins Board of Trade.
Bucovetsky built a new flagship store in Timmins at Pine and Third in 1934. After it was destroyed by fire, Bucovetsky’s was rebuilt and opened to the public in October 1938.
Great steps were taken to make sure a fiery fate would not befall the store again. The elimination of fire hazards was a key part of the design. Stairways were made entirely of steel and concrete, with the building protected by an elaborate sprinkler system.
The Porcupine Advance described the building as “ultra-modern in character.” The store was departmentalized. The basement had lower-priced bargains, while the second floor featured the latest styles in women’s fashions, bedding, linen, drapes and curtains. The main floor featured departments for men and women and shoes for both, plus children’s and baby’s departments. Washrooms and fitting rooms were on every floor.
At the peak of the business, more than 1,000 people were employed at Bucovetsky’s stores, which were known for carrying goods for the “working man.”
In 2006, the name of the store was changed to Tweed and Hickory, to create more recognizable national branding. The store closed its doors in 2014.
One of the major draws of shopping at the store was simple, quality clothing that was made to last.
“With all the online buying today, there are a lot of people looking for cheaper goods. They're not looking for the same quality as they used to,” Gerry Desrocher, store manager, told Northern Ontario Business in 2014. “Mind you, we have many devoted customers who still want quality items.
“The economy has changed, too. A lot of people are shopping online. People that are shopping online aren’t supporting local businesses. We believed in supporting a lot of local organizations, which we did over the years, but it came to a point where the cost of operations is pretty high on a building of this size, and it was time for the company to move on.”
The iconic storefront is about to get some new life. Things Engraved and Bloomex have bought the building.
The company plans to create a "multi-retail shopping experience influenced by the European market concept," according to a news release from the City of Timmins and Downtown Timmins Business Improvement Association.
Home decor, personalized apparel, a wedding boutique, floral, and garden centre are some of the departments noted.
"Plans are being finalized to commence renovations in late 2021 and are expected to take a year. The goal is to bring the historic building back to its former glory. It is expected that approximately 20 people will be hired to ensure the successful operation of this new business," the news release stated.
Things Engraved and Bloomex chief operating officer Mona Beckman said in a news release they are excited to expand to Timmins.
With the pending return of retail into the Bucovetsky’s building, Timmins will regain a piece of living history to remind it of the pioneer spirit that originally helped develop the North.