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(rshsdepot) Summerhill, Ontario

Summerhill's old station now elaborate booze temple

LCBO aims to keep its customers on track with innovations like the testing

By WALLACE IMMEN - The Globe and Mail
Wednesday, February 5, 2003 - Print Edition, Page A13

With its marble walls, inlaid floors and ornate ceilings, the Liquor Control
Board of Ontario's flagship store that opened yesterday in the renovated
Summerhill train station truly can be called the temple of booze.

The store on Yonge Street near Summerhill Avenue is by far the largest
liquor store in Canada, with 2,900 square metres of space displaying 5,000
brands in a number of customer-friendly rooms.

The room called Track 2 has party ideas and Track 3 has spirits, and staff
members know which wine likely will go with emu.

A store innovation is the "testing tower" at the base of the old station's
clock tower. It has 120 products that can be bought in one-ounce glasses.
"But obviously not all at the same time. We have a strong policy of social
responsibility," said store manager John Begley.

A panelled board room can be reserved for catered wine-and-cheese tastings,
and demonstrations on cooking with wine will be held in a kitchen.

Mr. Begley expects people to come from across the province to obtain
products unavailable at other stores. The station will be a tourist
attraction, he added.

The brass ticket wickets have been retained and the ornate trim and
skylights restored in the three-storey former great hall in the building
that in 1916 became the Canadian Pacific Railway's main station in Toronto.

The architectural firm Darling and Pearson built the exterior with rich
Tyndall limestone brought in from Manitoba, similar to the stone used on the
Parliament Buildings. The clock has been restored in the soaring Italian
Renaissance-style tower on the west end that is capped in copper.

Today will be doubly busy because in addition to the novelty of the store,
it is the first day of the February Vintages release. Only a few cases of
many selections are available, and for the sake of fairness, some product
purchases will be limited, Mr. Begley said.

The restoration's opulence amazes Mr. Begley, who could not help recalling
the shift in attitude since his first job 27 years ago, when the LCBO put
full emphasis on control.

"It was like an episode of Seinfeld," he said of his first store in Ajax,
Ont., which was typical of provincial liquor outlets in the mid-1970s.
"Remember the soup Nazi? If you didn't do it right, you didn't get your

Women were intimidated. They rarely came into the stores that were as
purposeful and sterile as military barracks, with only a list of brands and
their serial numbers on display, Mr. Begley said.

One of his jobs each day was to sharpen the pencils, firmly chained to
wooden counters, which customers used to fill order forms and total the

"You'd take it to a gentleman at a wicket. and it would be rung up on a
huge, archaic cash register that didn't go over $99. Then you got a receipt
and joined another queue."

A prestige job was to be the guy at the counter who took the receipt. That
was handed to Mr. Begley, who was a runner. He went into the dimly lit
storeroom and brought back the purchase, which was wrapped in a plain, brown
wrapper and handed to the customer with the surreptitiousness due a
controlled substance.

The choices of the day were generally reds with sugar ratings to the north
of raspberry soda. Ask about vintage or what wine goes with veal, and you
would get a puzzled stare.

"The revolution has been amazing," said Mr. Begley, who even today sports a
youthful crew cut and an unflappable smile.

By the early 1980s, stores had to expand because the whiskies and fortified
wines that were popular for decades went out of favour, and more people
wanted wines. Staff had to be sent to wine school to learn varieties and
about matching wines with food.

"Service knowledge is the new philosophy," Mr. Begley said. "We want people
to be comfortable, to be able to work with their dinner menu and make an
educated choice."

The Railroad Station Historical Society maintains a database of existing
railroad structures at: http://www.rrshs.org