Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Remember Ontario Dept. Store?

Portion of 1963 newspaper ad

During the last few months, I've received several emails from readers suggesting that I do a blog entry on the old Ontario department store. Well, I can't ignore a coincidence like that - so here goes!

I'm sure most Lorain Baby Boomers remember this store. It was located at the intersection of Elyria Avenue and North Ridge Road.

September 1962 ad from Lorain Journal

Researching the store and finding out when it opened has proved rather difficult. Since the store really wasn't in Lorain, it was not to be found in the Lorain phone book listings. Like the Dog 'n Suds nearby (which I've seen described variously as being in Sheffield Township, Elyria Township, Lorain, and Elyria), Ontario was kind of in a no-man's land. The best way to describe its location was just past O' Neil's on the way to Midway Mall.

Ontario was one of several department stores back then that my mother might take my siblings and I to on a Saturday afternoon. Another store would be Hills out in South Lorain. (Sorry, but since a trip to Hills might be capped off with a frozen Coke, I am much more sentimental about that store than Ontario!)

Each of these stores had a different personality, based on their line of goods, their location and clientele. For instance, my mother bought a lot of clothes for us at Hills, but never Ontario. In our house at least, Ontario was more for hardware and sporting goods.

Although Ontario didn't show up in the Lorain City Directory until 1968, I know for certain that it was in existence as early as 1962. Here's a full page ad from the Lorain Journal from March 2, 1962. (Give it a click so you can peruse all the great deals!)


Here's what the company logo looked like by 1969.


Note that under the logo it says 'a division of Cook United'. According to this entry on the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History website, Cook United also owned the Uncle Bill's Discount Department Store chain.

Here's an Uncle Bill's commercial that also has Ontario branding at the end.



Strangely enough, I interviewed at Cook United back in the early 1980's. If they had hired me, I might have worked on some Ontario advertisements and got real used to those squiggly-line borders!

Anyway, I dug through the city directories and noticed that Ontario was no longer listed beginning in 1982. If I ever come up with some concrete dates for the store's grand opening and ultimate closing, I'll post them here.

Today, the old Ontario store complex is home to Lorain County Department of Job and Family Services (shown below). It was a great use of the old building, and one of the projects that former Lorain County Commissioner Betty Blair rightfully considered one of her proudest accomplishments that she voted for while a member of the board.


Ontario seems to have been quickly forgotten. I don't think I've ever seen a newspaper article about the conversion of the store complex to the Lorain County Department of Job and Family Services that ever mentions the former tenant of the building by name.

At least the store lives on in our memories. Raleigh, one of the readers of this blog remembers:

"I remember my brother and I used to get our allowance on Fridays, and once we entered the doors of Ontario's, we would make a bee-line to the model car rack.  If you can believe it, that was back in the day when the boxes were sealed with two small pieces of scotch tape on either side of the box... and the paint rack.... people had "tested" the color in the can by redecorating the rack with the prospective color."

Thanks for the story suggestion, the help with the Uncle Bill's research and the personal recollection, Raleigh! And if anyone has a specific memory of shopping at Ontario, be sure to post it here in the comments section! Since there is almost nothing at all on the internet about Ontario, this blog post may be all the attention that this fondly remembered store ever gets!

33 comments:

ge13031 said...

There was a big stink in the paper for a few days about the architectural "nonsense", ie; the big ball and other details. The commissioners were berated for the location which just happened to have the room and the parking, typical naysayers etc etc etc. Haven't heard anything since.

Drew Penfield said...

If I remember correctly the name was changed to Cook's department store. I remember going there a few times with my parents in the 80's. I remember their 'going out of business' sale when the shelves were half empty and they were even selling the shelves and fixtures. Couldn't give you any exact dates though, maybe around 1986.

Dorene from Ohio said...

I remember the Ontario store in Sandusky very well!

-Alan D Hopewell said...

My mother shopped at Ontario regularly when we were kids, and I used to go there myself...the prices were good, although as you said, Hill's was more fun if you were a kid.

Anonymous said...

Cook United history from the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History site:

http://ech.cwru.edu/ech-cgi/article.pl?id=CUI

Also, I remember part of that plaza being Pick'n'Pay, then Edward's Food Warehouse, before the new Finast store was built at Sheffield Center. Not sure what year that was, but Finast was there in the mid 80's - I remember it being there in the days when I worked the International Festival for Lorain Catholic (84-88).

Bill

Anonymous said...

I lived by May Company in the townhouses. I would walk to Ontario's as a teen, the 80's. I took my senior picture in 1985/1986 with the travelling group that superimposes your picture on a brandy glass. I believe it was called Rink's then. I also bought my favorite tshirt there- John Lennon, Strawberry Fields Forever, 1940-1980 on the day he died, one day before my 13th birthday. My mom iron-on transferred strawberries that we just so happened to have been saving for some reason. This was the shirt for it. I think it was closed about 1988, because my sister got her senior pics there (1987) just before they closed.

lsrx101 said...

That plaza is located in Elyria Township (South of North Ridge/Rt 254, east of the B&O railroad tracks.), known by the USPS as "Elyria 7" back when.

My Mother worked at the Pick-N-Pay store there until 1972 when my sister was born.
The Ontario store was an anchor even after the grocery store became Edwards in the late 70s. Edwards closed in the mid 80s and Ontario followed soon after. The complex sat idle for a while until the County moved in in the late 80s or early 90s.

I don't recall a name change to Cooks toward the end, but the Ontario store was part of a parent group of 3 stores with similar logos. Ontario, Cooks and one that I can't remember. (Cook United Stores was the parent company).
There were Cooks stores in Cleveland until the early 90s.

Anonymous said...

Cook United bought several chains over the years including Cooks, Clarks, Uncle Bill's (Cleveland), Consolidated Sales Co. (Louisville) and Ontario (Columbus-Cincinnati-Dayton-Louisville). Cook United purchased Rink's from Gray Drug Stores in the late 1970's and converted most of the Ontario stores to Rinks.

Anonymous said...

I think Ontario was originally headquartered in Cincinnati. Cook United operated Whitehall's Discount City stores in Columbus and Ontario also operated a store. Cooks operated three stores as Ontario in Columbus and one store in Whitehall continued to be called Whitehall's until 1973 when the store was moved to the Eastland Mall area.

david pavlak said...

In the early 1970's, I was sent there by my neighbor to pick up some interior latex house paint because it was the cheapest at $3 a gallon and she wanted me to paint her living room and kitchen. OMG, it was the worst paint I ever used. heh.

Anonymous said...

I worked for them as a store manager in Columbus.
A lot of wonderful people were put out of work due to terrible decisions made by upper management.

Anonymous said...

Yes ,I started working at Whitehall Discount in 1962, was there when they went to the new store on Hamilton Road at least 10 years later and started going by Ontario's Foods. then two or three years later I was laid off for good due to another co. buying out , I think Fazio's. And we were union and had gotten a good raise.

Anonymous said...

I remember Whitehall Discount used to put all those tents up in the summer time out back of the store. They were so far from the store, they were closer to the houses on Ludington Drive. Surprised no one stole them. Different times in the 60's.

Anonymous said...

I worked at the Ontario store starting in October of 1968 as a full time clerk in Dayton, Ohio. I joined the management team in 1972 and worked several stores in Dayton, Kettering, Troy, Springfield, Bellefontaine and Xenia. It was a wonderful place to work with so many great people and many fond memories. My store closed in April of 1984.

Anonymous said...

Did the store in North College Hill, Ohio replace a Rinks store or was it ever a Rinks?

Kat said...

Trying to figure out were Ontarios was located in Springfield Ohio any clues? I know I went there as a child.

Dan Brady said...

Kat, according to this website (below)

http://www.topix.com/forum/city/springfield-oh/T4D2SLM20AC9SQ57O

it was on Sunset.

Howard said...

I was in store management (Assistand Store Manager - hardlines side; not groceries) from 1971 to 1973 at a couple of Ontario Stores in Columbus, Ohio... Alum Creek Drive and Hudson Street. The District Manager at the time was Ron Nebinger. His brother, Gary Nebinger, was the Regional Manager. My mom was Head Cashier at the Ontario Store in Cincinnati on Glenway Avenue (Western Hills) for many years; she later became the District Manager's secretary for the Cincinnati/Dayton District, until all of the stores (which were called "Rinks" at that time) closed, I believe, in 1986. Her name was Alice. My name is Howard. Often times, my mom traveled around the country (Savanah, Baltimore, Gary (Indiana), St. Louis, etc., etc., to help with Grand Openings. After I left Ontario in 1973, I became the Distribution Center Manager at Gold Circle (in Columbus, Ohio). Gold Circle was owned by Federated Department Stores (now Macey's), headquartered in Cincinnati. THE ORIGINAL ONTARIO STORE was on the Alum Creek Drive (in Columbus), and started by a Jewish gentleman named "Fred Silverstein", who purchased a trailer load of Sherwin-Williams paint, and sold it at a discounted price. Ontario was one of the first true discount stores in the country. The rest is history! For the most part, I enjoyed working for Ontario, which was a division of Cook United, Inc. located in Cleveland, Ohio. At some point in time, Cook United owned in excess of 100 stores. It could have (and should have) become what Wal*Mart is today. Cook United didn't keep up with its competition. Such a shame!

Anonymous said...

My dad was the store manager for the Ontario in Springfield in the late 60's until his death in 1971. I was pretty young then but what I remember most was that they used to have live advertisements in the store. My brother was actually Mr. Peanut (planters peanuts) and my sister dressed up as the Little Dutch Boy for Dutch Boy Paints and they would have to stand at the displays for those products in the store.

Anonymous said...

Every other Friday was payday for my Mom and Dad and we would load up and go to Ontarios on West Broad St.in Columbus Ohio. Dad worked midnights and they were open late. 9:00 PM was late back then.We would shop come home put things up and Dad would get ready and go to work.What I remember most is they had a Bakery Department that made there own bread and baked goods. They also had a bread slicing machine for the public to use. We would stand in line and wait our turn to slice the bread that Mom was buying. Of course I got to turn the slicer on. The building is still there but several stores have used it but they dont stick around long. I still live in Columbus and still live on the West side and we are hoping with the new Casino the building will once again come back to life.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in the Amherst/Lorain/Vermilion area in the 60's/70's. I remember May co., S.S.Kresge, Zayre's, Hills, Ontario, Gold Circle, O'Neils, Clarkins, Woolworth, Gaylord's/Giant Tiger, Fisher's Big Wheel, and I'm sure more. Hard to believe they have all coma and gone.

Anonymous said...

My dad founded the original Ontario store and then expanded with more locations throughout Ohio in the 1950's. He was based in Cincinnati and owned the chain until he sold them to Cook's in the late 60's. His idea was to have the cheapest products possible, but he didn't believe you had to also give great customer service, which is what Walmart got right. He had a great idea, it just wasn't implemented as well as it could have been (If only, I could have been as rich as a Walton!) However, he did successfully challenge Ohio's blue laws so that his stores could be open on Sunday's - no stores in Ohio were open 7 days a week before then. I don't know much else about the stores, my dad sold them many years before I was born so it's interesting to read something about them here.

Larry Waters said...

The Ontario store in North College Hill (suburb of Cincinnati) was not a Rinks Bargain City. Rinks was on Hamilton Ave. about 2 miles north of Galbraith Rd.

Scott Heiser said...

I was thinking of my Dad Bob Heiser and decided to Google Ontario’s and found this page very interesting. My Dad was an assistant manager at Ontario and after it was sold went with the owner to some stores he opened in Montana don’t think that worked out. I remember the Ron and Gary Nebingers names. I pretty sure I met them when I was a little kid. I believe my Dad played football in collage with one of them. I think one or maybe both of them ended up with Wall Mart as did my father.

Howard said...

Ron Nebinger and Gary Nebinger were brothers. Ron hired me as a "Manager Trainee" (in 1971) when he was District Manager over the Ontario stores in Columbus and Wheeling(WVA), and the Clark's store in Portsmouth(OH). I was interviewed by Gary Nebinger when he was "Regional Manager" (later to become Senior Vice President) for Cook United, Inc. (the parent company of Ontario, Cooks, Clarks, Consolidated, and Uncle Bills).

Deb McCrary said...

I worked for Ontario Dept Stores in Toledo Oh in the early 70,s, they later close and became Rinks, was a nice store to work for, many good memories of my first job!

Anonymous said...

My dad was a store manager at each Cincinnati store for awhile and later became a district manager for the Dayton area, and later at home, in the Cincinnati area, as I recall. I remember at the dinner table as a high schooler my dad considering a move to Montana with the owner (Nacey?). I remember the Nebinger names and Fred Silverstein as common names in conversation about work with my mom. I am going to show this to my Dad. I am sure he will enjoy reading about everyone's memories, and he will undoubtedly know many of the people discussed here.

Scott D said...

I was just doing a search of old places from my childhood when I found this. What a trip down memory lane. I lived in the slummy apartments by May Co. in the late 70's/early 80's and Ontario was a significant part of that period for me. My memories of the store are extremely vivid and I can still see the layout in my head. It's where I first discovered the Atari video game system on a display. I used to go there all the time after school to play. I would sneak cartridges from behind the counter, and would sometimes get in trouble for doing so. I also remember when they got a Pac Man arcade game and all of my quarters would go in it. The song 'Video Killed The Radio Star' by The Buggles was brand new and could be heard over the PA system. I remember getting kicked out by a manager named Mr. Flanagan when the buddy I was with was caught shoplifting Key Cars and Wrist Racers. Anyone remember those?

I remember the store eventually changed its name to Uncle Bills, then to Cooks, then I think it was gone soon after. I also remember Edwards grocery store in the same building. And I can't forget how us kids would go into Tower Drive-in and turn up the speakers so we could watch the movies at night through the fence next to Edwards. Ah, good times... I would love to see pictures of the building as it was in the late 70's.

Anonymous said...

There had to be a BMV across from this plaza back in 1975 or so. I remember going there with my girlfriend and staring at the shopping plaza across the street while she flirted with the male customers in her tube top. I could have sworn it was an Uncle Bill's back then, but I'm probably wrong. I wasn't from the immediate area and this was mid-to late 70's.

Michael Daniels said...

it had to be at least as early as 62 because we moved from Lorain when i was 4 in 60 and although made a few trips back dad's brother had moved not long afterward to Amherst to be closer to the Ford plant /Lorain ...and I know , unless I am totally senile , we used to walk to Ontarios, mom , my aunt and my cousin and I .

Anonymous said...

What was the name of the craft store in Great Western Shopping Mall on the west side of Columbus, OH. It is now named "Michael's"!. The place that took it over was J. C. Penney's Dept. Store. Remember, Kroger's "yellow stamp program"? And Big Bear's "orange stamp program"? I remember Rink's Dept. Store on Sullivant Ave.. I remember Zayre's & Service Merchandise Catalog Store. Remember Westland Mall (being Outside air & Indoor). Remember Gold Circle & Fazio's Grocery Store.
In Lincoln Village Shopping Mall, remember every 4th of July the parade & the little fair every summer. Now, the little booths "during the 4th of July"? Remember, the Candy store on Beacon Hill & Murray Hill Rd. "where the Doctors' offices are?

Lisa said...

I think Dan Brady should honor Retailer Phyllis Frazier Nacey who founded the Ontario stores and challenged Ohio's ridiculously myopic blue laws. She recently passed away. I remember the Ontario store well.

Dan Brady said...

Hi Lisa,

That is an excellent suggestion. I read about her passing in the Chronicle-Telelgram a few days ago and went back to my archives to see if she had been mentioned in any of my Ontario posts. Unfortunately the vintage newspaper articles only mentioned her husband Walter Nacey and failed to include her contribution as the co-founder of the store chain we all remember fondly. Her obituary mentions her considerable civic activities and involvements.

Here is the link to her obituary:
http://www.chroniclet.com/obituaries/2016/10/27/Phyllis-Frazier-Nacey.html

And here is a link to a C-T story about her challenging of Ohio’s blue law.
http://www.chroniclet.com/Local-News/2016/10/28/Elyria-retailer-helped-open-up-Sunday-store-openings-in-state.html