Our 1978 image and today’s view of the building are almost identical. Anyone who has looked into the window of Tosi’s Italian food store might conclude that the window display hasn’t changed over the decades either. According to the Assessment Authority the building dates from 1930, which is the year the street directory tells us Tosi and Co moved here. If you look on the company website you’ll see they suggest that the building was once part of Woodward’s – we’re certain that’s not actually true. Woodward’s first store was indeed built on this block, and numbered as 622 Westminster Avenue (which became Main Street in 1910). However, around 1903 there was a renumbering of this block, and the original 622 was several buildings to the south, on the corner of East Georgia (which was then called Harris).
There were buildings here before 1930, and we weren’t sure whether the 1930 development incorporated any of those structures. Certainly if you go inside it seems that the building is old – but it’s not clear whether any of the structure might predate 1930, but we’re fairly certain everything you see today dates from 1930. Tracing the various permits and occupants of this location, the building we see today was previously two structures in two different ownerships, and went through many tenancies. The insurance map for 1912 shows two buildings here, the one to the south with a narrow alley alongside back to the lane, and there’s a 1910 image in the Library collection that confirms there were two buildings here.
It looks like the first store on the northern half of the site was built in 1903 when Armstrong & Co, undertakers (later Armstong & Edwards) were here for five years (before moving to the building next door in 1908). Stitt & Co, real estate & J L Little, barbers supplies were here in 1909, Northey, Thomas & Co, real est, in 1910, and Korist & Halras & Globe Brokerage in 1911 (corrected to Haras in 1912). The tenants continued to change every year: in 1913 it was Z Ratnegal, clothier and Peter Valchon, cigars; in 1914 Z Weretnikow (second hand goods) and in 1915 Max Weinrobe, second hand dealer. The next two tenants were also second hand dealers; Joseph Cibular followed by Mrs Anna Kafitz in 1918. In 1919 a Chinese grocers opened; Hong Kee, and then Jacob Brownstein moved in with a shoe store that stayed in business for four years before the store became the Main Shoe Store in 1924 and 1925. There are no further tenants recorded for this address, which makes us think that might be when the building was demolished, or ceased to be used, prior to its 1930 reconstruction.
The building permits identify the owner and builder of a new dwelling here in 1904 as Mrs Cole Dawson. She had obtained a permit repairs to the frame of a house here in 1902. She carried out another repair in 1911, but it doesn’t say what was being repaired. The insurance map suggests there was a building behind the Westminster Avenue frontage, so it’s quite possible there was a house at the back and a store in front. Mrs Dawson was the wife of Colin Dawson, who was clearly known as Cole to most people. Mrs Dawson hired D G Gray as her builder – not surprising as David Gray (who arrived in Granville in 1882) was married to her sister, Katie. The Dawsons and the Grays came from Ontario.
The southern half of the block had almost as many different tenants as the northern half, with retail uses going back to 1899. John P Curtis, grocer, was in a building here that year, and although the street number switched a couple of times it appears that he was still in business until 1902. George Aldred ran the grocery here a year later, and in 1904 it was Thomas Ross, confectionery and Madame Raab, clairvoyant. Joseph Azar ran the confectionery store a year later, and Philip Branca for two years from 1906. In 1908 a new partnership took over, Magnone & Crosetti, grocers, and a year later Crosetti & Branca, grocers. Joseph Crosetti was listed as a logger in 1910, and in 1911 Max Krassnoff was running a clothing store.
There’s a permit from 1912 for Braunton & Leibert to design a six-storey reinforced concrete rooming house for A E Sucking, but we’re pretty certain that was never built. (It would have been approved just before a major recession saw development activity almost stop in the city). There’s another permit a year later when Mrs. A E Suckling commissioned an office/store designed by E S Mitton here at a cost of $12,000, and that’s likely to have been built. There’s confirmation from the Daily Building Record of October 1913 who have greater detail of the one storey and basement building of reinforced concrete designed by Stanley Mitton and H H Gillingham. Once completed, August V Lang ran a clothing store from 1915 to 1917, followed by Chin Yee You’s dry goods store in 1918, and then Modern Clothes from 1919 to 1922 when Jeffs Brothers took over selling clothes until 1926. (in 1924 Domenick Soda briefly shared the store – he had previously sold confectionery at the northern end of the block). Sayer and Co who sold wholesale produce from 1927 to 1929, the year before P Tosi moved in.
In 1930 the Mission Style store still standing today was constructed – although perhaps the design was trying for an Italian hill town look. The 1930 permit doesn’t identify an architect (and there probably wasn’t one; the contractor was responsible for the building’s appearance), and the 20th December Journal of Commerce; reported “Contract for the construction of a new store block at 624 Main Street has been placed with Charles Saunders, Limited, 420 Seymour Street, by P. Tosi & Co., wholesale grocers. The building is to be of brick and frame construction with tile front. One story in height, it will measure 50 by 120 feet on a large basement. An oil heating system is to be installed.” The building permit shows the work was going to cost $7,500. Then in January 1930 came a change: “Changed plans for the new store building now under construction for P. Tosi, 550 Union Street, at 624 Main Street by Chas. Saunders, 1400 Bekins building, call for the erection of a building two stories in height. It was originally intended to build a one story structure with store accommodation only. The new plans embrace the provision of an upper floor with suites for rental. The additional work will involve an outlay of some $5700 it is estimated.“