THESE THREE MEN ARE Canada’s biggest landlords
All these familiar firms and many more rent space under the Bennett brothers' roofs across the country. Here is the full story of a retailing phenomenon— the shopping centres
PETER C. NEWMAN
CANADIANS this year will make tens of millions of shopping expeditions for everything from Geiger counters to meat balls. Among the stores they’ll visit will be a spanking new Woolworth’s in Vancouver, a modern Agnew-Surpass shoe store in Regina, a shiny Zeller’s in Montreal and forty shops of assorted kinds at Toronto’s Lawrence Plaza shopping centre.
These—plus an estimated hundred and fifty million dollars worth of other retail stores on the main streets or in the suburbs of almost every Canadian city—belong, not to the merchants who occupy them, but to a clan of mysterious, look-alike Toronto brothers—Archie, Jacob and David Bennett. They are philosophical recluses, so secretive about their activities that few of their own employees know which of them is president of their company — Principal Investments Ltd.—a business without parallel on this continent.
The Bennetts have become Canada’s biggest landlords by the simple device of building stores, leasing them to retailers, and collecting as rental a percentage of the sales.
From their chartreuse-and-pink leathered desks in semi-darkened offices on Toronto’s Richmond Street, they are today changing the shopping habits of Canadian housewives and forcing downtown merchants into battle for the retail dollar.
This battle began in 1952 when the Bennetts put up a small experimental shopping centre in the northwest outskirts of Toronto and awkwardly labeled it a “commercial area.” The new retailing area—based on an idea dating back to the city squares of the Roman Empire—was designed to provide one-stop shopping facilities. It is, in effect, a horizontal department store. By next year the little-known brothers will have built, in Canada, the world’s largest shoppingcentre chain, expected to be selling annually goods worth four hundred million dollars by 1959.
Canadians are flocking into the Bennetts’ centres not bnly to shop, but also to square dance, listen to band concerts, pray, practice Bycasting and teach their wives to drive.
The brothers finance their centres through a hectic juggling of rentals against mortgage payments. About sixty percent of each centre’s cost is covered by a first mortgage arranged with one of the eight Canadian and U. S. insurance companies that ¿regularly back Bennett ventures. For most of the balance, the brothers sell private bonds to associates and investment dealers. A three-million-dollar centre may thus cost the Bennetts little more than a hundred thousand dollars in cash. To whittle down a centre’s cost —thereby reducing the amount on which rents must yield a return—the Bennetts do their own building under the guidance of seventy-five architects and engineers.
Principal Investments repays its loans—and makes its profits—-from store rentals. Each tenant pays a percentage of his sales, plus a minimum guarantee. The annual rent paid by a supermarket amounts to between one and two percent of the year’s turnover; Woolworth’s and Zeller’s pay between five and six percent. Jewelry and specialty gift stores are assessed up to eight percent; candy shops and drug stores, six percent. The Bennetts’ leases normally run for twenty-five years and provide for maintenance and cleaning arrangements, trash disposal, signs, opening hours, snow removal, range of merchandise to be sold and exactly where store employees may park their cars.
There are now ten Principal Investments shopping centres - one each in Ottawa, Hamilton, Kitchener, two near Montreal and five around Toronto. During the next eight months the Bennetts will open thirty-two million dollars worth of centres in Ottawa, Fort William, Sarnia, St. Catharines, Kingston and Port Credit, Ont., plus two more units in the Toronto district and a regional centre near Oshawa. In 1957 they plan to open centres worth thirty-eight million dollars in Brantford, London, Regina, Saint John, Sudbury, Windsor, Quebec City, Three Rivers and five more in Toronto’s suburbs. The Bennetts’ 1958 plans call for at least a dozen more major centres and pocket editions for smaller communities, bringing the value of their shopping centre ownership to more than a hundred million dollars—this in addition to their other real estate holdings in enterprises other than shopping centres.
The Bennetts’ shopping centre operation runs almost on its own momentum. A dozen retailing chains, like Woolworth’s, Loblaws and Zeller’s, \ automatically enter each new Bennett centre, i These organizations are geared for continual exl pansion, and the brothers have to keep feeding them new locations; they cannot stop without the danger of losing some of these firms as tenants. Such a loss might stunt permanently the Bennetts’ growth in this field, because Can‘ ada has only a limited number of nationally known retailers and their participation in a shopping centre guarantees shopper traffic.
No one, including the Bennetts, who don’t have time or inclination for such things, has ever added up the number of buildings across Canada owned by Principal Investments. A special closet-size vault at the company’s head office holds forty-two green filing cabinets, jammed with records of the brothers’ possessions.
Properties include more than a thousand stores rented to Zeller’s, F. W. Woolworth, Loblaws, Metropolitan Stores, Walker Stores, Reitman’s, Tamblyns, S. S. Kresge, Laura wSecord, AgnewSurpass, Dominion Stores, Hunt’s, Bata and Kent shoe shops, A & P, Tip Top Tailors, as well as hundreds of independent retailers. The Bennetts also own the majority of Canadian Famous Players theatres and more than 150 branches of six of Canada’s ten chartered banks.
Principal Investments holdings stretch from Vancouver Island to the Maritimes, but are most concentrated in and around Toronto. “You can’t find an important business block in this city,” says Toronto realtor S. E. Lyons, “where the Bennetts do not own property.” In downtown Toronto, the busy brothers are now planning a giant airline-limousine terminal which may eventually double as a heliport, a three-hundredroom hotel and ten large office buildings. Near Thistletown, Ont., on Toronto’s outskirts, they are investing fifteen million dollars to create a new two-hundred-acre community, which will include a thirty-seven-acre shopping centre, four hundred apartments and five hundred homes. The houses will be built by contractors. “We do not,” says Archie Bennett, “waste our special talents and skills on residential construction.”
on Real-estate promotion and development is not the Bennetts’ only business. In 1907, when David E. Bennett was fourteen, his father Saul, a Kingston lumber-yard operator, sent him for a summer holiday to his uncle, a variety-store merchant in Peterborough, Ont. When the uncle became ill, young David took over the store’s management for a few weeks. He did so well that his father predicted David would someday run his own department store. The prophesy came true two years ago, Continued on page 52 when Principal Investments acquired a controlling interest in eighty-nineyear-old Fairweather Co., which then owned one Toronto department store. Under David Bennett’s guidance, Fairweather will next year open its twentieth branch.
The mainspring of Principal Investments is round and restless Archie B. Bennett, described by friends as a thwarted philosophy professor. “I have never,” he boasts, “furnished my picture to any newspaper. What we do is our business. We have no interest in feeding the curious.” The Bennetts view personal publicity with fierce distaste. They are not mentioned in Principal Investments’ press releases, their names don’t appear in any standard reference book and, until recently, they prohibited signs identifying their company on any of their construction sites.
Three years ago the Bennetts spent so long debating which of them would say, “I hereby declare this shopping centre open,” when their Lawrence Plaza centre was nearing completion, that by the time Archie Bennett had been conscripted, the centre was already a month in business, and another centre was waiting for the opening ceremony. The brothers often watch their opening-day festivities from shopping centre parking lots, jostled by the crowds, while local dignitaries occupy the stage.
Few of the reporters who come to interview Archie Bennett, only to have to squirm through his tirades about why he will not. have his picture taken or why under no circumstances will he talk about his personal life, realize that he is one of the most popular Jewish columnists in Canada. Twice a month he writes a two-thousand-word essay, Between Ourselves, for a Toronto magazine, the Jewish Standard. Editor Julius Hayman recounts approvingly: “Although A. B. Bennett is undoubtedly Canada’s richest columnist, he has never missed a deadline.”
The column is a whimsical comment on the role of the Jew in modern Canada. And in case you don’t believe rent collectors can sound poetic, here’s a sample from Canada’s richest landlord, describing a Muskoka sunset: “. . . I observed the pure monotony of the sky’s grey, suspended like a dome over the circular fringes of trees . . . dusk was falling rapidly, oozing from myriad invisible pores in the atmosphere.”
While they remain in the background, the shy Archie Bennett and his even shyer brothers sponsor promotions that lean heavily on showmanship. Their shopping centre opening-day payroll usually includes “Daredevil Johnny” and his “Slide for Life,” a clown band and a trained animal circus. Last December the Bennetts dispatched a resident Santa Claus to each of their centres by helicopter. To guide Santa to their Golden Mile Plaza in Scarborough, a Toronto suburb, a fourthousand-dollar Christmas tree was erected—ten feet taller than the socalled sixty-foot “world’s largest” at New York’s Rockefeller Center. Last December 3 Santa hovered over the Bennetts’ fogged-in Kitchener shopping centre for twenty minutes, looking for a cloud break through which to land. He finally arrived, two hours late, by car. All his chuckles couldn’t placate the disappointed crowd. The landing had to be restaged the following week end.
Such stunts help the Bennetts gain acceptance for the shopping centre concept, an idea so new that its definition has not yet appeared in any dictionary, yet as old as the Roman market place. Briefly, a shopping centre is a group of stores, in any kind of cluster or strip, which jointly promote themselves. The Bennetts insist that only fully integrated, deliberately conceived shopping facilities should qualify. “If properly planned,” says Archie Bennett, “the shopping centre offers, for the first time, shopping amid pleasant interior and exterior surroundings.”
The brothers, who take their projects anything but lightly, regard thenshopping centres almost as semi-sacred institutions materially aiding, among other things, to reduce Canada’s divorce rate. “We’re helping to keep families together,” Archie Bennett claims quite seriously, “by making it attractive for them to go shopping together. Husbands can see how the family budget is spent. That saves a lot of arguments.” A recent Lawrence Plaza survey showed only thirteen percent of the incoming cars contained ¿lo shoppers.
The Bennetts believe their centres are succeeding simply because the average Canadian woman enjoys shopping. The philosophical A. B. Bennett puts it this way, “Shopping is an exercise in the expanse of living, which carries with it a sense of participation in the social process of civilized economy.” Principal Investments capitalizes on such feelings, he says, because at its centres “the conditions surrounding the rite of shopping are conducive to this mood of pleasurable self-expression.”
Freely translated, Archie’s musings mean the Bennetts have discovered that the average housewife’s sensitivity to her shopping surroundings has a direct bearing on how much money she spends. Down to the last detail—the precise leverage required to open store doors—the brothers design and operate their shopping centres to dazzle the shopper into a carefree spending mood.
That means stores with full-view, chrome-trimmed glass fronts—a feeling of light and color that the Bennetts call “disciplined brightness.” To blend the outlook of clerks and customers, the Bennetts encourage their tenants to recruit sales help from the centre’s surrounding housing developments. In many stores sales personnel are instructed to keep up-to-date with community gossip. The Bennetts pipe music into every centre for ten hours a day, “just loud enough to be heard, soft enough to hum to.” The music is interrupted only for calls to locate parents of lost children.
Principal Investments carefully preserves the shopper’s opportunity “to discover a bargain.” The Bennetts make sure that every centre has more «than one outlet for most types of merchandise. Barbershops and drug stores are the main exceptions. Most centres even have branches of more than one bank. Many have two supermarkets. “We don’t want the housewife to feel that, by coming to our centres, she is being forced to buy any one kind of merchandise,” says Archie Bennett.
While few tenants have a monopoly, each is protected from too much competition. No Bennett centre is likely to ever find itself in the same mess as Europe’s first shopping centre, the
Lijnbaan (pronounced Line-bahn) at Rotterdam, Holland, which placed no restrictions on tenants, and now has seven shoe stores.
The Bennetts are trying to make their shopping centres more than centres for shopping, by sponsoring square dances, band concerts and church
Services. At Lawrence Plaza in the
Toronto area the Rev. Gordon C. Hunter of the nearby Asbury and West United Church has held Sunday evening drive-in services for the last two summers. The centre’s stores helped by advertising: “Worship in God’s
outdoors . . . drive into His presence.” Many worshipers come in their gardening clothes. “We have had as many as eight hundred cars at some of our services,” says Hunter.
The brothers sometimes get carried away in discussing their shopping centres. “When their potentialities are fully realized,” the studious Archie Bennett predicts, “our shopping centres will become community centres in the fuller sense of the term, providing full-ranged shopping facilities co-extensive with the vast reaches of our civilization, suffused with tine glow and beauty of the social spirit and cultural essence of our nation.”
Their hope of making shopping centres fill a social vacuum is most likely to be realized first at the Bennetts’ first dreadnought-class centre, now rising on the western outskirts of Oshawa. This is being built around a two-million-dollar department store of the T. Eaton Co. (this firm’s first venture into the suburbs). The ten-milliondollar Oshawa centre will have three sidling levels, connected by double escalators. Store deliveries will be carried along an underground truck concourse. The centre’s fifty-three acres will be divided among sixty stores (selling yachts, among other things), a theatre, a supervised nursery, a banquet hall, and a parking lot for four thousand cars. Loblaws will put in a thirty-threethousand-square-foot groceteria, the largest in its chain, and may equip shopping carts with guide maps.
Only Archie and David Bennett atpily with silver-plated shovels, while Jacob Bennett was still frantically leafing through files at the Oshawa City Hall, completing his search for title to the centre’s property. But next fall it’s doubtful if even the elusive Bennetts will stay away from the centre’s opening ceremonies, for an essential part of the brothers’ philosophy is to open each centre with all the fuss of a Hollywood premiere. “A hullabaloo opening provides a centre’s stores with a six months’ head start,” says Bert Wilkes, a former movie press agent, who plans the promotional hurricanes that inaugurate every Bennett shopping centre. Wilkes works a twelvehour day, stirring up hoopla across the country. His openings, which cost an average of twenty-five thousand dollars each, have added zest, if not art, to the annals of Canadian showmanship. “As long as they’re having a good time,” he says, “we know they’re buying.”
Even Charlotte Whitton’s wrath didn’t make the Bennett brothers back down
Unlike other promoters, the Bennetts don’t rely on just giving things away (although they do hand out at least three cars, two refrigerators and half a dozen chesterfields at every opening). Wilkes has gathered a regular opening-day carnival troupe. His most garish production was the October 1953, opening of Toronto’s Lawrence Plaza, a forty-store, five-milliondollar centre which is eventually expected to sell goods worth twenty million dollars a year. Models dressed as clowns, matadors and drum majorettes distributed twenty thousand copies of a special “Lawrence Plaza section” of the Toronto Telegram to homes in the district surrounding the centre. Free transportation for earless shoppers was provided by bannerdecked buses. The official opening ceremony began with a marchpast by the 48th Highlanders’ pipe band. When the speeches were over, housewives rushed into the Loblaw store for three thousand pounds of free coffee and a thousand jars of free peanut butter. Four clowns cavorted through the crowd, handing out ten thousand Lifesaver rolls; men dressed as peanuts danced frenetically around a sound truck; models distributed free candy and balloons; and yelling children crowded into miniature boats, cars and other free rides. Frantic parents finally had to beg the operator of a miniature roller coaster to put a price on the rides, so they could get their children home. The Bennetts reluctantly agreed to charge seven cents a ride.
The circus tempo continued for three days, and it was climaxed each night by a square dance and fireworks. At noon of the final “opening day,” there was a dog show. To qualify, each yapping contestant had to be accompanied by a youngster. Later, the children moved over to one end of the parking lot to watch two magicians and a ventriloquist, while their parents concentrated on a draw for a new Ford, an automatic washer and a chesterfield suite. Three of the centre’s haggard but happy merchants had to lock their doors at noon of the third day—they didn’t have a thing left to sell.
Each of the Bennetts’ shopping centres spends about thirty-five thousand dollars a year on special promotions. Principal Investments pays a quarter of the bill and the centre’s tenants divide up the balance according to their sales space.
Probably the most impressed visitors at the Bennett openings are soberfaced downtown merchants who recognize the new suburban centres as a serious business threat. In the U. S., where two thousand centres are now operating, mid-city retailers are fighting hard to recapture fading markets. One desperate Toledo, Ohio, merchant, cramped for space on three sides, built a floating parking lot extending ninety feet out onto the Maumee River. In Wilmington, Del., many shoppers park on the city’s perimeter and are brought to downtown stores, free of charge, in taxis.
“When downtown was first developed,” says Archie Bennett, “it was compact, easily reached by public transportation. Now it’s stretched out, and parking is difficult. It can’t expect to get the same proportion of business. But there will always be a market for downtown shopping,” he adds hastily.
There is good reason for his attitude toward the shopping centres’ rivals: the Bennetts have as much property downtown as in the suburbs. One of this country’s richest mid-town shopping blocks—Toronto’s Bloor Street, between Yonge and Bay Streets—was developed from an indifferent artery into Canada’s “Mink Mile” largely by the Bennett brothers, who rebuilt and own most of its stores, including shops occupied by Creeds, Morgan’s, Birks, Woolworth’s and Zeller’s.
In spite of their mid-city holdings, the Bennetts are now concentrating on expansion in the suburbs. Principal Investments’ four-million-dollar Golden Mile Plaza, in Scarborough, Archie Bennett points out, faces a forty-store centre built by Monarch Mortgage & Investment Ltd. Business at both centres is exceeding predicted totals. Near Port Credit, the Bennetts put up a thirty-five store centre opposite a smaller centre built by G. S. Shipp & Son Ltd. “it’s all to the good,” says Archie. “The two centres will draw more people than one, and that will help us more than it will help Shipp.”
Trouble at Billings Bridge
Canada’s first shopping centre war will likely flare up in Quebec. The Bennetts already control two centres in the Montreal area and are planning others in Quebec City and Three Rivers. But Quebec province is the domain of the Steinberg brothers. Last fall Steinberg’s Ltd. formed Ivanhoe Corp., a new subsidiary, “to exploit shopping centre possibilities in Quebec and Ontario.”
Meanwhile, the Bennett brothers have already sent teams of statisticians into almost every population concentration in Canada, to search for understored suburbs. Each such area has been designated as a potential Bennett shopping centre site.
In December 1952, for example, the Bennetts decided to investigate the rapidly expanding southwestern Ontario community of Kitchener. Fourteen months later Principal Investments’ construction crews moved in, and last August a two-million-dollar shopping centre went into operation there. That fourteen months of research were necessary to persuade the Bennetts to go ahead on the project illustrates how carefully the brothers plan.
Even so, they sometimes run into local problems — like closing - hour trouble at their Billings Bridge Plaza in south Ottawa. The plaza remains open until 9 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays. An old city bylaw rules that all shops—with the exception of grocery stores—must close at six; grocery stores must close at seven. The case is now before the Ontario Supreme Court. Outspoken Mayor Charlotte Whitton, of Ottawa, has declared that “the entire authority of the city has been defied. We will lay police charges to the legal limit open to us.” Many downtown retailers back Mayor Whitton in opposing night openings. They argue that longer hours spread out. rather than increase, business. “Night shopping is a backward step and not really necessary,” the Toronto branch of the Retail Merchants Association of Canada resolved recently.
Because such policy decisions as night openings are reached by mutual consent with the majority of each centre’s tenants, the Bennetts may have trouble putting into effect a proposed policy of keeping centres open from noon to 9 p.m., six days a week. “That kind of week might mean higher sales for us and more rent for the Bennetts,” a Toronto shopping centre tenant admits, “but, like evei'yorft else, we like to spend at least a few evenings at home with our families.” An associate of the ambitious brothers estimates their shopping centre income might increase as much as twenty percent with six-nights-a-week shopping.
The Bennetts refuse to discuss their income, and Principal Investments is only one of several private holding companies they control. The others are: Principal Shopping Centres Ltd., Lawrence Manor Investments Ltd. and Bennett Specialty Construction Co. But one Toronto real-estate executive calculates that profits from shopping centre operations alone should gross the Bennetts at least four million dollars this year.
Multimillionaires or not, the Bennett brothers work hard and relax quietly. “The main effect of their success has been to make them old before their time,” says an associate. But after three years of working with them he says he has yet to see one of the brothers angry or short-tempered.
They arrive in their roomy but not luxurious beige-carpeted offices around 9.30 a.m. (usually within ten minutes of each other), and work until nearly 7 p.m. Lunch in a downstairs restaurant is a hurried affair, usually doubling as a business conference. For aftersupper relaxation, the brothers often drive out together to one of their Toronto shopping centres to mingle with customers and overhear complaints.
The brothers’ desks are crowded with unfinished paper work. They hate signing letters. When the work load gets particularly heavy, they’ll wander into one another’s office, tell jokes or discuss the books they’re reading. Each works in semidarkness under a dimmed battery of modernistic light fixtures. David drives a 1954 Cadillac, Jacob and Archie own Buicks. When Jacob turned in his 1951 car last year, the speedometer registered only twelve thousand miles.
The triumvirate’s functions are split, up, so that if David (the pusher) gets an idea he can discuss it with Jacob (the evaluator), who weighs its possibilities and passes it on to Archie (the executor), who puts it into action. In a memo-ridden city, their management approach is unusually direct—if they need any data, they simply pick up the phone and ask for an oral report.
The Bennetts not only have similar habits, they look the same. A stocky five foot six or seven, they’re impeccable dressers, favoring well-cut doublebreasted suits (grey or brown) and conservative ties. They wear similar horn-rimmed glasses, are all gruffvoiced and unanimously manoeuvre to avoid personal publicity of any kind.
Only the company’s senior executives know that sixty-year-old Jacob M. Bennett, the youngest of the brothers, is president of Principal Investments Ltd. A 1919 graduate of Toronto’s Osgoode Hall and a Queen’s Counsel, he had his own practice until 1932, when taking care of Bennett legal problems became a full-time job. Outside counsel now help him keep track of the company’s intricate dealings. He lives in a fortress-like North Toronto home with his wife, the former Beatrice Robinson, a concert pianist, and their two teen-age children. He says his only hobbies are reading and golf—interests he shares with his brother David. But one of the pah’s golfing partners complains that the game is “just their method of getting a man alone so that they can talk business with him.”
David Bennett is secretary-treasurer of Principal Investments. He is a sixty-two-year-old bachelor, of whom a friend says, “D. lí. is all business. Monetary gains are of secondary interest to him, but he never lets go of any! thing until it works out.” He lives with ¡ brother Archie in a large house in Toronto’s fashionable Forest Hill Village.
Guiding force of Principal Investments is sixty - five - year - old Archie | Bennett, listed only as a director. A 1914 graduate of Queen’s University’s ! honor English literature and philosophy course, he feels equally at ease jugj gling second mortgages or discussing j philosophical definitions of the absolute. At Queen’s he was awarded the Governor-General’s Gold Medal for Philosophy. “It’s just a piece of metal,” he now says. Dr. John Watson, a leading Scottish philosopher, who was then I lecturing at Queen’s, so deeply impressed young Archie that he still keeps j notes of Watson’s lectures in his bedside table for night reading.
Every Sunday evening the eldest Bennett and his wife Sophie, a McGill graduate, turn their living room into a philosophy forum, with intellectuals of every faith and many nationalities participating in sometimes-heated discussions. A. B.’s favorite philosopher is the pessimistic German, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.
He shares his love for philosophical insolubles with—of all things—baseball. He rents a private front-row box at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Stadium and never misses a game. Last summer he made a special trip to the baseball museum at Cooperstown, N.Y., to see the induction of a newly elected batch of baseball greats. “Mine was the joy of meeting and shaking hands with Cy Young—the original Cy Young!” he wrote home. “Baseball is a form of release with him,” says J. Alex Edmison QC, assistant to the principal of Queen’s University and a close friend. Archie Bennett is a patron of Queen’s and keeps up active contacts with most of the university’s philosophy professors. One of the Canadian Jewish community’s leading intellectuals, he is also among its most generous benefactors. He founded the Canadian Jewish Congress in 1925 and was one of the first active Zionists in Canada. He contributes large amounts to the Weizmann Scientific Institute of Israel.
If is only comparatively recently that, the Bennetts have been able to afford philanthropy of any kind. In 1912 the family moved from Kingston, where the Bennetts’ father had a small lumber yard, into a two-story house in Toronto’s not-too-prosperous Keele and Dundas district. Their father started a minor construction firm. During the next twenty years the brothers worked hard, but they achieved little as house builders. Under their father’s direction the business gradually shifted away from residential construction and into commercial real estate. Principal Investments was formed on July 4, 1932, its profits at first based on the slim margin between buying a shabby office building, hiring a contractor to modernize it, then renting space at higher rates.
During the Depression few chain store owners wanted to tie up capital in new buildings. Why not, the Bennetts thought, take over the real estate side of chain store operations—select and buy a location, build a store and rent it to the chain? They studied the merchandising methods of the expanding Woolworth chain and drafted a new store layout. Woolworth’s management carefully nibbled at the proposition with an experimental one-store contract. (The Bennetts have since built seventy-one Woolworth stores.)
Principal Investments gradually enlisted other firms for its sales-lease system and, by 1939, its tenants included the majority of Canadian chain store operators. Then in 1946 the brothers abruptly changed their policy. “There is no value in building one or two stores any more,” Archie Bennett decided. Instead, Principal Investments began developing half-a-milliondollar shopping blocks in downtown and uptown locations across Canada. Each shopping block included at least half a dozen chain store branches. Many of these developments now compete with Bennett-owned shopping centres on the outskirts of the same cities.
Despite their stepped-up retail store construction activities, the Bennetts also continued their original function of modernizing old office buildings. One of their most unusual conversion jobs was the million-dollar transformation of the Alexandra Palace—-an old apartment hotel on Toronto’s University Avenue—into a swank office building. When the Bennetts purchased the hotel, they found they had acquired, among other things, three hundred beds. So they held Canada’s largest furniture auction sale. It was also one of the funniest. When two quarreling boardinghouse proprietors bid one of the cots to a ridiculously high price, auctioneer Lee Wallace abruptly stopped the price climb when he reminded one of them: “Madam, I don’t go with this bed, you know.”
Principal Investments’ first shopping centre resulted from Archie Bennett’s 1951 trip to Israel. He stopped off in Italy to see the ruins of the world’s first shopping centres—the fora where the Romans transacted their legal, cultural, and mercantile dealings. Archie returned with the idea of building in Canada counterparts of the fora, with booths allotted to tenants who best fitted the pattern of modern suburbia.
The Bennetts’ timing could not have been better. The exodus of Canada’s suburbs had been curbed, first by the Depression, then by wartime building restrictions. According to the 1951 census, the population of Canadian urban areas had increased twentyseven percent since 1941, but sixtyeight percent of the new residents had moved into the suburbs. New shopping facilities had to be provided. Shopping centres, the Bennetts decided, were the answer.
In the late winter of 1952, without diminishing their other activities, the Bennetts began building Sunnybrook Plaza in the Toronto suburb of Leaside. Although it was Toronto’s first shopping centre, the Bennetts called it a “commercial area.” The contacts they had built up with national chains helped rent the space. “But at first tenants were most reluctant,” Archie recalls.
Their first centre taught the Bennetts an important lesson. Its two-hundredcar parking lot turned out to be hopelessly small, with a resulting cut into the stores’ sales. In Principal Investments’ new centres, parking lots provide room for a hundred and fifty cars for every one million dollars of annual business expected. The lots are roughly equal to four times each centres’ sales space. After shopping hours there is always at least one ear weaving around the Bennetts’ parking lots. Husbands have found the deserts of concrete an ideal spot for teaching wives to drive.
The after-hours visitors to Principal Investments’ centres often meet a slim, intense young man who asks them for suggestions on how to improve the centre’s services. This is Avie J. Bennett, the twenty-eight-year-old son of Archie Bennett and Principal Investments’ chief heir apparent.
The Bennett line of succession seems secure enough. When Avie Bennett drove from Toronto to Hamilton for the opening of a new Principal Investments shopping centre with his threeyear-old son Paul, they passed the construction site of another new Bennett centre at Dixie Road. “That’s our new Dixie Plaza,” Avie pointed out to his son. “Oh, are you gonna give away Dixie cups?” asked the youngster. Sensing a natural promotion gimmick, Avie has ordered one hundred thousand Dixie cu^s for the centre’s opening ceremony later this month. They’ll be filled witli vanilla ice cream and handed out to the centre’s new patrons as they square dance into the winter night, celebrating the latest addition to the growing empire of the Bennetts. ★