CONSUMERISM

The ladies’ tinderbox

MARSHA BOULTON October 5 1981
CONSUMERISM

The ladies’ tinderbox

MARSHA BOULTON October 5 1981

The ladies’ tinderbox

CONSUMERISM

Last Nov. 12, the dove grey walls of Canada’s most prestigious women’s club, Twenty-One McGill Street, burned to the ground in an unsolved act of arson, leaving 2,500 dues-paying members wondering when their phoenix would rise. Eleven months later, the ashes at the gutted site in downtown Toronto remain unmoved, and many members are miffed that eight years of pampering have ended.

The malaise began to spread last March when the club’s management referred its displaced members to alternate services scattered throughout the city. These proved inconvenient for many, and a small group of the disgruntled withheld their $600-a-year dues. Louise Lore, spokesman for the “very ad hoc” members committee, presented club owner Isabel Beveridge with a list of 150 members who wanted to know where their club was and whether they would be compensated for four months

of prepaid inconvenience. “Twenty-One McGill was designed for professional women,” explains Lore, 40, who is the executive producer for religious programming for CBC TV. “No smart professional gets ripped off for $600.” “If people want their money back, fine. Let’s hear from them and we’ll close the club,” came Beveridge’s professional reply, which sent the ladies into shock. There would be no compensation but, in a conciliatory vein, Beveridge agreed to postpone further dues payment until the club reopened. “We could probably sue,” says Lore, “but we didn’t want to kill the goose that laid the golden egg.” Having missed the original June deadline, Beveridge now says that her

“golden egg” will reopen at the end of December at a cost of $6 million. Reconstruction begins shortly, after nine months of wrangling for building permits. “I’ll be in hock for the next five years,” says Beveridge, a former secretary turned stockbroker. Before the fire, her club grossed a reported $1.7 million annually.

The women of the ad hoc McGill committee are, however, at a disadvantage: because the club is a business, they, as customers, are at the mercy of the shopkeeper. Before the fire, membership cost $1,000. Beveridge now claims she has a waiting list of new members who are willing to fork over $1,500 and, after the opening, the price of putting a wellshod foot in the door will jump another $500. “Let’s face it, she’s got us by the balls,” admits Lore. “We all want the club back and we can afford it.”

In the meantime, McGill refugees can be found bending and stretching at any number of private studios. Lawyer Sandra Birnbaum and many others have entrusted their body-toningtothe good old YMCA but it just can’t match the dove grey solitude of “the club.” Sighs Birnbaum: “At Twenty-One

McGill everyone in exercise class wears matching leotards. But at the Y, they wear mismatched sweat tops and shorts. That was the first thing I noticed.” Pity.

MARSHA BOULTON