RIP Toronto Shoe Institution Davids
Another one bites the dust. Davids Footwear, the glossy shoe store holding down the north-west corner of Bloor and Bay in Toronto since 1971, is set to close in October. An early luxury fashion outpost on the Mink Mile, it has been eclipsed by the grinding march of progress, from the spanking new Dior store in the old Chanel digs across the street to the bigger, better space Hermès moved into a few doors west last year, and the recent addition of a Brunello Cucinelli boutique on Yorkville Avenue.
“Davids was our benchmark for glamour. There was an exquisite taste level; it was the chicest of the chic,” says Jeanne Beker, former host of Fashion Television. “From the moment you walked in, the old-fashioned service was so respectful, never pushy. And they were the same with everyone. Of course, I always had to wait until they had their sale!” Sadly, the biggest sale of all is now on: When the company went into receivership in August, the store went into 80 per cent off clearance mode, as did the locations at Bayview Village, Yorkdale, CF Sherway Gardens and Rideau Centre in Ottawa.
The news is particularly disappointing as it follows a big 2017 investment in the business by Rosejack Investments, which is affiliated with Larry Rosen, CEO of Harry Rosen. Larry, son of Harry, became CEO of Davids at that time. The fit seemed so right—two Canadian family business success stories merging. Richard Markowitz, the third generation of the shoe empire, was named president of Davids, and the operation continued independently. Plans were afoot for a 20-store expansion across the country, Rideau being the first outpost. Alas, it was not to be.
Beker laments the loss of yet another multigenerational Canadian fashion company, following in the footsteps of Eatons and Creeds. “I went to high school with David! The whole family was so much a part of the experience,” she says. (The family declined a request to comment for this article.)
The Davids business dates back to 1951. That was the year that husband and wife team Julia and Louis Markowitz opened a little shoe shop on College near Euclid, carefully situated between Kensington Market and Little Italy. They named the shop for their son, David, who went on to run the company before passing the reins to his son, Richard.
“Davids was the place to go. You’d hit Holts or Creeds, then go to Davids to buy the matching handbag and shoes.”
The opening of the flagship at 66 Bloor St. W. was a big deal in Toronto in 1971. The 5,000-square-foot location was formerly a TD Bank, and the move was considered risky back in the day, as it was known more as a banking area than the luxury shopping strip it was soon to become.
Julia and Louis had been building relationships with the great leather factories of Bologna, Milan and Florence, and set about introducing their top-notch wares to the city. But their real innovation was introducing designer accessories to the Canadian market. They travelled across the pond to secure exclusive deals with European—and, later, American— designers never before seen in these hinterlands. “I discovered Manolos there and became addicted,” says Catherine Nugent, one of the fabled Glitter Girls on Toronto’s socialite scene of the ’80s. “Davids was the place to go. You’d hit Holts or Creeds, then go to Davids to buy the matching handbag and shoes. You’d see people you knew, you knew the family and they knew you. There was something quite comforting in that.”
The shopping habits of the privileged classes have changed, says Nugent. “Most people shop when they travel—they go to New York and London in an instant now, and there is a much bigger selection and the prices aren’t that different.” But still, Nugent says she’s shocked to hear Davids is closing. “It has been there for so long. I guess the young girls today are buying something else.”
There is indeed the pull to the flashier, international names emblazoned on the Bloor Street storefronts of today. “The system of exclusive lines tied to particular boutiques has changed,” says Beker. Many of those elite European labels have built up their presence to the point that they have their own outposts, rather than selling through multi-brand stores. Added to that is the retail apocalypse caused by the confluence of rising rents and the online shopping explosion, which has opened up options from all over the world via e-commerce.
Nugent still has some of the “great many” crocodile and alligator handbags she bought at Davids over the years. “My husband used to joke, ‘You don’t see many burgundy alligators walking around,’ when I’d bring home a new one.” She still wears them, she says. “They are timeless. I can’t always say the same thing about shoes!”
Beker describes her own Davids purchases as holding a certain romance. She mentions a special pair of Jimmy Choo booties she bought at the store a few years ago. “They were just… so empowering! I associate them with the store and the experience of buying them.”
Stylist and personal shopper Talia Brown had a working relationship with the Davids team: She often came in to pull items for editorial shoots, such as the one she did with Meghan Markle. “The employees are what made Davids so special,” she says. “It didn’t matter if you were spending $200 or $1,200. They knew your first name, they knew what you already had, what you might want. It had the feel of a boutique with long-term relationships, not like a department store where staff come and go.”
Brown got her wedding shoes there—a silver pair of Jimmy Choo heels. She brought in the fabric from her gown, and the staff brought out three options. “We all knew this was the one,” she says. “It was so personalized. It was a really big moment for me. I’m so happy I have that picture, now that it’s closing.”
Can we really hope to have these kinds of shared memories and sense of community when our carefully considered designer shoe purchases are left on the porch in a brown cardboard box?