MHC Heritage Diary - Episode 6 - Main Street

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In this episode, MHC Chair, Peter Handley speaks with long-time City Council member and business owner, George Maroosis, about the evolution of Main Street in North Bay. Maroosis discusses his grandfather's immigration from Greece to North Bay, the birth of the Arcadian Restaraunt as well as the Tea Room. Handley and Maroosis discuss previous businesses on Main Street and how it has changed over time. Both Maroosis and Handley also discuss ways in which downtown North Bay could once again become the social hub that many residents of North Bay remember it as. 

Peter Handley:
Hi there and good day. Welcome to North Bay’s Heritage Diary. Listen up and we shall weave for you tales of days and times gone by which can inform today and show the way tomorrow. This Municipal Heritage Committee podcast looks at our town, our people and our stories. This time we open the door to our shared past and take a look at Main Street. The Municipal Heritage Committee has done considerable work on Main Street over the years and today we want to talk about the street itself. Our guest is long time Councillor and Main Street businessman George Maroosis. Maroosis - a Greek name?

George Maroosis:
Absolutely.

Peter Handley:
When did your family come over George?

George Maroosis:
My grandfather actually arrived in the United States are about 1906 went through Ellis Island and went to Minneapolis-St. Paul and while he was there he got a letter from his mother who said you should go and see your Uncle Freazos in Sturgeon Falls. So, he went from Minneapolis-St. Paul Martin and settled there in Sturgeon with his uncle who was also in the restaurant business. The Riviera Restaurant was very famous restaurant in Sturgeon Falls. One of the more noted names later was Moost Pistolas who was related to us and to that whole Freazos group. Yeah, so he arrived in Sturgeon and I’m not sure, I guess around 1906 or so is when they struck silver in Cobalt. So my grandfather, after being involved with his uncle in Sturgeon where he learned to make candy and ice cream, went to Cobalt to work there and got a stake to save some money and then of course came back to North Bay as many Cobalt businesses including the North Bay Nugget who eventually arrived in North Bay because that's why it's called the North Bay Nugget because there are no nuggets around here, it was a silver nugget from Cobalt. A lot of people gradually settled in North Bay from Cobalt but at one point, Cobalt was the center of activity in the mid – 1906, 1910. Well so my grandfather got some money working in Cobalt and came back to North Bay and of course his first partner was Dave Louikidelis who was a well-known judge in the City. So they started the Arcadian restaurant and interestingly enough the name comes from the province of Arcadia which is not where my grandfather was from but actually where Dave Louikidelis was from. So they used Arcadian just as someone else coming from Ontario would call it the Ontarian restaurant – they called it the Arcadian restaurant. So that's where the name and the genesis occurred. I did a little research years ago and found out that the first North Bay phone book that my grandfather is listed in is in 1910 or somewhere around there because he lived around Cassell Street by the Arcadian and the Tea Room.

Peter Handley:
And this is around the 1910 period?

George Maroosis:
Yeah this is where they were when I got started.

Peter Handley:
That wasn't the only site for it though was it?

George Maroosis:
Well that was that was said that was the only site for work what became the Tea Room and turned into a full blown restaurant. There were other sites like the Arcadia at Ferguson and Main and there was the Arcadian Junior which of course burnt down and then became the Arcadian Grill. You’ll see that the restaurants are very strategically located because the Tea Room was across from the post office and this is where people would come in and get their mail pick up their mail and of course the grill was strategically located at Main and Ferguson and of course the town hall was just located at the corner of McIntyre and Ferguson and then you have the town hall, the police department, the fire department and the early genesis of the city of North Bay.

Peter Handley
It turned into a meeting place didn't it?

George Maroosis:
It did and you're very much sure for downtown merchants sure the Grill was more of a political bee hive than the Tea Room was because being so close to the town hall your this is where you would have a lot of staff work here. One of the early city managers that I remember Tom Friar frequented the Grill and was great friends with my uncle Jimmy and of course the family got involved because George O’Frankus owned a sports shop next to the Grill. If you're in Memorial Gardens you take a look at the names on the part of the genesis of Memorial Gardens and search for my uncle Jimmy's. He was really involved with the founding of Memorial and of course he was partners with Pete Palangio. They had the vending business call PALMAR which was Palangio and Maroosis. In fact, the first electrion I ran in, we had a sign with Pete endorsing me on it as a candidate. So we've had a great connection with the business community for years.

Peter Handley:
See there's another picture here of the Arcadian restaurant right on the corner tea room. Up above it says H. R. Valin, likely, law office.

George Maroosis:
Yes, there were law offices there; in fact, Dick Donnelly’s Uncle ran a law office up there so he was frequently in the tearoom. I had met Dick casually as a very young person and then he ended up being great friends with my grandfather. The story that he tells us is that the initial relationship began because my grandfather didn't really like some Dick’s language that he would use in the restaurant and
then at one point my grandfather, who was a big man and whose nickname was Roubini which means red hair because he did have red hair and a temper to go along with that, through Dick out. But afterwards, became the greatest of friends. In fact, he was a pallbearer at my grandfather's funeral. Of course, when I was on Council, he was never sure whether I had my grandfather’s temper and even though we did have debates he generally was very careful because he wasn't sure whether I had that. Very fortunately, I had my father’s disposition which is quite mild.

Peter Handley:
This is another shot that is seen quite a few times with the sort of like a confectionery counter with the gentleman standing in the corners and that’s your father isn’t it?

George Maroosis:
No, that’s my grandfather and that's all of our handmade chocolates that they've made those are all chocolates because the when the tearoom started it sold chocolates, ice cream and also cut flowers and some fruit as well. My dad tells the story of being dispatched out on the street by his father. To find out how much they were selling bananas for down the street at the competition so if the competition was selling their bananas for six cents, my grandfather would move his price down to five cents. So I guess they had secret shoppers even back in those days Pete. So that was just part of what they did. It wasn't until the late 20s that they actually put the first kitchen in and the tea room was in the basement. Then, after further renovation, they put a full kitchen in. My recollection of course in the late forties and early fifties is of the kitchen being in the back, it was no longer in the basement but if you went down the basement there were remnants of where the ice cream was made and where there had been a kitchen as well. Interestingly enough because I'm now in the art business the Tea Room when it was renovated had all original paintings and when it first opened, did not allow smoking. But that changed when it became a full blown not restaurant and particularly once the Quints were born and they got really busy. I mean those were the golden days of tourism and it showed in how busy that restaurant was in the mid-thirties. My dad used to say the night shift would beat the day shift in the summertime and of course in the winter it wasn’t busy, but certainly in the summertime it was very busy in the thirties early forties.

Peter Handley:
This was at the corner of give me that again?

George Maroosis:
The corner of Fraser and Main.

Peter Handley:
What do you remember about Main Street in the in the forties and fifties and some of the businesses that were there as well.

George Maroosis:
I mean just generally speaking I can tell you it was really busy. And Palangio Bus Lines used to run the buses. They were blue and white and they used to stop in front of the restaurant on Main Street and I mean even though we just lived about three or four blocks away, the odd occasion I would ride the bus home. I probably should have been walking but getting to take the city bus was a big deal. But I mean when I think of the businesses, every major grocery store was in the downtown – Dominion, Loblaws, A&P. And of course, many of the independents like Hollow’s Meats and Ben’s Supermarket just to name a few. Lawlor’s was a real big growing concern and then of course Ed Dewy had Dewy’s.

Peter Handley:
What was that?

George Maroosis:
Well Dewy’s was like a private little department store. He was just passed the Grill on Main Street at Main and Ferguson.

Peter Handley:
When I got here in the late fifties and I remember the Northern Bargain Center they used for their ads the NBC chimes. And the radio station which was at the corner of First and Fraser across from the Teacher’s College at the time had a small studio and a big studio and in the control room in the big studio you had a piano and we would do the Northern Bargain Center Commercials with the piano with the NBC notes and then maybe Bill Hell or something would do the commercial. Saul Wiser is another name I remember. You’ve also got a picture here of Main Street and Harry Mulligan's Men's Wear.

George Maroosis:
Yeah and right by Mulligan’s was Kizzel’s Menswear. We had Bruce McCubbin’s McCubbin’s Menswear, Jack Adams’ Adam’s Menswear the Rosenbergs of course Rad Rosenberg’s they also had the Marylee shop then you had Himmel’s Ladies Wear, Lithgo’s Ladies Wear. I mean we had the Sally Shop and Tip Top Tailor downtown. There were so many businesses down there – Richardson’s Hardware, Halliday’s Hardware, Dunlop Hardware. Of course we had a very large Jewish community. I went to school with both the Kizzels and the Wisers and knew them well because they also lived up in our neighborhood in the west end of the city.

Peter Handley:
Right. Okay. Fires. What do you remember because there were a lot of fires on Main Street.

George Maroosis:
There were a lot of them. The Tea Room itself burnt in 1958 which was when it was replaced by the Bank of Nova Scotia and then shortly following that, the transportation building which was where CN telegraph was, sort of that flat-iron building, it burnt and as you could say there were quite a number of fires, but there was also a substantial amount of stuff that was just torn down. Right at Algonquin and Main, there were basically five gas stations. They were in the downtown. We had the Esso Station where that little triangle is, then you had Sully’s gas station and a gas station where the front parking lot of what is now the Day’s Inn and then you had what was likely Jimmy Kelly’s gas station right where the French School Board is now and then further up just passed the Pro Cathedral was a SuperTest station. You have to remember that the Baptist Church was behind the gas station which was where the Days Inn is now, because it was on a rock and John Ferguson handed out rocks to all the churches, including the Church of England which was his church, because he wanted to keep the more sellable property for himself. St. Mary’s was also where the parking garage is today, but once that space got too small for the Catholic community, they got the property where the Pro Cathedral is now, but that was a swamp originally so they had to drive posts in. But if you take a look at where all the churches are, they’re on rocks. John Ferguson handed out rocks, he was looking after stuff in the early days and he had to accommodate the churches.

Peter Handley:
Churches literally built on a rock?

George Maroosis:
Yes, very biblical Peter.

Peter Handley:
I remember the Richardson fire and the Mulligan fire – those are two that stand out for me in my mind and you mentioned the flat-iron building fire. I guess a lot of the buildings on Main Street were brick, but a lot of them weren’t right?

George Maroosis:
From what I remember, most were brick by the time I was young. In pictures you can see that a lot of timber was used but there was a lot of timber used inside the buildings and a lot of the time walls were interconnected. In fact, I think that’s a challenge of revitalizing the downtown and using some of those second story buildings is that I’m sure it gives heart attacks to the fire prevention people. I mean take the building I’m in – there were fires on both sides. The building on one side burnt and then the A&P was built and then the building on the other side burnt. I remember it well because that was the building where Garrett’s cigars was and the central bakery – they had the best donuts there. Across the street you had Beatty Bakery and they specialized in Cream Puffs so if you wanted a cream puff you went across to Beatty’s and if you wanted a donut you went next door. Of course you also had Tom’s lunch across the way which was a store very much like Demarco’s and of course the St. Regis Hotel complex was right there as well.

Peter Handley:
You mentioned grocery store chains. When I arrived, Dominion and the A&P were both still on Main Street. Main Street was North Bay’s birthplace – would you say that?

George Maroosis:
Oh, of course it was. It was all built around the railroad and the railroad station and the first big argument was when Towers wanted to locate up in Widdifield and have longer hours and such. In fact, right where the Esso station is on Algonquin was the boundary where North Bay ended and Widdifield began. So, when the doctors in the mid-60s, they couldn’t find a piece of land in North Bay, there was some kind of argument, they went to Widdifield and built it there.

Peter Handley:
Getting back to the grocery stores on Main Street, do you think that in order to revitalize downtown, especially to get people to live downtown like was intended with the second part of the waterfront, do you think that there needs to be the construction of a major chain grocery store in the downtown?

George Maroosis:
I think it would be very helpful if you had one of the chains put a store downtown because we are trying to attract seniors to live in the downtown and we are trying to attract people to live and work in the downtown area so it would be helpful to have one of those chains down there. If you look at downtown Toronto as an example, there are major grocery stores that you can walk into off the sidewalks – obviously there are major condos and apartment buildings in that area, but I’m not saying that we need a mammoth store, but it would certainly be nice to have a junior independent or No Frills or something like that in the downtown area. It would even be nice to have one of those dollar stores in the downtown area if you look at the kind of stuff they supply now. Whether it’s because of the lack of foot traffic, I’m not sure because that obviously wasn’t an issue back when I was young.

Peter Handley:
The waterfront development was important, but another development – what’s your take on the big dig? That was when?

George Maroosis:
I actually remember the big dig well because the big dig was done in my Council term. I was elected in 1982 and the big dig took place around 1983.

Peter Handley:
It laid out brick runway rather than asphalt.

George Maroosis:
Right and it involved some alterations to the street and you can still see the difference in elevation on Main Street’s two sides. It was really an effort to revitalize the downtown. The downtown also got new services – water and sewer and gas which was very necessary. The infrastructure down there is pretty good. The problem with downtown was and still is, if you talk to merchants, parking and charging people for parking and handing out parking tickets does not help. That was also before you had Towers up in Widdifield and Zellers down in Ferris and then of course eventually the malls came. In fact, the parking authority was created to rotate cars and move them around because they didn’t want cars to take up space for too long because it was hard to find parking spaces.

Peter Handley:
Some of the store staff would be using them too right?

George Maroosis:
Yeah, but leaving that aside, they wanted to rotate the customers. In today’s world of big box stores and shopping online, when you stop and think about it, people don’t object to paying for prime spots, they object because of the limitation. In the future, if you want to encourage people to stay and shop downtown, they should find a way to pay for the parking you use without worrying about getting a ticket, whether it be in a lot or on the street. The technology is out there – some Nipissing University students were actually looking into the same technology that is used on toll highways where you would have a transponder and pay for the time you used so you could be in a lot or on the street and not get a ticket, essentially paying for what you use. That is what peeves people – giving people parking tickets just turns them off. Retail has really declined in the downtown for several reasons, including parking, but if you look around the province, it is pretty similar everywhere. There needs to be thought put in in the future about this. I mean, I own a building in the downtown area and I can tell you its probably one of the poorest investments I’ve ever made because the value doesn’t increase, it often decreases. Plus, the rent is also really cheap, so you can have things in there that aren’t really retail. When I was growing up, you had to really know someone to get a unit on Main Street and owners were really selective about whom they rented to. Now, landlords are so desperate that they’ll rent to anyone. Now, we get criticism about Methadone clinics and drop in centers that bring people into the area that are not family retail outing friendly, but as long as you have those cheap rents and landlords who aren’t being selected then what can you expect?

Peter Handley:
K Brothers, when did you open that?

George Maroosis:
Actually, K Brothers was originally opened in 1963 as K Brothers Paint and Wallpaper and it was located on Wyld Street, just down from City Hall. It was opened by Nick and Jim Kerpotus, that’s where the K came from. They actually had a commercial painting division, Sunworthy wallpaper and Sherwin-Williams paint. Soon after because of their affiliation with Sherwin-Williams, they brought in Windsor and Newton art supplies and then of course they got into framing. In the later sixties, they sold off the commercial division and it was sold to another Greek, Tony Kistakis, who had been working with the brothers and so Tony took that over and Nick moved to Algonquin Avenue and opened a small store in what is the building where the lofts are now. That was after the fire and upstairs was the Ministry of Education, the Children’s Aid and a Doctor’s Office. When Nick moved into the new store, there was no more paint and wallpaper, it was just framing, art supplies and originals. Obviously I knew Nick and Jimmy and in the summers, I would work with Nick while I was teaching. When Nick’s dad passed away he decided he needed to change some things and move to Toronto. Before Nick left, he sold me the business – I was the Vice Principal at Fricker at the time, but I finished my year there and took over the business in June of 1976. I’ve been operating K Brothers since 1976 – over 40 years. So that’s really the genesis of how I fell into the art business, really I got into it because I was helping Nick out and working part time.

Peter Handley:
Do you see Main Street reviving itself somehow?

George Maroosis:
I see Main Street being completely different in the future. I used to be on the Mayor’s Downtown Committee and I always felt like there wre little gaps in the consultant’s assessment of downtown. I’ve always been leery of consultants because they seem to have a cookie-cutter approach. We know electric cars are coming; we may not live to see it but it’s going to happen. If we’re going to build a downtown and a waterfront, don’t build it for 2019, build it for 2030 and adapt as we go. If downtown is going to be where people live, play, stroll, get together and be safe and be a unique market place and restaurants and become the community hub again, then there are certain institutions that have to be thought out. I think that we’re on the right track with the seniors housing, but things like the library need to be thought about because while there are always going to be stacks of books, libraries do change over time. We know there are going to be changes like the Farmer’s Market and other markets. There’s a future for gardens in the downtown. I realize that it’s kind of like a crystal ball, but I would like to see consultants planning for 2030 instead of today. Even if you plan for 2030 and you’re a little bit wrong, nobody can criticize you for resting on your laurels. You have to try and see what’s coming in the future.


Peter Handley:
George - thank you for coming and spending some time with us today. I do want to get you back to talk the waterfront and to talk politics because you were a part of both for an extended period of time. So thank you so much for your time.

George Maroosis:
You’re very welcome, Peter. It’s always a pleasure.

Peter Handley:
We thank you for spending some time with us today. Our productions are put together not only to retell old tales but hopefully to kindle interest in area history. Local lore is important to any community and we shouldn’t let it go unremarked or unremembered. Views expressed in this podcast are not necessarily those of the Corporation of the City of North Bay or its employees. Join us next time when we flip another page of the diary of our shared past. You can reach us at peter.carello@cityofnorthbay.ca. Pete Handley speaking.