Wednesday, April 16, 2008

big v: once upon a time, it was an amazing part of your life

Big V Receiving Hours
While dodging back alley drunks in downtown Kitchener a month ago, I noticed that the back door to a Shoppers Drug Mart bore the mark of its previous identity as part of the Big V pharmacy chain.

Years of hearing their slogan "an amazing part of your life" have burned it into my brain, along with images of their comical crusading knight mascot, 25 cent cans of Coca-Cola and the free lunch cooler bags sometimes offered up with the latter.

Big V was started in the mid-1960s by a group of Windsor pharmacists who joined together to pool their purchasing and marketing. Most locations were pharmacist-operated, with names reflecting the owners (DeRe, Pond's, Cornett), the neighbourhood (Seminole in Windsor) or town. The chain grew to 135 stores by the time it was purchased by Shoppers in 1995.

Amherstburg's store was originally Haslehurst's Big V, then switched to the more generic "Amherstburg" by the time I started shopping there with my parents. Located on the main street through town, the store's tiny parking lot was responsible for numerous traffic jams and fender benders. Mom liked to browse the gift section, one of the things she missed and grumbled about after the Shoppers deal.

Many former Big V locations have been rebuilt or vacated as part of Shoppers' current building/retrofitting boom. The Amherstburg store was levelled and replaced a few years ago, having long outgrown its small quarters.

The store in the picture above was also on the move, setting up shop in a larger space across King Street that weekend. I suspect this is one of the last signs bearing the Big V logo and it's a matter of time before it fades away, making physical reminders of the chain as hard to as find as any references beyond the Shoppers deal on the internet.

Thanks to Andrew Foot and Shawn Micallef for their help with store names and links.

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