The condition of the material in the fonds varies from poor to excellent. The majority of the records are in very good condition; however, several ledgers have damaged spines.
History / Biographical
Robert Marshall Anderson was born October 1, 1860 in Peterborough, Ontario where his father, Duncan Anderson, was a Crown Land Agent. He began his career in business as a teenager, working in the nearby town of Lindsay, Ontario for his uncle, Samuel Ritchie, who ran a local dry goods store. Later, Anderson worked as a salesman in the Dundas & Flavelle dry goods store in Lindsay.
In 1890 R.M. Anderson invested as a junior partner with John Northway in a new dry goods store in Tillsonburg, Ontario, which Anderson managed. On April 27, 1896 Northway and Anderson opened a new store in nearby St. Thomas, Ontario, with R.M. Anderson as manager. During the next few years the partners expanded their business, opening stores in Chatham, Simcoe and Ingersoll.
The Northway and Anderson store in St. Thomas was originally located in the former Griffin and Wright dry goods store in the Arkell Block at 262 Talbot Street, between Queen and Metcalfe Streets. The Arkell Block was destroyed by fire in 1966.
Many of the original staff who joined the store in 1896 remained as employees for more than 30 years, including John P. Coyne, Charles Cowley, Harry Scott, John Vahey (window trimmer and decorator), Jennie Drake, Eliza McPhail, Annabelle Sheldon, Mercy Parsons (milliner), Elizabeth Hayton, and Bertha Cox (bookkeeper).
Ruby Copeman, the longest serving employee, became a part-time cashier in 1896 while she was a student at St. Thomas Collegiate Institute. During the next fifty years of continuous service Ms. Copeman became Secretary-Treasurer of the company and joined its Board of Directors. She retired in 1946.
Another long-serving employee, Warren A. Andrews, joined the store in 1897 as a delivery boy and rose to become head of the house furnishings department. After returning from military service during the First World War as a Lieutenant Colonel, Andrews became a member of the company's Board of Directors and went on to design many of the store’s window displays.
To provide much needed space for the growing business, the store's second and third floors were extended to the rear of the building in 1900. Despite these changes, the store soon outgrew its original premises and in 1902 the partners purchased the outstanding stock of dry goods merchants Lindsay Brothers and established a second location in the former Lindsay Brothers premises at 410 Talbot Street between Hincks and Southwick Streets. The new store opened for business on April 23, 1902; the original location at 262 Talbot Street remained open until July 1902 while inventory was consolidated at the new location.
Northway and Anderson occupied the first and second floors in their new building, and shared the street level with the Stephen B. Pocock Shoe Store. A small business college occupied the third floor, but it would vacate the space by 1903, allowing Northway and Anderson to establish a tailoring and dressmaking department.
In 1906 R.M. Anderson purchased Northway’s majority shares and reorganized the business as The Anderson Company Limited, with himself as company President. In 1908, Anderson purchased the Pocock shoe store and converted the space into an expanded men’s department and administrative offices.
In 1919 the demand for additional space led to an extension of the third floor to the rear half of the building, while customer service, convenience and accessibility were improved with the installation of washrooms for store customers and St. Thomas’ first elevator.
In 1920 R.M. Anderson incorporated his business as Andersons Limited.
By 1929 the store again needed to expand, and an excavation of the basement of the building provided additional space for a new housewares department.
In 1932 the store entered a new era when Donald Hume Anderson joined his father as a member of the Board of Directors and manager. In 1939 the store acquired additional space fronting Hincks Street, and the building to the rear of the store was purchased and converted into a cold storage warehouse for fur coats.
When Robert Marshall Anderson died on August 24, 1940, D.H. Anderson became company President.
To boost public morale in St. Thomas and rally support for soldiers of the Elgin Regiment during the Second World War, D.H. Anderson brought in several traveling displays such as the Royal Dolls, Titania’s Palace, and others for the Red Cross Society and the Cadet Corps. In 1949 he oversaw the installation of new lighting and sprinkler systems.
Under the Anderson family's stewardship the store became a landmark institution in the local business community, widely recognized as a leader in retail sales, labour relations and customer service. Robert Marshall Anderson was one of the first businessmen in Ontario to implement a 40 hour work week and, beginning in 1921, also offered his employees sick benefits. By 1946, D.H. Anderson had established an extremely generous employee pension plan. The Anderson Department Store was the first commercial establishment in St. Thomas to install restrooms and drinking fountains for its customers, an elevator, free delivery of purchases, ladies’ tailoring, and customer parking facilities.
In 1967 a third generation of the Anderson family joined the business when Robert Morley Anderson became a member of the Board of Directors.
The Anderson Department Store continued as a full-service retail operation selling housewares, fine china, clothing and furs until the doors were closed for the last time on October 8, 1988, ending 92 years' of service to the citizens of St. Thomas and surrounding area.
The items and records comprising the fonds were originally in the custody of the Anderson family and were transferred to the Elgin County Archives in 2004.
Scope and Content
Fonds consists of records created, collected and maintained by Andersons Limited (1920-1988) and its predecessors Northway and Anderson (1896-1906) and The Anderson Company Limited (1906-1920) in the course of conducting business as a retail department store in St. Thomas, Ontario, 1896-1988. Records include ledger books, financial and personnel records, correspondence, photographs and objects.
Fonds will be of particular interest to researchers seeking information on the local history of St. Thomas, and the development of retail department stores in Ontario. It would also be of interest to those who want to investigate changes in retail fashion, advertising and marketing during the last century, or local social history through the commercial development and activities of businesses.
The fonds is arranged in the following series:
1. Northway and Anderson
2. The Anderson Company Limited
3. Andersons Limited