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Memories of The Bay MarketSquare

3 Jul

We didn’t have Balducci’s, Bergdorf’s, Dean & DeLuca 072919_NYC_FullCateringMenu, Neiman Marcus, Silver Palate, or Zabars. But by the end of the 1980s, Calgary finally caught up to the 1970s gourmet revolution.

A Window on the World. Bay charts adventures for palate

The Calgary Herald
Wed Feb 15 1989

Are you ready for this? Calgary now boasts 10,000 square feet of fine food and household shopping, in the Hudson’s Bay Company, #200 8th Ave. S.W., downtown.

It’s called MarketSquare and it’s located on the lower level of the store.

To investigate this unique shopping experience, go down the escalator from the women’s cosmetic and accessory department on the main floor and prepare to step into another world. But first, a word of warning: MarketSquare is huge and you’ll be overwhelmed by the size.

There are 54 mini-departments – china, linens, housewares and fine foods – all beautifully decorated. In fact, it’s worth a visit just to window- shop. Many areas feature stunning glassed-in displays, such as the showcase pasta window, boasting giant red peppers and valued at a cool $10,000.

The various groupings change every few weeks and apparently all the props are for sale. If you want the giant peppers, or any other bits of furniture, linen or miscellaneous items, just leave your name at the closest till and you’ll be called when the display is dismantled.

“Overall, the Bay has doubled its old china, linen and housewares departments,” explains Donald Bucholz, store manager. “The floor employs up to 200 full- and part-time staff, including 60 in the food area alone. We have assigned 24 per cent of the store’s visual presentation staff exclusively to MarketSquare.”

Look for complete lines of Swedish crystal, including Orrefors and Kosta Boda, plus over 300 patterns of fine bone china and stoneware. Choose from an extensive selection of silver flatware and serving pieces, gourmet gift items and small appliances, like the Sanyo breadmaker for $399. Kitchen categories, such as oriental items, bar tools, pasta stuff, country-kitchen accessories are marked with large, wooden signs and set up like individual shops. However, each section is actually owned and staffed by The Bay, except for two leased areas designated health food and apothecary.

There’s so much to see it’s unfortunate there are no hand-out maps, but you can check the chart by the elevators to plan your strategy.

The fine-food area is situated at the south end of the floor and consists of five main sections: deli bar, fish counter, bakery, fresh produce, and pantry. You can shop for take-out, take-home or eat-in at the full-service licensed restaurant or one of five specialty counters serving everything from a slice of pizza, to fish and chips, to gourmet deli, to espresso and cappuccino or a fresh cuppa tea and a doughnut. The highlight of the department is the gourmet deli counter. “As far as I know, we have the biggest glass cooler in Canada,” says Alex Dudnik, Fine Foods manager, proudly showing off 20 different salamis, nine assorted loaves and terrines, four middle-European sausages and 16 to 20 kinds of pate. You’ll find plenty to choose from at the low end, right up to more obscure things like soprasata – Italian hot pork sausage – and kosher beef, Dutch beef, eye of round pastrami and capicolli. Also look for dried morel, shiitake, porcini and boletus mushrooms.

Most of the deli section is devoted to prepared dishes such as Mediterranean layered pie, Louisiana crab cakes with Cajun red gravy, black pepper chicken breast (great in a sandwich), seafood risotto and creamy redskin potatoes.

There’s an astonishing array of dishes to choose from, some available every day, others offered on a rotating basis. Some to be served cold and others hot. The latter are only 70-per- cent cooked, so they can be reheated without turning to mush. And each month a certain number of dishes are chosen by theme. In January, oriental foods were featured. February is hot and spicy dishes.

The MarketSquare seafood counter looks impressive, thanks to a full-time fish display person. “”We’re focusing on quality,”” explains Dudnik, “”and variety. We sold three octopus already this week and we have frogs legs on special. You’ll find our prices are competitive but not designed to start a price war.””

The bakery is the last element in the main show at MarketSquare. No day- old bread sold here. “”Everything is fresh,”” says Dudnik. “”We offer 16 types of bread including regular, soft and brown baguettes, ficelle (half a baguette), New York-style bagels, big pretzels, Portuguese corn-flour bread, buns, light and dark ryes and more.”” Customers can also place special orders and if the product does well, the bakery will continue it.

Try in-house cinnamon buns, sweet and fresh. Stop at the pastry counter, and taste walnut glazed carrot cake, Mom’s chocolate cake, fudge cake or Nanaimo bars. And ask to see the $850 jar of raspberries in vodka.

Framed by these three major centres is the pantry section, offering gourmet ethnic foods from Mexico, France, Germany, the Orient, America, England and Canada, plus specialty labels such as Silver Palette, Sable and Rosenfeldt, Duggins organic, Emilia, Shultz & Radomsky, Aux Printemps, House of Tsang, Patak and many more. Plus MarketSquare’s private label which will offer 64 products by year-end, such as imported Dijon mustard with white wine for $1.99.

So ready or not, Calgary – here it is. “”A three-million-dollar world-class project,”” according to The Bay’s Alberta general manager, Merl Kruzel. “”We researched this project in New York, San Francisco, Atlanta and London,”” he says. “”This is the first of its kind in Canada and is the prototype for similar projects opening this year in Vancouver and Montreal.””

And there’s no doubt about it. MarketSquare is a fabulous facility. “”I love it here,”” says awe-struck shopper, Brenda Thomas, “”but I wonder if Calgary will be able to support a place this size.””

Bay brass are confident their project will be well-received and say studies show Calgarians have sophisticated tastes and are adventurous shoppers. What do Calgarians say for themselves? The Herald asked MarketSquare shoppers and others what they thought and here is a selection of their opinions.

* W. J McDougall has shopped in the area and at The Bay specifically since his children were small. “”Now I come here every day,”” he says, “”and look over the fish counter. I’m too old to carry anything home. So I decide what looks good, then my grandson picks it up for me after work.””

* “”The vegetables are good, but they’re too expensive,”” says another Calgary senior, who prefers not to be named. “”The fish is excellent, but there is no meat!””

* Michele Stratton wishes the store had more plain groceries.

* Sandy Johnson works close by and comes as often as she can for clam chowder at lunch. “”It’s very good, but we’re not the only ones who think so. So my friend orders the soup and saves our seats while I get the bread.””

* Ramona Miller says the deli selections are tasty and affordable, but finds it hard to choose. She settled on meatballs and broccoli for supper.

“”The Chinese food at the deli counter isn’t as good as you get in Chinatown because it’s pre-cooked,”” says Sue Chan. “”But it’s much nicer and less expensive than the corner Chinese restaurant in my neighborhood. Try the beef with black bean sauce. I buy it here when I’m entertaining and don’t have time to cook.””

* “”This is the perfect place to buy gifts,”” observes Diane Taylor.

* World traveller Joanne Bannon is delighted. “”It’s like shopping in Macy’s or Harrod’s. The atmosphere here is what I like.””

* Terry Teskey has mixed feelings. “”There are only a few places in town to get salt sticks and I can get them here, but I don’t think much of the cheese selection – a slim choice. Otherwise I love the feeling of abundance. And the coffee is wonderful. This is a place to come, meet a friend or just sit and soak it all up.””

Cathy LaPlante, Calgary caterer, brings up perhaps the most important issue relative to the project’s succes. “”I really liked it when I first saw it but I just never seem to get back there.””

Bay officials have targeted an estimated 15,000 retired citizens, including a wide ethnic base who reside in the area and do their shopping in small batches daily. MarketSquare also appeals to downtown lunch-types and those looking for great take-out. Anyone throwing a party will appreciate the one-stop gourmet shopping for the food, but will have to make another stop for the wine.

But MarketSquare will also have to draw customers city-wide. However, it isn’t designed for weekly food shoppers. And lugging too-many-purchases-to- carry back to the car is a problem. You can pick things up at the Bay Parkade, but it takes time to have the items delivered and customers parked elsewhere must return with their car for pick-up.

The best suggestion I’ve heard yet is to hire runners – kids dressed in distinctive costume – to tote your stuff to the car promptly. This would be the ultimate service and in keeping with the overall philosophy of MarketSquare.