Toronto’s iconic 141-year-old Brunswick House, formerly a boisterous bar popular with university students, has been transformed into a flagship Rexall drug store. Many of the building’s heritage elements have been preserved, both inside and out. The 7,469 square foot store is located at 481 Bloor Street West in the Annex neighbourhood.
The new Rexall's interiors include many fixtures from its predecessor, including a number of lovely crystal chandeliers and antique tin ceilings. The former keg barrel bar has been modified to create the store’s new checkout counter. The ‘Ye Olde Brunswick House’ sign is now featured prominently on a wall in the store’s food section. The building’s exterior has also been completely restored, including the careful cleaning of exterior brick and limestone.
According to Derek Tupling, a spokesperson for Rexall, the retailer worked closely with the city’s heritage division, Bloor Annex BIA and the Harbord Village Residents Association throughout the renovation process.
The story of how The Brunswick became a drug store is somewhat unique. Attila Schwarze, sales representative with The Behar Group, was walking past the building in the summer of 2013 when he spotted the building’s landlord. Mr. Schwarze asked why the large space was closed mid-afternoon during the week. After a brief conversation, the landlord told Mr. Schwarze that the existing tenant’s term was ending in December of 2016, and from that point on The Behar Group worked with Northwest Atlantic’s Michael Calderone to bring in Rexall as a replacement tenant.
A group of family physicians will also be opening a 2,600 square foot medical clinic with a walk-in and other medical services on the second level of the historical building.
While some may lament the loss of a popular social space, many local residents were happy to see “The Brunny” come to an end. Late night noise, drunken scuffles and crime were all attributed to the former bar. Patrons of the building’s new tenant are likely to be better behaved — though the loss of another social space is of concern to some.
Converting heritage buildings to drug stores isn’t unprecedented. In Toronto, the former Runnymede Theatre on Bloor Street West is now a Shoppers Drug Mart, with various heritage elements preserved as part of the store’s design. In Chicago, one of the most magnificent looking drug stores in the world is a Walgreens flagship on Milwaukee Avenue, which opened in late 2012 in a former historic bank building.
Last week, we reported that Toronto’s current Hard Rock Cafe on Yonge Street will become a Shoppers Drug Mart towards the end of this year. While the new drug store will serve locals and tourists, many are lamenting the loss of a restaurant and patio that has been in operation for close to 40 years.
The Brunswick House Rexall store is now open to the public, and is hosting its grand opening on April 28.