Friday, 3 March 2017

A look back at Winnipeg's Mitchell Fabrics

Google Street View

Earlier this week, Mitchell Fabrics at 637 Main Street at Logan Avenue announced that it was closing after 70 years in business at the same location.

Mendel Berl Mitchell was born in Russia in 1907 and came to Manitoba with his family in 1921, settling in Reinland, Manitoba, near Winkler. His father, Monty, was a peddler who started a store in the home the family rented. (The photo above is of the site in Reinland, though the house was rebuilt after the Mitchells relocated to Winnipeg ca. 1947.)

After serving in World War II, Mitchell settled in Winnipeg in 1946 at 488 Flora Avenue. In the Henderson Directories of the period the house is listed as being owned by Leon Mitchell, a CPR employee. Around the same time, other Mitchells, including Benjamin, Flora, Beril and his wife Ruth also lived there.

Top: September 5, 1956, Jewish Post 
Bottom: November 28, 1966, Winnipeg Tribune

Mitchell started working for Mindess, Gilfix and Malt, wholesale jobbers, (clothing and fabrics), a company that dated back to 1906. He became a partner with Frank Gilfix in 1947 and the store was renamed Mitchell and Gilfix.

Mitchell's father would join him, both working at the store and living at 488 Flora.

It is unclear what happened to Frank Gilfix, but around 1960 the store was renamed Mitchell Fabrics.

It never changed locations, just expanded over the decades to take up more retail units within the block until it filled the entire 10,000 square foot building plus basement.

September 28, 1981, Winnipeg Free Press

Mitchell died on September 14, 1981 at Misericordia Hospital at the age of 74. It appears that he never married.

His obituary reads, in part: “Mendel was the creative and managing force behind Mitchell Fabrics from its beginning till his death. His ingenuity and imagination are reflected in the unique store which Mitchell Fabrics has become.”

The store has remained a family affair.

David and Ruth Ann (Mitchell) Borenstein married in 1965. The two co-owned and worked together at the store nearly 30 years.

Harry B. Mitchell, who owned and operated Western Garment Manufacturing Ltd from 1936 to 1971, worked at the store for a number of years after his retirement.

Paula Mitchell, (Winnipeg Public Library Annual Report, 2010)

In the mid-1980s, Mendel Mitchell's niece, Paula Mitchell, began working at the store and is a current co-owner and the public face of the company.

Mitchell has been praised by civic organizations for her dedication to the North Main Street area. She was a member of the 1997 North Main Task Force, part of the MuralFest advisory committee, chair of the Downtown BIZ and co-chair of the Winnipeg Library Foundation which successfully fundraised for the creation of the Millennium Library and Millennium Library Park.

September 15, 1984, Winnipeg Free Press
My photo album of the Bon Accord Building


crunchy floor said...

This location, I believe, was the Oak Theatre in the late 1950s-60s. The assertion Mitchell Fabrics has been there for 70 years is off a bit, methinks.

Christian Cassidy said...

No, I'm not off. The Bon Accord Building had four spaces on the main floor. From the mid-1940s to end of the 50s they were (from left to right) the Oak Theatre, Mitchell and Gilfix (there's an ad for it from the 1950s and the 1960s in the article above), New Main Cafe, J. Mindess and Co. and, possibly, Union Gospel Mission.

As I mention above, after 1960 and changing its name, they "expanded over the decades to take up more retail units within the block until it filled the entire 10,000 square foot building." This includes the Oak, which disappears from street directories in 1963.

It must have been a pretty small affair as before becoming a theatre it was a clothing store.

Grant Mitchell said...

Ruth Ann and David operated King Fabrics until Mendel died in 1981 and Ruth Ann took over managing Mitchell Fabrics, until Paula took over around 1993. The children in the family were Freida (Flora) who died June 12, 1972; Herschel (Harry), married to Gertrude Sirluck of Winkler, and father to Ruth Ann Borenstein, Paula and Michael; Mendel (Monty); Shlomo Ben Adam, who emigrated to Kibbutz Givat Brener in 1948; and Jonah (Leon), 1916 - 1987, married to Jean Leslie of Morden and father to April Katz and Grant Mitchell.

In the 1960's, the Oak Theatre became Payless Surplus, a retailer of fishing supplies operated by the Mallin family. When Mindess was acquired, Mitchell Fabrics hired its chief salesperson and sold off its inventory before filling the space with fabric. There was also extensive warehouse space for even more fabric in the back of the Occidental Hotel and National Hotel, as well as a stand alone warehouse across Main Street at 215 Logan Avenue.