Yesterday and Today: Chow & Sons

Chow & Sons Food Market Humberlea’s ground-breaking store

By Tim Lambrinos

When immigrants arrive in Canada, they are often driven with the fundamental principle of trying to carve out a life and future for their new young family.

In 1958, Tom Chow decided to purchase a local grocery store that was for sale on the northeast corner of Weston Road and Gaydon Avenue. The site was just north of Wilson Avenue and Albion Road.

Chow took a huge financial risk and a leap of faith and together with his new bride Jenny, they set out to make a new life in this quaint community of Humberlea. With clarity of vision, Tom saw boundless potential in his newly acquired business. He realized that a successful store would require great dedication, relentless determination, hard work and of course long hours. Chow gradually grew his store to become a central community icon, eventually competing with two nearby larger rivals. As it was, the nearest grocery store was an IGA supermarket located north up Weston Road at the Woodview Park Plaza. The other was Loblaws, located much further north and outside the immediate Humberlea catchment area.

As the sole proprietor of the store, Tom decided on the name Chow & Sons in respect to his older brother and father.

He hoped the store would provide a financially sound future for his whole family, while fulfilling his dream of working alongside his father, brother, father-in-law and extended family members.

He would employ some part-time staff from the immediate community as well and even managed to find time to learn to speak and write English with incentive from staff and customers alike. It was the norm to see him working in his store in excess of 16 hours a day and 7 days a week. Always smiling and chatting with his customers, Tom’s honesty and integrity earned him the respect of the immediate community.

Tom Chow’s business motto was to ensure a wide variety of the finest quality of fresh produce, meat and everyday groceries.

As a result, Chow & Sons Food Market became a welcomed and respected fixture in the immediate neighbourhood. The store became known for having different products that typically could not be found in other nearby supermarkets. As well, the store offered a wide selection of seasonal items such as flowers, garden-plants, pumpkins and Christmas trees. These goods were displayed outside and around the store throughout different times of the year.

To set his business further apart, Tom decided to offer free home-delivery service to his customers. Customers were able to phone in their orders, as well.

Chow and Sons provided this highly personalized service to many seniors throughout the larger community as far away as Kipling Avenue and Albion Road. It was indispensable since many of them found it physically demanding to get out and buy their own groceries. Tom was proud to provide such an essential community service, which proved most valuable during the seclusion of harsh winter months. Eventually, this became a vital part of his business.

In June 1959, Tom and Jenny welcomed their first daughter, Mamie. A year later a second daughter, Linda, was born followed by a son David in 1964. Tom and Jenny lived in a small house nearby but eventually needed to move to accommodate their expanding family. They found a lovely two-story house on Aura Lea Boulevard where they would raise their three children.

The children attended nearby Melody Road Public School. They often dropped by the store after school and every Sunday after church in hopes their dad would give them one of the treats found behind the candy counter. Occasionally, they ended up helping themselves when everyone seemed too busy to notice. Chow senior was likely well aware of this and found it rather amusing to watch them in action.

The Chow children all attended Emery Junior High School and the two eldest children graduated from Emery Collegiate Institute. The Chows eventually moved away from the neighbourhood in 1978 and David attended high school elsewhere. The children were all exceptional students and graduated with honours. Both Mamie and Linda went on to graduate from York University with an MBA from Schulich School of Business. David Chow chose to attend the University of Toronto and graduated from the Rotman School of Business, receiving his CPA designation. All three children have achieved successful careers in the business world and financial sectors...surely having been greatly influenced and inspired by following the example of their father.

In 1967, Chow & Sons Food Market was forced to move their cherished and well established business when the building was sold. Tom decided to expand his business once again, relocating it to Highway 7 and Dufferin Street. It was certainly a great loss for the community to see the old store being demolished to make way for a small strip plaza. The plaza remains there today where a Becker’s convenience store occupies the same spot.

Today, Tom and Jenny Chow look forward to celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary. Their courage, dedication and strong values have been forged in their children and grandchildren (Nicole, Leah, Rachel and Michelle) as well as the many lives they have touched along the way.

The Chow family will forever remember with great fondness the warm and welcoming neighbours, friends and community of Humberlea. And of course, that trail-blazing home-based food market.