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The oldest retail store on Bayview is closing

Photis PhilosThe oldest surviving retail store on our stretch of Bayview Ave. will probably close this year, unless someone buys Bell Jewellers.

That now seems unlikely.

A sale of up to 80 percent off every item there has already started and will continue to the end of the year. No one has made an offer to Photis Philos, who has owned the store since Dec. 31, 1979.

According to the book Leaside, edited by Jane Pitfield, the store was first opened at Christmas 1936, beside the popcorn concession booth outside the Bayview Moving Picture Theatre, now Shoppers Drug Mart.

Badali’s Fruit Market opened the following year.

Philos says Mr. Bell, a Scot, sold the store for $670 in 1947 to a Mr. Fine, who needed to get official permission to buy it two years after World War II because he was Jewish.

Fine sold it to Israel Erlich, who was shot to death in the store in November, 1979 by two youths looking for drug money. Erlich refused to give them what they wanted.

Philos bought the store on Dec. 31 that same year. In July of the next year, he recalls, his first child, Theodora, took her first steps walking on her own from the front door into the store.

When he moved in the street was being torn up. “They haven’t stopped,” he says.

He remembers that at that time he charged $18 for a complete watch overhaul. But the annual rent was $250. Today he charges $120 because his rent is $3,500.

His business tax then was $300 a year, today over $10,000. Insurance was $1,200, today $12,000.

But even though his prices have increased, his business is down by 55 percent in the past 10 years, he says, blaming it mostly on the growing retail businesses on Laird and partly on the increase in the number of jewellery stores in the area.

But he’s leaving mainly for health reasons.

“I’ll leave with tears in my eyes. I love it all, the good and the bad. Thanks to everyone in the neighbourhood. I’m grateful for a nice run.”