Donning construction helmets and fluorescent red vests, the media took a preview tour of the John Street Roundhouse yesterday as crews feverishly prepared for the opening of its newest occupants: a railway museum and the first downtown Leon’s furniture store.
Leon’s occupies roughly a third of the 70-year-old building (also home to Steam Whistle Brewing); the company came under fire when it announced it would move into the heritage site, drawing criticism from councillor Adam Vaughan and Steam Whistle president Cam Heaps, who both argued that the furniture retailer wouldn’t be a good fit.
Two years and $25 million later, Leon’s, which turns 100 this year, is scheduled to open on July 8, but historical and cultural buffs need not worry about a suburban big box ruining the aesthetic of the Roundhouse.
A discreet platinum sign has replaced the company’s garish yellow logo, and much of the original ceiling and brick walls have been restored. Impressively, should Leon’s decide to move out, the floors and fixtures can be removed without damaging the building because they aren’t permanently installed (the store’s floors sit on top of the railway tracks).
“We originally wanted to build a mezzanine so that we could have more retail space,” says Leon’s president Terry Leon. “But once we saw the building, we immediately scrapped that idea, because there was no way we were going to mess with its original integrity.”
As a result, this is not an average Leon’s but an attempt to captivate downtowners. The merchandise has been tailored to suit 700-foot condos rather than spacious three-bed, two-bath dwellings, offering smaller sofas, lower bed frames and dining tables that seat four, not eight. The hideous oak finishes and deflated-looking leather couches synonymous with the company have been replaced by sleek furniture, dark woods and fresh fabric colours, like apple green and robin’s egg blue.
At the end of the store is a working dual kitchen in which Leon says cooking demonstrations and celebrity cook-offs will be held. A little farther down is the electronics department, where non-tech-savvy homeowners can attend bi-weekly seminars.
The public’s reaction won’t be known for another few weeks, but Leon’s has taken the precautionary route by working with the city’s culture division and local historians. After all, with millions already spent, this is hardly a No Money Miracle.
Leon’s at the Roundhouse, 255 Bremner Blvd., 416-642-0630, leons.ca.