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Inside the semi-controversial downtown Leon’s, set to open in July

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All fixtures can be removed if Leon’s vacates the Roundhouse (Photo by Karon Liu)

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.

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Terry Leon on one of his company's contemporary sofas (Photo by Karon Liu)

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 The hideous oak finishes and deflated-looking leather couches synonymous with the company have been replaced by sleek furniture, dark woods and fresh fabric colours, like apple green and robin’s egg blue.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.

  • Ethel Farslowe

    Who’s the rocket scientist that allowed a breathtakingly gorgeous heritage building to be turned into a discount furniture box store ?

  • Mark

    I must say that I am not a fan of big box store taking over historical buildings because they usually pervert them to reflect the cookie cutter style of the stores image, like the Staples on Yonge St. At least Leon’s is keeping the itegrity of the building and adapting their style to fit it. Not every historic site can be saved via the tax payers and everyone knows that we have knocked down far too many. So it is nice to see that, at least this one instance, when a large retail company does step in that they realize that the true value of the property is not their name but of the history of the space they occupy.

  • Orver

    I’m sure cosmopolitan tourists, boutique hipsters and assorted metrosexuals will be absolutely flocking to Leon’s to get cheap pleather sectionals and particle board tables for their poker nights. What’s next–a dollar store and a coin laundry? Leons–get real and get out.

  • Drew

    Everyone who’s crying out for this building to be turned into a historical site needs a reality check. Would you really want your tax dollars to foot the bill for it? At least Leon’s respects the heritage and the architecture of the building.

    We need more corporations like Leon’s who respects these buildings.

    BTW Orver, not everyone in the downtown core is a douchebag hipster. If you stepped outside of Queen street, you’d recognize our city is pretty diverse and everyone wants something different. If downtowners don’t want Leon’s there, they’ll speak with their dollars.

  • Orver

    Drew,
    FYI: Only a true hipster would use “BTW”. Besides, I wasn’t disparaging metrosexuals, I was aiming my ridicule at trashy bargainistas who shop at Leon’s and The Brick if they have any cash left over after buying cartons of cigarettes. The casinorama crowd may live in Toronto, but they are not part of the vibrant metro culture that embraces heritage sites like the roundhouse. Heritage and culture is important, and I do really want my tax dollars to foot the bill for it.

  • Billy

    “I was aiming my ridicule at trashy bargainistas who shop at Leon’s and The Brick if they have any cash left over after buying cartons of cigarettes.”

    Orver is a douchebag lmfao

  • Nancy

    I really think Leon’s is genius for putting a store in the middle of “Condo Central” of downtown. Many new condo owners will need to furnish their homes and all they have to do is take a short stroll down the street to a well known and trusted retailer for a 100 years. Leon’s has not only kept and restored the historical beauty of the Roundhouse but also uses sustainable methods when it comes to energy use. As you will all find out that even the most skeptical such as Adam Vaughan and David Miller too have changed their minds and are happy with the results. I don’t mean this to sound like an advertisement for Leon’s but I have seen the store and I think they have done excellent in actually accentuating the beauty of the roundhouse. I think it is smart move during a time of a recession.

  • Al

    Billy and Orver: You haven’t been in the store yet have you? At the risk of sounding like Nancy (“I don’t mean this to sound like an advertisement for Leon’s”) I went in yesterday to see what I had expected to be lame and was shocked. And I am not a “trashy bargainista.” IMHO there was really nice stuff there. It surprised me completely. I would never have considered buying at Leon’s but now I would for sure. Maybe this company has changed since the 80′s? Ya think? I do(now). Go in Billy and Orver, then post.

  • EK Black

    I’ve been into this store and it is clearly is a beautiful place in which Leon’s should be praised for their effort. Now if we can only convince Leon’s to sell more Canadian content in their furniture, then we’d have a truly Canadian hit that would be much more consistent with the location, the history of the building and the history of their family business.

  • Robbie

    trashy bargainista! Lords and ladies, unless you are well well heeled, and most aren’t….you are silly to NOT be a trashy bargainista.

    If you want to pay for something “you think is quality and unique” go ahead.

    I’ve seen trendy $200 t-shirts roll off lines right next to the garbage. Are they better…well of course they are….but not that much better. You’re still be robbed, and frankly….I don’t mind one bit. :)

    Keep spending!

 

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