Video: Did you know the BiWay had its roots in Mississauga?
Published April 17, 2023 at 9:41 am
At the time, it was the place where everyone shopped. But people were reluctant to admit it.
For longtime Mississauga residents, though, the mention of BiWay brings back memories of a different time when value outpaced fashion and a trip to the store with mom was an anticipated family outing.
Windsor-based documentary filmmaker Matthew Durocher has captured the nostalgia the department store evokes in the latest of his ongoing series that looks at retail shopping establishments in Ontario that are gone, but not forgotten.
For BiWay, he considers the store’s early roots at its location on Lakeshore Rd., well before Mississauga was established as a city and when Port Credit was a self-contained community that provided most everything residents desired.
“There is a lot of history to that store and its location in Port Credit,” says Durocher, who explains he makes his films simply to stir people’s memories. “I think a lot of people depended on it because it would provide everything you would need.”
And it did. A discount store that sold basic apparel and general merchandise, BiWay would often forsake name-brand items and instead offer generic or less chic labels at greatly reduced prices compared to larger department stores of the day such as Eaton’s, Simpsons, Zellers and Towers.
Its budget pricing also led BiWay to often be the butt of jokes by those who associated lower pricing with inferior quality.
“Yeah, if you were at school and someone wanted to make fun of you, you would hear things like, ‘Hey, where’d you get those jeans, at the BiWay’,” says Ron Rogers, who grew up on Ben Machree Dr. near the store. “The funny thing is some of those clothes you bought at BiWay outlasted the Jordache (jeans) and Adidas (running shoes) that the cool kids were wearing.”
And it was the ideal of providing quality goods at low prices that allowed BiWay to grow into a major chain that was not only found downtown in major cities, but in every village and hamlet from coast to coast.
But it was in Port Credit where it mostly began in 1961 at a store that was first called Westport that would later become BiWay under the leadership of owners Abe Fish and Mal Coven.
“That’s what makes the story great, Abe and Mal,” says Durocher. “They were great guys. The staff loved working for them and they were very friendly with the customers. Always there to say hello and chat with people.”
With documentaries recently surfacing about other retail stores, Durocher says it is time to get the BiWay story out there.
“People like to reminisce and the BiWay is a place that brings back good memories; it gives them feelings of better times,” Durocher says. “And as time passes, some of these places we enjoy might be forgotten. Hopefully, these films help us remember.”
Ownership of the chain eventually fell into different hands and by the early 2000s BiWay had disappeared, with Dollarama taking over many of the store locations. While there was hope BiWay would make a comeback, that plan has been permanently put on hold following Coven’s death in 2020.
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