You’ve probably driven by the store a hundred times and thought to yourself that it’s not really open anymore, but Lightman’s Limited is very much in business, and you should drop in.
Lightman’s, at 3270 Danforth Ave., east of Pharmacy, is the oldest store on the Danforth. Owner Kenneth Lightman has trouble recalling the exact year that his father opened the store, but figures it was near the end of the Second World War, probably 1943.
“There was a store here before we took over,” he said. Looking around the store you can tell it’s from another era. The floors are wooden – “They’re easy on the feet if you have to stand all day waiting on customers.” – and in what he calls ‘the third store’ there is an original tin ceiling. Lightman’s actually expanded over the years to take up three stores in that strip of Danforth between Pharmacy and Warden. “I’ve expanded it,” he said. “Now I’m going to have to contract it!”
Lightman explained that the building itself is over 100 years old. “I’ve thought of fixing the store up, but I don’t think it would help the business much. The Danforth is just not a shopping area anymore.
“It was a working man’s area for years and years,” recalled Lightman. “We relied on people who needed construction clothing – work boots, coveralls – but the neighbourhood has changed over the years. Most of our customers drive in now.”
Lightman is proud of the various products his store specializes in; Dickies brand work clothes, Terra work boots, Big Bill jeans, and says he can remember the good days when a Monday morning would see a line up of guys outside his store needing to buy work boots to go to their jobs on construction sites. “We were the only store in the area that carried them,” he said.
Lightman also recalled the days when Pharmacy Avenue and that end of the Danforth were still not paved. The area just north and east of Danforth was market garden farming, and there was a large farmer’s market every weekend in an open lot across the street from his store.
“On Saturday mornings we’d have seven or eight girls working here,” he said. “When the market closed for the day, the farmers would come over to the store and stock up on clothing, and boots.”
In the last couple of years the store has been used as a set in at least two movies. Lightman was telling me that a third movie is being considered.
“The location scout came in and checked the place out,” he said. “But I haven’t heard from them since. I’m not sure about the movie people. They disrupt business for two to three days, they move everything around, mix things up… and I have to put it back when they leave. Takes me several days to rearrange the store after.”
These days Lightman doesn’t come into the store until the afternoon. Anna, who has worked there for at least 20 years, opens up every morning. The store closes at 4 p.m., and Lightman admits that he should stay open longer.
“I’ve put in my innings,” he said. “Used to be we’d stay open until 9. Not any more.” Although he wouldn’t admit his age, it would be safe to say that Kenneth Lightman is well past the age when most of us would like to be retired and sitting on a dock somewhere sipping gin in a Muskoka chair. There are no family succession plans, so I asked what the future holds for the oldest store on the Danforth.
“I’ll probably keep it open at least until the end of the year,” Lightman said. So it might be a good thing to drop in and say hello before Lightman’s closes. You never know, there might be something there you could use.
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I really enjoyed your story. I remember in the 60s going to Lightmans with my mom. Mr. Lightman was a lovely man and everyone had credit in his store. He pulled out a piece of paper and would mark your purchase down. The following week we would go down and pay. Trust………The store never changed……..God bless him. Very hard working man……