Why Mike's News Was the Greatest Store Ever
I grew up in a working class area in northeast Edmonton, about two blocks north of where Commonwealth Stadium is located. Before I started working summer jobs, summer days always seemed to give me too much time on my hands.
Some of that time saw me taking the #3 bus downtown. An old magazine store called Mike's News was my favourite place to stop at, but I didn't realize how special it was until it was gone.
Each summer I think back to the days I grew up in Edmonton and Mike's News was a big part of those summer months. Although a growing segment of the population doesn't remember the store on Jasper Avenue, I'm sure a lot of us who grew up in the 60's and 70's do because it was the greatest store ever.
Floors That Talked and Tobacco That Smelled
My most vivid memory of Mike’s News isn’t related to the magazines, newspapers or pocketbooks it sold. It was the sound of creaking wood floors. It seemed everyone made a slightly different sound as they walked from the front door on Jasper Avenue towards the counter, or back of the store.
As my eyes looked over magazines, my ears picked up the sounds of people talking at the counter and especially the old wooden floors creaking. I got pretty good at figuring how big a customer was by the sound they made as they walked across those worn out floors.
My other memory was the smell of tobacco. It was sold in pouches and tins at the counter, where they wrapped the magazines. Above the glass counter were large spools of industrial-sized cord. When people bought newspapers, the Mike’s employee would reach up and grab a section of cord, cut it in just the right spot and then roll up the newspaper, sometimes with a magazine inside, and wrap it with a tight bow. Having newspapers rolled and tied was a nice way to send a customer on their way.
Mike’s News had a long, narrow layout and along the east wall from the front of the store where weekly newspapers like The Northern Miner sat, were thousands of magazines. The early 70’s came a generation before the internet became popular, so many of those magazines and papers contained information you couldn’t get elsewhere.The great thing about Mike’s was that people could browse through various titles without being told to move on. Even a teenager like me got more than his fair share of long looks through magazines my mother wouldn’t approve of.
At the back of the store was a steep ramp that was about three-metres in length. It took me past the store’s office, which always seemed to have the same people working inside, to the ticket counter, which was another magical place.
They sold tickets for Edmonton Oil Kings games at the Edmonton Gardens and wrestling at the Sales Pavilion, along with rock concerts at the Gardens and other venues. The cool thing was the tickets had already been printed and sat in racks against the wall behind the counter. I’d look at a floor layout for the venue, which was a simple laminated sheet of paper, and ask for the best seats in certain sections. It was a great feeling to get ringside seats to wrestling, close enough to see the sweat fly off the forehead of The Stomper.
I never knew what was behind a door at the back of the ticket counter, but a few years later I found out. After graduating from high school, I worked for a year with a company called Provincial News. It distributed magazines and pocketbooks across Edmonton and northern Alberta.
In early 1975, I got promoted to what was known as the Downtown Check-up Route, and my biggest client was Mike’s News. I remember driving my white Chevy Vega, with plastic fake wood paneling up the alley and parked behind Mike’s. Inside there was a receiving area run by a short, rotund guy named Fred. Virtually everything that was sold at Mike’s and went out the front door, came in the back door and was handled by Fred. He was a smart guy and a straight shooter who was good to deal with. He had a great system to track everything that came in and went out.
I remember him telling me on a Monday that the store was getting low on Playboy (must have been a good centerfold that month) and I’d return the next day with an extra bundle for him. He’d mention he was getting low on Cosmopolitan on a Wednesday and the next day I would have him restocked. I also did my own inventory of major titles twice a week and would find magazines the store was low on and restocked them. Fred and I made a good team.
I remembered what I felt like as a customer when a magazine I wanted to buy at Mike’s had been sold out and I wanted to make sure that happened as little as possible on my watch.
Watching Mike's Death Warrant Signed
Fast forward about five years and I had graduated from Radio and TV Arts at NAIT, had started in radio by working in a couple of smaller markets and was back in Edmonton working for CHQT radio and covering City Hall.
I remember City Council approving the construction of Scotia Place on the north side of Jasper Avenue where Mike’s was. It would have to move. Not only that, but so would my favourite record store, Kelly’s (formerly Kelly DeJong) which was a door or two west of Mike’s News on Jasper. Mike’s and Kelly’s made a great 1-2 combination. I spent a lot of time and money in those two stores and both were always well spent.
When construction started, Mike’s had to move in the early 80's. As I remember it, the store ended up around the corner and up 101 Street, in a location just south of the Tegler Building. I think it took over the space where a record store named Miller’s had once been.
The store was bigger and brighter, but it wasn’t the same. Gone were the creaky wooden floors and the smell of tobacco wasn’t as prevalent either. It was like the sequel to a great movie, and in this case the sequel didn’t even look like the original. The other thing that was different were the customers. There weren’t near as many. You used to need to jockey for position to get a copy of the magazine you wanted at the old store. It wasn’t a problem now because it seemed a lot of people couldn’t find the new place. Mike’s News closed in the 80’s, after serving Edmonton for 70 years.
When I thought of writing this blog I finally realized that I had seen Mike’s News as a customer, as a person who worked there for a few months and as somebody who sat in Council Chambers in the old City Hall and watched as Council basically signed its death warrant when it approved Scotia Place. I might be the only person alive who knew it from those three angles.
RIP Mike’s News. There will never be another one like you.
Thanks for sharing those wonderful memories. Use to spend a lot of time there, fun to get the racing form there, then off to the Palace of Sweets to get some candy. lots of awesome memories
Thanks Grant, I was tranfered up from Calgary and was introduced to Mike’s a colleague. I too loved that store and yes, the tobacco smell. Sometimes I think I can still smell it. Loved those old, dark and creaky floors too.
What intrigued me time and time again were the newspapers from around the world. They had not just the Wall Street Journal or the Times but papers from France, Italy, Germany and more. And of course the magazines, there was a lot of flesh shown. Mike’s was a class act, an Edmonton Institution!!
Thanks for the memories Hans. Those newspapers brought people who emigrated to the Edmonton area vital news from back home.
What follows is a single post bifurcated by software. Sorry about that, chief.
Now considered by many to be an 'old-timey' Edmontonian, I first entered Mike's News in 1967 as a fourteen-year-old to buy a $2.50 ticket to see The Who in the Edmonton Gardens. Afterwards, I patronized Mike's until it finally shut down
on Jasper Avenue west of 103 Street.
(The Who were the middle-act of a Benny Benjamin production that opened with The Blues Magoos and closed with Herman's Hermits. Needless to say, music fans of all stripes got their money's worth that night).
It's hard to decribe to kids these days what a vibrant place Edmonton's downtown once was. My memories began in 1960 - and I can only imagine what the experience was like in decades prior.
Between 97th and 109th Street, between Jasper Avenue and 104th Avenue, there were more *unique* shops, stores, businesses, and movie theatres in that space than in all of today's malls combined.
It was a busy place. Walking downtown sidewalks on a Saturday afternoon meant careful navigation just to avoid personal injury.
And you could note how popular a particular movie was at a glance by observing the near-dozen single-screen theatre line-ups that stretched down Jasper Avenue or up along 101st Street.
Walking into Mike's that day in 1967 was like walking into the internet circa 1995, a place full of wonder (long before corporate interest and social media took hold).
Inside Mike's, it was like the entire world had been made available in a single room. Admittance was free and loitering was more than tolerated.
Thanks for your memories. Much appreciated.
You mentioned movies. The Capital Theatre was right across Jasper Avenue from Mike's. Saw my first movie there - Pinocchio.
As mentioned, the Mike's experience was extremely sensual: the creaking floors, the smell of the tobacco, the feel of fresh ink rubbing off the newspapers and magazines onto your fingers, the taste of the candies sold from under glass,
and the sound of friendly and positive banter amongst customers and staff.
And the whole experience was capped off by the constant Jasper Avenue presence of that iconic neon sign, the smoking man with the restless legs reading the Toronto Star Weekly.
If you had to meet someone downtown it was always, let's meet under Mike's.
As has been said before, they don't make nostalgia like they used to. And for a generation or two still breathing, Mike's News WAS Edmonton.
Long live Mike's News.
Thanks Grant for your memories. They helped re-kindle a few of mine.
Sensual? I never thought about it like that but now that you mention it....
It was like walking into another dimension, a place not like any other on Earth (but likely every town and small city everywhere had a Mike's).
My mother often noted (smelling my clothes, inspecting my blackened fingers, and seeing my face after a return trip on the N7 bus home to Kensington): you've to that Mike's again haven't you!
Guilty, with a smile.
Yes, Mike's was a respite from the everyday. I may have been 10 years old when I first overcame my childhood hesitation and pushed open the front door. I knew the familiar smell of tobacco, as my uncle had apologetically smoked a pipe around my family and we had thought nothing of it. The fresh tobacco, though...and then there were the racks of magazines from all over the world, iconic international newspapers, and that one long oak counter on the west wall usually had a few gentlemen in their work finery and hats...that hats! I bought tickets for epic rock shows at their box office, may times lining up, once first in line! Ironic that Ticketmaster's offices are located directly above the old Mike's site, in Scotia Place. Thanks for reminding me of this fantastic place, never to be forgotten. Today I live half a block from the Mike's News sign, it's never really left me.
Wow. Thanks for sharing. One of the most amazing (and hard to believe) memories from Mike;s News was how little we played for tickets to see some of the greatest bands of all time - like $5 for Led Zepplin.
Thanks for the walk down memory lane, Grant. Although I was a south side boy hanging out on Whyte Avenue in the 60’s, downtown on Saturday was the place to be and Mike’s was one of the destinations. Your description of the squeaky floors and the smell of tobacco resonates with nostalgia. Unfortunately, just a ghostly dream now - Anthony Allen
Thanks Anthony. Glad you liked it.
Here is a painting that my mother did in 1940. The view is looking north towards Jasper Ave & 100 St. from a room in the MacDonald Hotel. I believe Mike's would have been a bit further to the west.