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.