Loblaws would be among the last mainstream big-box grocery store I'd criticize because they have often been the best in terms of design, though far from perfect. Canadian Architect
has an interesting article from September 2001 here
detailing their efforts at the time. Loblaws has showed a willingness to build stores which meet the street decently and to minimize surface parking lots or avoid them completely. Two brick Loblaws come to mind: Humbercrest Market
and the Dupont and Christie
location. Both occupy large blocks but have multiple entrances to facilitate pedestrian traffic. The two stores have a traditional two-storey brick warehouse aesthetic with many windows, which gives them a pleasant presence in their respective streetscapes. Flower departments open up onto the sidewalk in the warmer months. Why are other big-box retailers so hesitant to have lots of windows and multiple entrances to facilitate pedestrian access when Loblaws has done it so seamlessly?
The St. Clair West and Queen's Quay East locations have restrained but pleasant modern design. They create an attractive streetwall unbroken by surface parking lots, and are relatively pedestrian-friendly in terms of entrances. However, the bunker of a parking garage on Lake Shore and on Jarvis near Lake Shore isn't pretty. The Queen's Quay location also has a clothing storefront and is a bit of a landmark with an attractive pitched roof that's copper green in colour. In general, Loblawses so much better than cheap looking Metros, including the egregious suburban design of the Metro on Bloor in The Annex
with a blank wall of brownish beige precast along Bloor in one of our most celebrated neighbourhoods. Loblaws invests more and they look good doing it. That's why I was surprised that they would demolish their historic Art Deco warehouse on Lakeshore for a new store.
Unfortunately, the Loblaws Humbercrest Market had hand-painted murals in the parking garage and large murals on the walls in the store (which may or may not have been hand-painted), depicting traditional markets and architectural elements. It might not have the brightest idea for a modern big-box grocery store to depict traditional market scenes (ironic in a self-defeating way), but those murals beautified the store and parking garage. Now they've been painted over and removed for bland white walls. They also had a whimsical and elaborate fake mature tree by the fresh meal section, but I believe it was also removed in favour of nothing. I was quite surprised to see such pointless cheapening in a store that I really enjoyed visiting as a kid. So I'm not sure if they're as sophisticated and ambitious today as they were about 10 years ago, though the Maple Leaf Gardens project seems to continue in that spirit.