Henry's (electronics retailer)
Henry's is a Canadian electronics retailer that sells a variety of photography, video and related technology based products. Headquartered in Toronto, Ontario, Henry's is known in the Canadian photographic industry as a source for imaging technologies, and well informed imaging experts. A family owned and operated business, Henry's opened in 1909 and has evolved into Canada's largest independent photographic and digital retailer.
119 Church Street, Toronto, Ontario,
Number of locations
|Andrew Stein (Chairman)|
Gillian Stein (CEO)
Number of employees
1909-32: Founding and getting started
Henry's was established in 1909 by Harry Himelstein, a Russian laborer on the Trans-Siberian Railway - turned watchmaker - who immigrated to Canada in 1906 at the age of 16. Upon his arrival in Toronto, shortened his name to become Harry Stein. The remainder of the Himelstein family immigrated to various locations in the United States.
As a watchmaker, Stein got started in the watch and jewellery business in Toronto and started Henry's & Company in 1909 at the age of 19. The store was given the name Henry, as Stein was not fond of his name, Harry. The first store was located on Yonge Street in what was then the heart of the business district of the growing city of Toronto.
In 1916, after marrying his wife Anna Bialick, Stein moved the jewelry business to a new location at 558 Queen Street West, where it would remain until 1921. Living in a small apartment above the business, the Steins expanded their family with the birth of daughter Sylvia and son Gerald in 1916 and 1918, respectively.
In 1932, sensing a shift in the business culture of the city that was still known to many as Hogtown, Stein decided to move closer to what he considered the city core and relocated to 63 Queen Street West. The new location had the added appeal of being a stone's throw from Bay Street, which was quickly becoming the financial capital of the city and the country. The store remained at this location until 1945.
1940-59: Harry & Gerald
Sometime in the early 1940s, Gerald Stein joined his father in the jewelry business. Becoming a certified gemologist and watchmaker gave the younger Stein the expertise he needed to help with the business.
In 1945, Harry and Gerald purchased a building located at 107 to 113 Queen Street West that had four retail shops and apartments upstairs. Henry & Company's new home was now 113 Queen Street West. This represented a big leap for the business; it was the first time the Steins had owned their own building. At the time, this stretch of Queen Street was anchored on the east end by a branch of the Toronto-Dominion Bank and also boasted the famous Casino Theatre, a major attraction. Most of the rest of the block was taken up with secondhand goods stores and pawn shops.
From 1945 until 1958 the store was run by father and son, Harry and Gerald, and sold watches and jewellery both new and secondhand. They also repaired watches and dealt in secondhand goods including every once in a while a camera or two.
As the business grew, so did the family. Playing their part in the post-war baby boom, Gerald and his wife since 1943 had three children: Mari Lynn (1946), Andrew (1949), and Joanne (1952).
1959-71: Gerald & Adele
In the mid to late 1950s the economy was shifting and the watch and jewelry business became rather stagnant. In that era, the retail world in Toronto was dominated by large department stores such as Eaton's and Simpson's located a block away at Queen and Yonge Street.
In 1958, at the age of 40, Gerald suffered a heart attack and took a leave of absence from the business. After his recuperation, he tried working at a few different retail outfits but decided to buy out his father and take over the family business. With his wife Adele, Gerald bought out Harry on May 20, 1959. Gerald and Adele Stein were now the owners of Henry & Company, a business that was just entering its second half century.
As the modern era in retailing had its genesis in the late 1950s, several things started to change: discounting began to take hold, small independents started to challenge the stranglehold of Eaton's and their lesser rival Simpson's by offering personal service and competitive pricing. Specialization started to gain popularity. The two retail giants in Toronto had access to the big brands and were leaders in most fields, including electronics.
In the late 1950s, the Japanese consumer electronics industry emerged. Up to this time, only German-made cameras were considered high quality. By the late 1950s, innovative and reliable products were starting to be manufactured in Japan. In 1959, the Steins added photographic equipment and supplies to the store. They started with four rolls of 8 mm movie film, purchased from Mercury Photo, a photo lab and wholesaler owned by Al Soloman and located on close by Simcoe Street. They sold out their minimal stock in the first day and from there continued to expand the product selection. They battled to make distribution deals with numerous companies as their department store rivals clung to their association with traditional brands. By 1964 sales were split approximately 50% photo and 50% jewellery and secondhand goods.
In 1964, the City of Toronto expropriated the Steins' building at 113 Queen Street West in anticipation of the construction of a new Toronto City Hall, and in order to rid the area of what many considered eyesores: the small secondhand shops, jewelry stores and pawn shops that dotted the south side of the street. The block was torn down and is now the site of the Sheraton Centre Hotel.
Harry and Gerald made a handsome profit on the building and in 1964, Gerald and Adele Stein moved Henry & Company to a new location at 135 Church Street, just north of Queen. This new store was approximately 2,000 square feet, a vast increase over the previous location. Over several years, Gerald and Adele concentrated more and more on photographic goods and began to move away from secondhand goods and jewellery.
By 1971, Henry & Company had approximately five employees working alongside the Steins. That year, Gerald suffered a stroke and decided to sell the business. He sold it to a group of five limited companies. The five partners were: Gerald's son, Andrew, son-in-law, Mark Wolfson (husband to the Steins' youngest daughter, Joanne), brother-in-law Morton (Sonny) Bernholtz, Herb Brudner and Ed Zdziarski. Bernholtz, Brudner and Zdziarski were accountants based in Windsor, Ontario. They had successfully ventured into several operating businesses and felt that Henry & Company would be a good investment with lots of potential for growth.
Together Andrew Stein and Mark Wolfson looked after the day-to-day business while the three more senior partners dealt with the administrative side. With new ownership came an immediate change in the format of the store at 135 Church Street. Within a few years, all of the other product categories were eliminated and Henry & Company became solely focused on photographic equipment and supplies. It was then that the store started to attract seasoned sales people.
Between 1971 and 1974, business was booming and the need for more space than 135 Church Street could offer became evident. The company purchased a 16,000 sq ft building one block south on Church Street and after renovating it, the space became one of the largest specialty retailers in the photographic field in Canada. In the three years since the new ownership, the store had moved from its 2,000 sq ft home and a few employees to a staff of 30 or more in a space eight times bigger. Prior to moving to 119 Church Street in September 1974, the decision was made to change the corporate name from Henry & Company to the more modern sounding Henry's. The name change corresponded with a new orange logo; giving the store a distinctive identity. Henry's has remained at 119 Church Street from 1974 until today. Having gone through numerous renovations and reinventions that have enlarged the space several times, it still remains the flagship of the chain.
In 1977, they opened a wholesale division, called Targit, which imported and distributed photographic goods. Henry's also had a partnership in a retail photo operation in Chicago. The photo business was booming at this time due to the popularity and affordability of the single-lens reflex camera. Henry's had six retail stores by the early 1980s. Henry's expanded into the photofinishing field in 1980, by making an acquisition of a company called Photo King. The late 1970s were followed by the early 1980s recession. As a result of the poor performance of the photo finishing company along with the deepening recession and skyrocketing interest rates, Henry's went into receivership on November 15, 1982. All the branches, except the main store, were closed and the bank debt was paid off. The building at 119 Church Street was sold off as were most of the other assets.
1982-present: Expanding again
One of the partners in the defunct company, Andrew Stein, grandson of Harry, felt that there was still value in the company because its name and reputation were well known across Canada and throughout the industry. Andrew's offer to buy back the company was accepted on February 11, 1983. Henry's was again in the hands of the Stein family. Andrew and his wife, Gaye, founded Cranbrook Glen Enterprises Limited, which became the sole owner of Henry's.
From 1983 to 1992, Henry's remained a one store operation. In 1985, the Steins repurchased the property at 119 Church Street. Several companies, such as Toronto Camera, Queen Street Camera, Classic camera and others were purchased by Henry's during this time. In every case, the merchandise was purchased and sold off and the physical locations were closed. In the case of Queen Street Camera, Henry's took over the retail space and added to the scope of the flagship store. Queen Street Camera was located at 85 Queen Street West; a location that now serves as the rental department of the downtown super store until it's rentals program ended in 2017.
Henry's remained as a one store operation until 1992. At that time, Steeles Camera in the north end of the city at Steeles Avenue and Yonge Street was purchased. Steeles Camera had been owned and operated from 1983 until 1992 by Mark Wolfson, one of the former partners in Henry's. Wolfson has been with Henry's since 1992 in various capacities and for the last several years has been Vice President of Sales, responsible for all sales functions of the company. In 1992, Henry's had two locations, the downtown flagship and north end store to serve the Greater Toronto Area's growing suburban population. In 1997, Henry's acquired Oshawa Camera and also opened a location in Mississauga that same year. Henry's now had four locations.
In 1997, Andrew Stein suffered a heart attack at the age of 47, and about 6 months later decided to bring in a chief operating officer to run the company in conjunction with the five vice presidents. Ian Landy was brought in to fill the job after a successful career as a marketer in companies such as Bristol Myers, Rowntree McIntosh, Grand & Toy and Bi-Way.
Andrew Stein, the shareholder, was the merchant and Ian Landy, the COO, was the marketer. Landy was promoted to the position of President several years after starting with the company. He still has the bulk of his original vice presidents reporting to him. He has also become an active member in the Retail Council of Canada and in the Photo Marketing Association. Under his guidance the company expanded from four stores in 1997 to 30 stores. In 2015, Gillian Stein, daughter of Andrew Stein, replaced Landy as CEO, Henrys.
- "Company Overview of Cranbrook Glen Enterprises Limited". Bloomberg Businessweek. April 22, 2013. Retrieved April 22, 2013.
- "Henry's 100th Anniversary". henrys.com.
- "Store Locations".