BIRTH OF A LEGENDARY FAMILY BUSINESS
1812: The story of La Maison Simons begins when Peter Simons, born in 1785 in Scotland, settles in the Quebec City area on a small farm on Lac Duchesnay (now Lac Beauport) to raise his family of five children.
1840: One of his sons, 17-year-old John Simons, goes to Quebec City to open his first dry goods store near Porte St-Jean. In his tiny shop, he sells products imported from England and Scotland. People are soon hooked and John Simons, with his keen business sense, quickly understands that satisfied customers are his best measure of success. This policy snowballs and customers know they will receive full satisfaction or their money back!
1870: La Maison Simons moves to its current location at 20 côte de la Fabrique near the large basilica. From then on, it is a prosperous and highly respected fixture in the very heart of Old Quebec.
The years pass, and Gordon Simons takes over for his father, John. The thriving business continues to attract an increasingly loyal select clientele.
1952: Postwar prosperity paves the way to brand new markets. Donald Simons enters the scene, ushering Simons into the modern era and transforming it into a department store and leader in popularizing fashion.
CHANGE AND GROWTH OF EXCLUSIVE BRANDS
Donald Simons is part of a generation of creative young entrepreneurs with remarkable intuition. Guided by the energy of his times, he quickly grasps the importance of meeting the clothing needs of modern society.
He sets out to carve fashion niches unprecedented in Quebec. The 1960s give rise to Twik, fashions for young women 16 to 25. Modeled after Twiggy, Twik is much more than an inspiration and passing fad. It is a full department that becomes the place to shop for creations by bold young designers revolutionizing fashion in Europe and the U.S., including Mary Quant, Kenzo, Emmanuelle Khanh, and many more.
1961: A turning point. La Maison Simons enters a growth phase with a new store at Place Sainte-Foy in the heart of Quebec City’s most affluent suburb. In this spacious, modern location, men’s fashion and household linens play a prominent role.
The original concept Le 31 for Men—from the expression se mettre sur son 31 (dress to the nines) and a superior vintage fabric with at least 31 threads per centimetre—is the name of the new shopping destination that will revolutionize the concept of menswear for all ages.
Home fashions are also at the forefront of this new space. Bold and innovative marketing techniques are used to showcase top brands by cutting-edge designers for La Lingère.
1965: Simons keeps on growing… As women 30 to 40 seek fashions more in tune with an increasingly active lifestyle, Simons unveils its new department Contemporaine, featuring designers like Lanvin, Chloé, Tiktiner, Courrèges, Cardin, Cacharel, Ricci, and Daniel Hechter. This marks a major shift in the history of women’s fashion in Quebec.
When Peter Simons talks about the time his father pulled on his hunting boots to go see a field near the Quebec Bridge with Steinberg grocery chain founder Sam Steinberg in 1961, no one at the time could have predicted the future. But with a single handshake, the fate of Place Sainte-Foy and the plan to make La Maison Simons a major clothing store in Quebec City were sealed. In the 1960s, the concept of a shopping centre was pretty revolutionary in the retail business and part of a significant and highly innovative urban planning trend that sparked major economic development.
1981: New markets open as a business district sprouts to the north of Quebec City. La Maison Simons debuts at the fledgling Galeries de la Capitale as the largest clothing store serving a clientele further from downtown.
1999: The business is ripe for new challenges. The Simons concept is extended beyond the Quebec City area when a store opens at Carrefour de l’Estrie in Sherbrooke.
Then, another store opens on Rue Sainte-Catherine in downtown Montreal, marking the beginning of a new era for Simons. Under the young leadership of Peter and Richard Simons, Donald Simons’ sons, the business moves into the next century and continues to grow.
2001: A sixth store opens in suburban Montreal at Promenades St-Bruno.
2002: A seventh store opens in the Montreal area at Carrefour Laval in the heart of one of Quebec’s most vibrant suburbs.
2005: One hundred and sixty-five years after it was founded, Simons pursues its rising fortune and continues to be recognized as the fashion leader in Quebec despite increasingly stiffer competition in the retail market.
Expansion of the headquarters store on Côte de la Fabrique becomes necessary to offer both Quebec City customers and a significant tourist clientele more shopping space. New offices must also be designed to accommodate growing work teams.
Peter Simons would like to confer a distinctive look on the new part of the store with a modern style that enhances the unique historical cachet within the old walls. The start of major work on a site that is part of the city’s history is an ideal opportunity for
him to satisfy his historical curiosity. He commissions a research study to learn the facts about this location on Côte de la Fabrique.
History reveals that occupation of the site dates back to the mid-seventeenth century when Quebec City’s population was barely
500, and brings to light a historical anecdote worthy of mention.
To provide comfort to brave settlers and promote good relations, the New France Council grants Jacques Boisdon—a pastry chef
by trade—the right to operate Quebec City’s first tavern on the site of what is now 20 côte de la Fabrique, on September 29, 1648.
With a fitting last name (meaning “Drink up!”), Jacques Boisdon acquires the status as the city’s first innkeeper. He sets up his business on the public square not far from the church “for all comers and goers” on the promise to the authorities that he will prohibit scandal, drunkenness, blasphemy, and gambling in his establishment and will close on Sundays and holidays and during religious services.
This juicy anecdote brings a little history back to life and inspires Peter Simons. He commissions painter and muralist Pierre Laforest of Île d’Orléans, who uses a traditional technique similar to that of 17th century Dutch masters, to create a painting to illustrate the story. The painter imagines and composes a lively scene that takes us back to the everyday life of Quebec City’s first residents. This canvas, entitled The Visit, can be admired inside the store.
In his ongoing quest to find distinctive decorative details and vintage woodwork, Peter Simons discovers the famous Saint-Amand-les-Eaux cupola at the massive Saint-Ouen Flea Market in Paris.
This cupola, made with Italian glass mosaic tiles, used to adorn Château Bouchart, which was built in the late 19th century by a prosperous industrial family in France. It had been commissioned to celebrate the wedding of one of their four daughters. Peter Simons chooses it to grace the entrance to the Le 31 for Men department. It is restored on site by a team from the famous Scuola Mosaicisti Del Friuli school in Italy.
During this period Peter Simons also discovers the famous Fontaine de Tourny in his search for a unique gift to mark Quebec City’s 400th anniversary to be celebrated in 2008.
Proud of his past and desiring to continue promoting beauty and quality of life—the Simons mission since 1840—he wishes to give his fellow residents a significant gift that demonstrates in a concrete and sustainable manner his family’s great fondness for the city that welcomed his ancestors. He wishes to thank the people of Quebec City, who have actively contributed to the enormous success of his family’s business and the respect it commands.
He discovers one of the seven existing Fontaines de Tourny in pieces, abandoned at a Paris antique shop, and instantly falls in love with it. He brings home his gift from France in the hopes that the people of Quebec City will appreciate it. Restoring this historical monument brings its share of challenges, but Peter Simons will overcome any obstacle to bring back to life the cast iron fountain that formerly adorned Allées de Tourny in Bordeaux.
Fontaine de Tourny is installed in front of the Parliament Building in the heart of Place de l’Assemblée Nationale. Its unveiling in July 2007 kicks off Quebec City’s 400th anniversary celebrations. Today it proudly sits atop the urban landscape for all passersby to enjoy.
2007: Business development calls for new facilities to better serve customers. Peter Simons announces the expansion of the Place Sainte-Foy store, which will double its retail space and present customers with a totally innovative, avant-garde architectural concept that will reinvent the shopping experience. At the same time, the company acquires a fourth building (the former Empire Cinema) on Côte de la Fabrique, which will be renovated once expansion of the Sainte-Foy store has been completed.
2010: The company continues to thrive and attracts increasingly more and loyal customers. The Simons website becomes transactional, and customers across Quebec and the rest of Canada can now shop at Simons online. The same passion, passed down from generation to generation, drives the entire Simons team. The hottest fashions, a look at international trends in a refined atmosphere, and above all the very best service—that's how the company has made its name, and that's the challenge it faces as it moves forward into the future.
For Peter Simons and everyone who strives daily to move the company forward, the methods may have changed but the challenge remains the same: keep innovating!
The initiation of new projects, the pursuit of bringing fashion from around the world right to you, and the advent of a Simons online store open up new horizons and help us reach you to bridge the distance between us. Everyone at Simons works hard to serve you and maintain the company as a fashion leader. A new page in the history of Simons is being written right now and you, dear customers, are once again the star players!