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Smallman & Ingram

Smallman & Ingram
Plaque no. 55
Date of plaque unveiling
4 October 2002
Speakers
Glen Curnoe, Ben Forster and Ray Luft
Location
151 Dundas Street, London, Ontario (present site of Market Tower)
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History

In 1877, John Bamlet Smallman and Lemuel Hill Ingram formed a partnership to establish a retail dry goods store. They rented a store at 147 Dundas Street and called it Smallman and Ingram.  their first day of business was September 8, 1877.  The original location had sixteen feet of retail frontage and specialized in mantles and millinery with an onsite workroom for making clothing.

The store's sales grew quickly, more than quadrupling by 1891. These sales were driven by John Smallman and Lemuel Ingram's commitment to carrying good quality, low-cost goods. Both founders had extensive experience working in dry goods stores.

John Smallman had apprenticed as a clerk at a dry goods store from the age of fourteen and Lemuel Ingram was a clerk at a wholesale store at the time of their partnership. They used their experience well, building a more productive store by encouraging employee engagement and loyalty. One initiative was the implementation of early closing on Saturdays and on days preceding holidays. Normal store hours were 10am to 11pm, but the new closing hour was set at 7pm. Eventually Smallman and Ingram closed at 5:30pm on Saturdays and before Holidays.

The store expanded in 1891, 1892, 1897, and finally in 1904. John Smallman, the sole owner after the death of Lemuel Ingram in 1901, purchased land on Richmond and Dundas Streets and began construction of an L-shaped building with 149 feet of retail frontage and 96,000 square feet of floor space, on five floors and a basement. Smallman and Ingram opened as a department store in a neo-classical red brick building on the corner of Richmond and Dundas streets in 1905.

In 1908, J.B. created a limited liability company, Smallman and Ingram Limited, and gave employees the chance to invest and become shareholders; forty-four employees took advantage of the opportunity. The same year he introduced the Smallman and Ingram Limited Benefit Association, which provided all of his 200 employees with adversity and sickness benefits.

J.B. had no children of his own but he was a family man. After Ingram's death he brought in two of Ingram's children and his own nephew.  Gordon John Ingram was the most promising. He was made office manager in 1908 when the company was incorporated and eventually became President when J.B. died in 1916. Gordon Ingram operated the store until 1944. Over that period of time, Smallman and Ingram Limited grew to be the largest department store in Western Ontario. The store was also the first in London to receive goods shipped by air.

The store was sold to Simpson's of Toronto in 1944. Gordon Ingram remained on as chairman of the new Board of Governors and all of the employees were retained. Now known as Market Tower, the store building still stands at the corner of Richmond and Dundas Streets.