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The Eatons: The rise and fall of Canada's royal family [Hardcover]

Rod McQueen
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'Are You Being Served?' June 2 2000
A few years ago, the wonderful British comedy 'Are You Being Served' on Public Television portrayed a delightful group of store clerks and supervisors in a parody -- some might say a documentary -- of a traditional London department store.
At 'Grace Brothers' the counter clerks were superb, the floor walker was properly pompous but utterly decent, the supervisors clueless and the store owners were totally befuddled but always wonderful. It was fiction, it was funny. Had been set in Canada, it would have been 'The Eaton's.'
Instead, this superb book is available. It bears out Marx's observation that all history appears twice, "the first time as tragedy, the second as farce." McQueen has written the tragedy, hopefully some clever Canadian comedian is now writing the comedy.
So, what does a Canadian book about an unknown department store offer American readers? It's the painful story of how a family can totally ruin a revered national institution through their own hubris, arrogance, indifference and plain ignorance. I've seen it happen in some businesses within two generations; the Eaton family was more typical in that it took four generations.
The lesson is that times change. In 1870, when Eaton's was just starting, store goods were sometimes expensive, shoddy and unsuitable and unreliable. Timothy Eaton realized the most important guarantee for a customer was five words, "Goods satisfactory or money refunded." Today, most consumer goods have consistent quality, guarantees are almost automatic and customers look for something different -- price.
It's why Wal-Mart succeeds; its stores are big charmless boxes with indifferent clerks and mass anonymity. But the attraction is a reputation for low prices.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars GREAT BOOK! June 1 2002
By Sean
So many people have such wonderful memories of this great store and of this great family. Others have not so fond memories. Either way, people who knew of the famous Canadian Retail Giant, no matter how they remember Eaton's will likely find something of interest in this book.
The Eaton's: The Rise and Fall of Canada's Royal Family chronicles the story of Eaton's from successful beginning, to tragic end, focusing mainly on what the private, and yet public family was like.
To Americans, this book will really give a story of Canada's own enormously wealthy family, and how they lived. We aren't just a country full of beavers and "EH"'s.
If you know nothing about this amazing store and family, or you know much, but want to learn more, this Great Book is definetely a must have.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A flawed but fascinating book March 31 2000
When I was very young I was with my mother and sister visiting relatives in a big city. One day I found myself sitting in a restaurant next to a young man, Nicolas, whose wealthy father, a friend of the family, had invited us to tea. The young man made no secret of his boredom, yawning widely and frequently. Searching for a topic that might lift his ennui, I asked him: "Do you drive a car?" He smirked and, holding up a couple of fingers, said: "No, I drive TWO cars."
That is the type of hubris Rod McQueen depicts in his book about the rise and fall of Eaton's, Canada's famous chain of department stores. The four brothers who ultimately presided over the store's demise were cut from the same cloth as that long-ago Nicolas.
McQueen's book excels at guiding the reader through the financial sleights of hand performed by the various companies owned by the Eatons while the store itself marched toward its relentless demise. The author does not draw an appealing portrait of the Eatons, and most people would not dispute this depiction. However, his contempt is so blatant it detracts from what should be a more balanced account. He chides Eaton's for being slow to hire French-speaking staff in Quebec, but I lived in Montreal during the 'sixties and I recall that their catalogue order takers spoke English with a thick francophone accent. McQueen correctly shows the family coping with financial woes through excessive staff cutbacks starting in the 'seventies, but he fails to mention that this was a national phenomenon of the day, and applied to The Bay and other large stores as well. Thus began the rise of the small boutique.
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