THE LAST DAYS OF JEAN MACHINE – THE OUTRAGEOUS STORE THAT WAS AN INFLUENCER DECADES BEFORE INSTAGRAM

The rise, low-rise and fall of a made-in-Ontario shopping mall fixture that rode the denim wave and took teenagers along for the unpredictable ride.

@SteveRussell

Susan Cripps-Campbell was a punk-rock teenager when she started working at Jean Machine in the 1980s. Her manager was 26.

“I thought … I’m not going to be here at that age, and then it’s like holy s—,” she says, drinking an iced coffee in the food court below the store that has felt like home for the better part of three decades.

She has been here exclusively since 1994, an endless cycle of skinny and wide fit, low- and high-rise, near the escalator bank that whisks shoppers toward Nordstrom, Sears or Eaton’s, depending on the decade. She has seen retailers come and go, and now after four decades of being Ontario’s most enduring denim sommelier, it is Jean Machine’s turn to exit the Eaton Centre.

On a recent weekday, the metal hangers click softly as office workers on lunch browse the 60-per-cent off jeans. Once bursting with Levi’s, Silvers and Mavi’s, the place is hollowed out from the glory days.

“That is such a good price, you’re going to freak out when you try it on,” Cripps-Campbell says, upbeat and smiling, to the woman holding a summer dress. It rings up at $2.80. The woman is shocked.

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