TORONTO -- The Blue Jays cut the ribbon on their flagship store at Toronto Eaton Centre on Friday, drawing hundreds of fans who lined the hallways of the city's biggest mall for a chance to see Jose Bautista and Drew Hutchison.
The store, the first of its kind for a Toronto pro sports team, will drive Blue Jays brand recognition and retail sales, giving fans a total team shopping experience, said Stephen Brooks, the organization's senior vice president of business operations.
"We've been bouncing this idea around for a couple of years, with the closure of the store we had in the Sears location in this mall," Brooks said. "That was an impetus for us to push this further, and things ramped up considerably over the last year."
Bautista and Hutchison were on hand for the ribbon cutting ceremony, and the players helped bag and hand out merchandise at the cash registers as fans lined up to make purchases. Some stood and waited for more than an hour just for the chance to see a pair of their beloved Blue Jays.
"I'm here to see Joey Bats," said Joselle Mendoza, who was waiting with her little sister, Joyze, and father, Jose. "I didn't like baseball until I went for the first time on Canada Day."
Mendoza is the type of fan the club hopes to attract with a greater presence in a high traffic shopping space like the Eaton Centre, giving casual baseball observers easier access to club merchandise and a Blue Jays experience.
"It's in a top shopping centre in a downtown area, and you couldn't ask for anything better spot," Bautista said. "Hopefully a lot of people can acquire some items that they want."
Brooks believes success at the new "prime" location could lead to even more retail opportunities for the Blue Jays away from their home base at Rogers Centre.
"We think this foray into a retail shop like this is perhaps the first step into some other locations," Brooks said. "... With the logo relaunch a couple of years ago, you see Blue Jays merchandize really take off. You see everyone wearing it and we think that's a positive, and this store is an attempt to build off that and hopefully grow the brand."
Jamie Ross is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.