The first two Bretton's stores were opened in Ottawa in 1985 by the parent company, Comark. Comark, owned by the Brenninkmeijer family of the Netherlands, had owned many retail chains including Ricky's Bootlegger, Clark Shoes, Collacut luggage and D'Aillards. The family also owns the C&A chain of department stores in Europe.
Brettons sold clothing and cosmetics, in order to focus on high-margin, high-turn merchandise. Their stores were typically 60,000 square feet (6,000 m²), smaller than a typical department store.
Comark aimed to establish 40 to 50 branches of Bretton's, but was blocked by existing department stores who generally had clauses in their shopping centre leases allowing them to approve or reject leases to other stores.
Bretton's is reported to have made a classic "outsider's mistake": it sent large fur boots to Vancouver, which receives little snow, and where a significant part of the population is of Asian origin with smaller foot sizes.