StyleNorth reader Kim wrote to ask for help planning a trip to T.O. “I’m a Montrealer coming to Toronto for one short day – my dream is to hit as many unique home decor stores as possible. Do you happen to have an address book of your favorite shops? I’m eager for the one-of-a-kind boutiques. Thanks and cheers for your wonderful blog!”
When I wrote back to ask a few more questions Kim elaborated saying, “For my first visit I think I’d most like to see accessories and furniture – you posted about a store named Ethel – I will, without a doubt, drop in there.”
For out-of-town visitors, there are three Toronto shopping strolls I’d recommend, well, four really: Queen Street East and Queen West if you have time, Dundas West in the Junction and the Rosedale strip for some high-end oogling.
Since Kim wants to see Ethel, I’ll point her to Queen Street East (Leslieville and Riverside), which would probably be my first choice anyway. This stretch used to be more concentrated but a number of retailers have pulled up stakes, mostly owing to the rising rents. Nevertheless, there’s lots to see and buy.
My advice is to park your wheels and use the streetcar; you’ll need a transit day pass ($10.50) or come armed with loonies and toonies (cash fare is $3). Begin your trip at Queen & Jones and proceed west towards downtown.
First stop is GUFF (1142 Queen Street East) where the selection is always interesting, sometimes a little junky and nothing stays on the floor for long because it’s priced to move and it does. That’s a photo of their “sold” section above. Always start early, ideally as soon as the shops open, which in this neck of woods means 11 am.
On the next block are a few thrifty junk shops, Neat Things (1126 Queen East) and Second Debut, beneath it. Bronze (1120 Queen East) might also be worth a look although beware the made-yesterday stuff that only looks vintage. I’d also recommend a peak into Telegramme Prints & Custom Framing (1103 Queen East) to see their selection of prints and poster art and Holy Cow‘s (1100 Queen East) dizzying selection of Indian folk art is fun if you like that sort of thing (my post here).
Zig Zag (985 Queen East) is one of my favorite shops but it doesn’t open until noon so plan accordingly. Owner Joe Graafman really knows his mid-century modern furniture and lighting and consistently has some of the finest pieces in the city. His prices are fair for the quality, not obscene but not bargain either. Last week, Joe had an outstanding set of four Hovmand Olsen dining chairs, above, priced at $1,695.
Kim’s next best stop should be Machine Age Modern (1000 Queen East), a finely curated and not inexpensive bastion of mid-century classics and quirky one-offs. The lead pic is of Machine Age’s current window featuring four red 1970s Suzanne lounge chairs from Knoll ($800 each) and an Eames CTM table (Herman Miller, natch) for $1,150; the smashing wall panel is from Marimekko priced at $325.
At this point the strip changes gears to food and drink; depending on Kim’s taste she could grab a cuppa at the super-hip Mercury Espresso Bar, or a bite at Reliable Fish & Chips or Paulette’s Doughnuts and Chicken. The Leslieville Cheese Market offers pretty terrific grilled cheese sandwiches and the ice cream and gelato at Ed’s Real Scoop is among the city’s best. Value Village (924 Queen East) is also worth a quick pick if you’re up for a bit of slumming.
Walk a few more blocks and you’ll hit another vein of vintage stores including Common Sort (804 Queen East) where yours truly consistently finds great used shoes and clothing.
Toronto has a love/hate relationship with Philz (792 Queen East), below, where selection frequently trumps service — owner Cynthia can be prickly so wear a smile and be polite. And not all of the inventory is vintage so be aware.
Across the street is Elbers Antiques (777 Queen East) where I’ve had some luck and at 760 Queen East you’ll find Hardware Interiors, a specialist in trendy, industrial pieces made from reclaimed woods and metals with a few vintage items for good measure (my post here).
A little further along is MacFAB Home (734 Queen East) for reimagined, reupholstered vintage pieces, and Studio Pazo (729 Queen East) another purveyor of vintage furniture and lighting. If art is an interest drop in and see what Nancy’s showing at Rouge Concept (732 Queen East), a terrific local gallery. Just across Broadview Avenue is Kimberly Jackson (700 Queen East) a retailer of rustic, hand-crafted furnishings.
Now it’s time to jump on the westbound streetcar for a short ride to Parliament Street. This is where you’ll find Ethel’s new home at 327 Queen East and definitely pop over for a browse through A.M.A. (328 Queen East, tell Sam that Chris from styleNorth sent you). Not far from Ethel is Kiondo African Imports (323 Queen East) where you can browse some really fine imported furnishings, crafts and accessories (my post here).
At this point you’ll have noticed that the neighbourhood has taken a turn for the worse but fear not, just keep your wits about you as you jump on a streetcar either back to your car, your hotel or on to Queen Street West if you still have some fight left in you.
If you are game for more, ride the Queen car westbound all the way through Coolsville to Roncesvalles where you’ll find a solid block of shops running up and down both sides of the street. Don’t miss Queen West Antiques Centre (1605 Queen West), Era (1629 Queen West), Hideaway Antiques (1605 Queen West), Black Pug (1712 Queen West) and the Painted Table (1716 Queen West).
If you’ve made it this far you are definitely ready for a cocktail and you could do no better than to hoof it over to the Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen West) or the Drake Hotel (1150 Queen West) Toronto’s twin bastions of cool.
Commenters, please chime in with your own picks, and Kim, I’ll expect a full report after your visit.