I am, by no means, an expert on anything Toronto. I still take transit like a tourist, have no idea how to interpret true Torontonian directions (North-West?? The hell??) and don’t know any of the cool bars nearby.
However, I have lived here for about seven and a half months now, and naturally one of the first things I did upon arrival was to discover all the cool independent shops Toronto has to offer. (To compare, I grew up in Kingston, where it was a massive deal when we got an Urban Outfitters.)
If finding alternatives to chain stores if your thing, then Toronto has seemingly endless possibilities. From local zines to menswear to accessories, we’ve got it all.
And while it will take me a long time to visit every small shop and boutique around, I do have a list of the favourites I have managed to visit in my short time here.
(A lot of these places are in the west end, solely for the reason that they’re near my neighbourhood.)
Victoire – 129A Ossington Ave.
I was introduced to Victoire back in Ottawa. I stumbled across it entirely by accident while traipsing through the Byward Market and I fell a little bit in love with the gorgeous clothing and jewellery. Not to mention, Canadian content.
Victoire sells womenswear and accessories designed by independent Canadian designers and most of the products are manufactured in Canada. Because of this, the price point is higher, but you pay for the quality and source of the items.
Birds of North America, Darling and Stay Home Club are just a few of the dozens of Canadian brands they carry.
The store in Toronto on Ossington in particular, is on the cutest little strip with ridiculously hip shops and restaurants. Arguably too cool an end of town for me to enter.
Tribal Rhythm – 248 Queen St. W
I. LOVE. THIS. STORE.
Let me break it down for you: vintage stores are either like entering an eccentric aunt’s car trunk or your grandmother’s walk-in closet. Both of these options are appealing to me for different reasons and Tribal Rhythm is definitely the latter.
The store is carefully curated, so instead of picking through a massive store for hours to find the best things, the best things are already set aside for you. I have had some sick finds here, including a Clueless-esque plaid blazer, a vintage Lacoste jacket and a hilariously inappropriate anti-drugs t-shirt. There’s also a selection of gloriously luxe faux-fur coats that I moon over every time I’m in the store.
There’s mens and women’s clothing, accessories and a selection of dresses specially set aside by decade. There are dresses from the 1940s. I shit you not. I would probably own all of them if I had a tiny waist. Alas.
Black Market Clothing – 256 Queen St. W
Black Market is the other option of vintage store. You know, aunt’s trunk. Or uncle’s.
I did just talk up the fantastic curation of Tribal Rhythm, but there’s also something to be said for getting lost in the massive basement that is Black Market and somehow spending hours looking through endless racks of clothing.
And everything is ridiculously cheap. I’ve found leather jackets there for $10, and they only had one small rip in the lining each. I’ve bought t-shirts for a couple of dollars apiece. And there are so many mom jeans. Mom jeans as far as the eye can see. It is truly beautiful. There’s also a barber shop in the back, which, when I first saw it was so odd and out of place that it just somehow worked.
Basically, Black Market is the best and I know if I had grown up in Toronto, I would have lived in this place throughout high school.
Likely General – 389 Roncesvalles Ave.
Likely General was another place I stumbled across completely by accident.
Here’s the situation: I had been sent down to Roncesvalles by my mom to pick something particularly festive and German from a particularly German shop. (The Old Country Shop, to be specific.) While I was on this mission, I realized that section of Roncesvalles was another delightfully quirky Toronto strip filled with a variety of national cuisines, a Church and the Likely General.
Just looking in the window I thought that this store would be my kind of place. Upon entering, I was greeted by a massive, smiley dog and I knew for sure it was my kind of place.
Likely General is another small store filled with local goodies. From zines to tees to tarot cards, the majority of the merch is Toronto-based and everything I came across had a bit of a feminist flair to it. It truly was my kind of place and honestly, I can’t wait to go back. Firstly, to spend more time checking out the zines and secondly, to pet that dog.
Outclass – 1122 College St.
Outclass is the type of menswear brand that the really cool guys wear. Their shop on College is the type of store where, if I had a boyfriend, I would either make him shop there or buy him gifts only from there.
The brand Outclass is sold at a number of locations in Toronto and across Canada, but the small boutique on College is a pretty sick place to pop into.
To put it simply, it’s the goddam coolest menswear store I’ve found yet. I can’t say too much else about menswear, but I desperately need an excuse to shop there, so fellas hit me up.
Northwood General Store – 800 Bloor St. W
Northwood General Store is quintessential Canadiana, but the hip, stylish version. Outdoorsy, minimalist, leather (or faux leather) goods and some awfully covetable accessories.
Not everything at the Northwood General is Canadian-made, but the selection is just so good. They’ve got Matt + Nat, BauXo and No Fun Press, who, by the way, have made one of my favourite t-shirts of all time.
If you’re in desperate need for some quirky and cool gifts for your quirky and cool friends, this is absolutely the place to go.
The Dot – 687 Bloor St. W
As I write this, I’m starting to realize I stumbled across most of these places by accident. The story with The Dot isn’t super glamorous, but it is absolutely true.
One night I walked home from an evening of sweaty dancing at Dance Cave. It was around two in the morning and it was during the summer. Kids, don’t do this unless you have a buddy with you.
The point of this story is I passed by The Dot and saw some hella cute stuff in the window. I made a mental note and also an actual note in my phone of the address so I could check it out later.
The Dot carries the clean, minimalist womenswear style that I’ve been trying to achieve for years. The clothing is structured and simple and the accessories are equally minimalist and beautiful.
If you’re looking to update your look to something fresh, this is a pretty good place to start.