My recent history tour with Gene Domagala through the eastern and northern part of the beach introduced me to the Kingston Road area and the historic significance that it played in the development of East Toronto. Gene also introduced me to Carolyn Pitre who helps to run the Kingston Road Business Community. Through an interview with Carolyn I discovered that the Kingston Road area between Main Street and Victoria Park Avenue is an interesting and diverse shopping district on its own right, so this sunny Saturday morning I set out to discover some of the merchants and products on offer along Kingston Road.
The first place I visited is housed in a beautifully renovated former movie theater; gorgeous picture windows light up the tasteful interior of Memories Now and Then, a high-end consignment store owned by Nadine Steinberg. Nadine welcomed me to her store and explained that her store features select pre-owned furniture, rugs, china, lamps as well as vintage jewelry. She added that all the pieces that she carries are upscale and hand-picked.
Nadine has many years of experience in the china, crystal and silver retail business. Her mother and sister have been in the antique business for many years, so Nadine's love for high-quality items with a history was kindled a long time ago. She likes that the pieces she chooses are in good condition and well taken care of, and her store is an opportunity for her customers to see attractive home décor items that have stood the test of time. Memories Now and Then is very spacious, and tasteful displays are set up on three levels: the basement, the main floor and a second storey gallery that was especially created for Nadine by her landlord when she first bought the store. Nadine adds that her customers come in from areas such as Rosedale, Forest Hill and North York, and many of them have been referred to her by word of mouth.
I continued my stroll along Kingston Road and dropped in at the Pegasus Community Thrift Store, run by volunteers for the Pegasus Community Project for Adults with Special Needs. Marie Perrotta, the founder and executive director of this non-profit organization, was in the store together with a volunteer. I had already had the chance to meet Marie on previous occasions and was deeply impressed by her organization and her dedication to adults with special needs. During the week adults with disabilities run the store, assisted by staff and volunteers. The store's merchandise includes items produced by the program participants, including hand-made greeting cards, soup and cookie mixes and bookmarks.
On the weekend a variety of volunteers come out from the community to help. Naomi Drayton told me that she regularly volunteers for Pegasus. Every Saturday she comes in for a few hours. She stated that she has a young daughter, and her volunteering at Pegasus gives her a great opportunity to get out of the house and socialize with people from the community. In addition, she does it for a good cause since all the sales revenue generated in the thrift store goes towards the Pegasus Community Project.
Naomi used to live in a small town outside of Toronto and just moved to the Beach about a year ago. She loves the area and enjoys all the thrift shops along Kingston Road and does most of her shopping around here. Naomi added that she is going to be living in this area for a long time and she wants her daughter to grow up in the Beach.
Another person in the store piped up and said "I just opened a store a few doors down. So I decided to pop in at Flip a few steps west of the Pegasus Community Thrift Store. The owner Fiona Bramzell and her five year old daughter Paige greeted me warmly. Fiona, originally from England, opened her store last November. Flip is a consignment store that features used clothing for children from newborns to twelve year olds. In addition, it also carries some clothing items for adults.
For now Fiona's store is open three days a week while Fiona still holds down another part-time job at Savory Grounds Coffee Company, a popular coffee shop in the area. But she is planning to open six days a week in the near future. In addition, she is currently applying to become a copy editor for Harlequin Publishing and added that she has written several non-fiction articles for different websites. She also regularly recaps reality TV shows for a website called http://www.realityshack.com . Fiona definitely has an interesting mix of talents and hopes to be able to soon dedicate more time to her retail store in the near future.
My next visit was to the Farmer's Daughter in the Pantry, a specialty store that offers farm-fresh hand selected produce, pre-made meals and desserts, as well as freshly baked organic bread loaves and baked goods. Specialty products also include home-made jams, jellies, salsas, chutneys, fresh dips and spreads. Michelle Shabatura literally IS "the farmer's daughter" – she grew up on a fruit and vegetable farm in Southwestern Ontario, and with the help of her family she still operates a 4-acre pesticide free field on the farm in a small town called Waterford.
Her store has been open for almost two years: the doors opened on May 13, 2005, and since then Farmer's Daughter has become immensely popular in the neighborhood. Michelle mentioned that her customers' needs dictate the product line that she carries. Many local residents, including busy professionals and retirees, come to her store to purchase prepared foods, and she is in the process of developing an annual weekly meal program that will include prepared meals for every day of the week that can be picked up from the store. The weekly meal program will include a selection of fresh fruits as well.
She added that her home-made pies are also extremely popular, and her Chicken Pot Pie and the Steak and Guinness Pie have become huge hits with her customers. Most of her food items are home-produced, and her pesticide free field supplies her with many ingredients, including unusual items such as cherry-bomb peppers and edameme beans, an item I had never heard of. Michelle explained that these are a type of Japanese soybean that provides the highest amount of vegetable protein, and she uses it frequently in her pre-made meals.
Michelle's website features a weekly theme-based newsletter; her next feature will be about everything that is "Hot and Sour, Sweet and Spicy". The website also features interesting events, a Store Features page and recipes in a section called "Entertaining Ideas". Another inventive store idea is the "Recipe In A Bag" which includes an assortment of fresh cut, mixed vegetables that comes with a recipe and an herb blend that makes preparation super easy.
The story behind Farmer's Daughter is also very interesting: Michelle used to work in the corporate world in software development, and ran a consumer and client services department. She has certainly exposed her corporate skills to turn herself into a creative entrepreneur. In addition to that Michelle adds that many seniors drop by on a daily basis "to see what's cooking", and have found that the Farmer's Daughter has become a nice gathering place in the community.
Trinity Gallery I and Trinity Gallery II are run by the sister-sister team of Gayle Buffett and Marie Schweishelm. The sisters opened the first Trinity Gallery in 1995, and today they sell a broad range of high quality giftware, jewelry, accessories, and china. Trinity Gallery II offers a selection of furniture, lamps, rugs and other home décor items.
Gayle added that Trinity Gallery I offers an eclectic mixture of gifts that are priced anywhere from $ 5 to $ 500 and adds that their jewelry items have become extremely popular gifts for someone special. Customers for Trinity Gallery II come from as far away as Sudbury, North Bay and Michigan to shop for specialty home décor.
Just a few steps further west on Kingston Road I saw a store sign entitled "Oh What Fun", and I thought that would be a store I should not miss. I walked in, introduced myself, and started talking with the owner, Jane Bawtenheimer. Jane informed me that her store has been open for about one and a half years now, and Oh What Fun is all about unique items, gifts, bath and body products, décor and entertaining ideas. She added that many people come into her store because she has so many unique humorous signs displayed through the space. The "Confessions of a Shop Girl" section on her website features some candid and entertaining insights about Jane's new life as a shopkeeper.
Together with her best friend, Jane opened the store after leaving a position in corporate Human Resources. She said she traded an hour and a half daily commute for a three minute commute, and really enjoys her new lower-stress lifestyle. Oh What Fun has a very loyal customer base, and Jane added that she really sees the Kingston Road neighborhood changing. A lot more people are becoming aware of the unique shopping opportunities along Kingston Road, and she has not a definite trend of couples and families moving back to the city from the suburbs. The Beach in particular has become a very trendy area, and numerous real estate development projects attest to the revival in the Kingston Road area.
Jane added that her store has also become a meeting place for various neighborhood residents. She told me of one lady who frequently comes in, pulls up one of the chairs and chats for half the afternoon. Jane likes to keep things light and fun, and is glad she made her transition into entrepreneurship.
ooh aah! just a few doors further west, is a gallery and gift shop that features
work by artists from all across Canada. Jewelery, ceramics, glass,
textiles, woodworking, illustration and photography are well represented,
and all pieces are unique. Sharon Bauman, the manager, showed me through the
store and first pointed out the Gingerbread Studio collection of canvasses,
wall plaques and fridge magnets. Norm Stiff of Gingerbread, in Elora,
illustrates a variety of images including old streetcars and iconic themes
from Toronto and the Beach.
Wellington Pottery by former Beach potters Maggie Murdoch and David Drown,
is another featured line. Jewelery however, is the main focus, with work by Neska of Edmonton, Bejewel in Fredericton, and Liza Ridout here in Toronto,
to name a few. Sharon demonstrated a "shimmer": a thin, decorative scarf
with a variety of textures that is used instead of conventional jewelry,
made by Leslie Ross in Brampton. She adds that when owner Nancy Van Ihinger
came up with a name for the store, ooh aah !, it turned out to be the perfect
choice to best reflect the reaction of the customers. When in the shop you
can often hear people oohing and aahing over the items in the window. Today
ooh aah! is a popular destination for people who are looking for that
The façade of another neighborhood store store my attention, so I decided to pop in at Stamps, Cards and Mailables. I introduced myself to the owner who was sitting behind the counter. The minute she saw my name in print, she pronounced it correctly in German, and as I spoke to her a bit more, I detected an Austrian accent. (Being from Austria myself, I can spot an accent from my home country with almost 100% accuracy). Elfi (Elfriede) Walter confirmed and said that she arrived in Canada from the province of Lower Austria in 1960. Together with her husband, she opened Stamps, Cards and Mailables in 1973, and hers is definitely one of the most established stores in the neighborhood .
Originally her store was specialized in philatelic items because her husband was a passionate stamp collector. He also used to handle appraisals for other stamp collectors. Since his death Elfi has converted the store into a more general gift store that still carries philatelic items, but also gift cards, post cards, and a variety of books. In addition, Elfi also sells stamps and handles some post office duties for her clients.
Stamps, Cards and Mailables is open Mondays to Saturdays from 9 am to 5 or 6 pm. Elfi said that in the summer she usually closes for about two months; she certainly sees the rest and recreation after so many years in business. I asked her if her store has a website, and she replied "not yet". But she is seriously thinking of taking a basic web design course in the spring. There is nothing like education and broadening your mind to keep you young, and Elfi enjoys learning and meeting people.
Art expresses itself in many ways along Kingston Road, and at Celestial Stained Glass art is not only sold, it is also produced and taught. Alicia Niles, the manager, explained that Celestial Stained Glass was opened 28 years ago and that this is their third location. They moved in last October and like the new larger floor space. Celestial Stained Glass sells stained glass and hot glass beads for jewelry making; they also repair and restore existing stained glass pieces and produce custom stained glass art for special customer requests. In addition, the back of the store features a teaching studio, the location of specialty stained glass courses and hot glass beadmaking taught at the basic, intermediate and advanced levels.
Alicia added that everything the store sells is actually made right on site and supplies for stained glass and hot bead making are on offer also. She also demonstrated the hot glass beads to me and explained that glass rods of different colors are melted with a blow torch and wound around a metal rod. Several colors can be melted together, creating interesting color effects. These hot glass beads are then annealed in a kiln to protect them, following which they can be turned into jewelry.
I started to realize that Kingston Road is a real hotbed of artists and artisans, and my next stop took me into the realm of textile arts. Quilters Garden is a highly specialized store that supplies everything a quilter could ever need. Sharon Long, the owner, indicated that she has owned the store for about 11 years now. When I asked her if she had always been involved in the textile arts business she laughed and said that she used to be an accountant who used quilting as a method of stress release. Sharon explained that both accounting and quilting involved a lot of math. When her company got bought out she was offered a severance package and decided to open her own quilting store.
Quilters Garden has more than 1000 bolts of cotton fabric for sale, covering all colors, shades and designs. A room in the back of the store has been turned into a classroom where several instructors teach different levels of quilting. Most courses are 10 weeks long, and beginners classes start with a "sampler quilt" where every block encompasses a different technique. For many of the regular quilters, mostly women, but also some men, Quilters Garden is a great place to socialize and pursue a joint passion. Sharon also has a heart for the community and her 30 hour "Quilt for a Cure Quilt-a-thon" will run from noon on March 30 to 6 pm on March 31 with proceeds going to breast cancer research.
Well, any travel writer gets a bit tired and hungry, and after all these interviews it was definitely time for lunch. Just a few steps east of Quilters Garden is The Pastry Shop, a cute little neighborhood café that offers a wide variety of prepared foods such as soups, patties, sandwiches, rice dishes, curries, salads and quiches. Baked goods include croissants, breads, and cookies; special items such as packaged coffees, Kahlua and Bailey's flavored chocolates and a variety of teas round out the merchandise.
I ordered a vegetarian curry rice with chick pea curry and an old-style cherry flavored soda and sat down for a bit to quench my ravenous hunger. The curry was delicious, spicy but not overbearing. Adrianna Underwood was attending to a continuous stream of customers, and when she had a couple of free minutes she explained that the curries are some of the most popular dishes and come in seven different flavors: chicken, beef, chickpea / spinach, cauliflower, dal (lentil), eggplant and potato. The gingerbread and sugar cookies are also favorites, along with the brownies and blondies (a vanilla cake with fruits). Looking at the appetizing options in the display case I could definitely understand why this place is popular.
Appropriately strengthened I continued my explorations along Kingston Road and popped into The Great Escape, a second-hand book owned by retired teachers Bruce and Marg Ewing. Bruce was just inundated with a large shipment of books and did not have a lot of time to talk, but he explained that his store was named after a movie and the fact that reading is a great escape.
Bruce mentioned that his son just recently saved them a website as a present for Christmas, although Bruce himself is not all that web-savvy. The Great Escape offers an opportunity to buy, sell and trade used books, and it also carries a selection of new bestsellers. The store carries more than 5000 books, mainly consisting of paperback fiction, but also includes a selection of non-fiction, art, history, sports, music and military books. A well-stocked children section rounds out the selection at The Great Escape.
Last but not least I dropped in a Cobalt Gallery, a clay studio and gallery where I had popped in before, but Annette Hansen, the owner, had been busy in a private pottery session. Now the class was finished and she was free, and we had a chance to chat. Annette has been operating her pottery shop for almost three years now and also rents her space to visual artists. Her store features glass items, blown glass and jewelry in addition to the clay pieces produced by Annette herself. In addition, Cobalt Gallery carries functional metal art by WELD-done Designs, a Toronto artists located in the Dundas and Carlaw area.
Cobalt, a deep intense blue, has always been a color that appeared to Annette, so it was only natural that she would choose this color as the name for her store. In the back of her store she teachers pottery to adults and children. Group lessons for adults hold up to four people while children's lessons can accommodate five participants. Cobalt Gallery also offers gift certificates for 2-hour pottery classes. In addition, Annette produces her own custom designs and outdoor art in clay and concrete.
Views of Kingston Road: The Common Ground Coffee and Sandwich Shop and Shelley & Chenny Food & Arts
My walk along Kingston Road had come to an end, but I had discovered a whole new world of shopping opportunities, of creativity, design and craftsmanship. I also came across several places that offer learning opportunities for the general public to discover how to produce art themselves. And I was astounded how many former corporate employees had chosen to start a second career on Kingston Road. Not surprisingly the stores along this East Toronto street have become a community gathering place for many.
The Kingston Road Business Community: welcoming, diverse and creative. Definitely worth a visit!