Where's all the cool shops?
August 31, 2008 7:30 PM   Subscribe

Where are all of the cool shops in downtown Toronto?

Myself and my girlfriend moved to North York about a week ago to go to York University. Today we headed into downtown Toronto for the first time to take a look around and see if there was anything cool to be seen. We took the subway down, and got off at Union Station. From there we walked west down Front St, up Spadina to Queen, down Queen to Yonge, and back to Union Station.

We found some interesting places on Queen, but mostly large, trendy chain stores. What we wanted to find were smaller stores, probably independently run. We're really into used book stores and CD stores, as well as vintage clothing stores and stuff like that. I also really dig comic book stores.

I have a feeling that we were in the wrong area of town for what we were looking for. Any ideas of where we should have been? For that matter, any suggestions of other places we should check out next time we are downtown? Where are some cool areas of the town?
posted by tomcochrane to Shopping (23 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Indeed, wrong part of town for what you want. The best used record stores in Toronto are Vortex Records at Yonge and Eglinton or Sonic Boom at Bathurst and Bloor, but it depends on what kind of music you want.

Best stores for new music are Rotate This on Queen West, west of Bathurst and Soundscapes on College near Manning.
posted by dobbs at 7:46 PM on August 31, 2008

Its been awhile since I've been, but Kensington Market used to be a mecca of vintage and other interesting clothing stores.
posted by sandraregina at 7:48 PM on August 31, 2008

Did you miss Silver Snail, probably Toronto's premier comics shop, on Queen West? There is also The Beguiling on Markham, just south of Bloor (right behind Honest Ed's).

In general, though: yes, Queen West was counterculture chic in 1983 but these days it has a fair leavening of big-box stores. I think you will find something closer to what you are looking for on College, west of Spadina (which also connects you to College and Manning and Kensington Market, above).
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:11 PM on August 31, 2008

Oh, you might also look at the Annex: Bloor between Spadina and Bathurst is a solid place to start.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:13 PM on August 31, 2008

Best comic book store, the Beguiling at Bathurst and Bloor if I'm not mistaken. It's next to Suspect video which is where to rent good movies along with Queen video. I think the area that is is the Annex, which is kind of the UofT area. (I'm foggy on all of this).
Kensington market absolutely for vintage clothes.
CD stores, Rotate This and Soundscapes.
Used books and independent stores, try Queen St. west of Spadina. That way it stops being trendy chain stores and gets more independent. You may have to walk for a while, but there is definitely some good stuff that way.
posted by GleepGlop at 8:14 PM on August 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @ricochet biscuit: Silver Snail is one of the places that I did find that was quite cool. Thanks though.
posted by tomcochrane at 8:15 PM on August 31, 2008

Yonge is normally a garish tourist-trap sort of place to shop, but there are actually some rockin' used bookstores between College and Bloor.

Also nthing what everybody has said about Silver Snail and Beguiling, as well as Kensington.
posted by Schlimmbesserung at 8:22 PM on August 31, 2008

Queen East, King East, West Queen West, Annex, really too many cool places to list completely. Toronto rocks so hard it kills things.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 8:35 PM on August 31, 2008 [2 favorites]

Parliament between Sherbourne and Carlton! Everyone always skips over Cabbagetown. There's a really wicked cemetery in there too, called the Necropolis.
posted by Hildegarde at 8:47 PM on August 31, 2008

Oh, also, not books or CDs, but St. Lawrence Market is awesome for quirky things and fantastic food.
posted by Hildegarde at 8:49 PM on August 31, 2008

Listen to Gleepglop.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:50 PM on August 31, 2008

Definitely Kensington Market for vintage shops (Courage My Love is the one that gets mentioned all the time in fashion magazines). Head further down Queen past Spadina for cool independent shops and stores like Preloved for vintage-inspired clothes. BMV on Bloor (past Spadina, can't recall exactly where) or on Edward (just off of Yonge) for used books. Some great used CD places in the Annex around BMV as well.

On preview: Cabbagetown is a cute little area. If I were you and if I had the time, every weekend I'd try to hit one of the many neighbourhoods in Toronto (Roncesvalles, the Beaches, Distillery District, the Annex, W Queen W, etc), just to explore. Also read Torontoist for new ideas of what to see, do, and shop in the city.
posted by pised at 8:55 PM on August 31, 2008

From one of the corners of your journey, Queen and Spadina, had you gone further West on Queen you would have eventually found more of what you were looking for, as well. I often take the Queen streetcar out about a zillion blocks and then walk back until I get tired of walking and shopping and then hop it back to the subway.

And definitely Kensington for the cool, vintage stuff vibe.

Also check out Roncesvalles Avenue for an interesting vibe, and a mix of old world and weird, and I don't even know quite how to describe Roncy.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:58 PM on August 31, 2008

Try Balfour Books, at College and Clinton. That's small , independent and quirky. BMV on Bloor, just east of Bathurst, is bigger, and has great selection and prices.

For Vintage clothing, try Preloved at College and Augusta.
posted by thenormshow at 8:59 PM on August 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

Try Balfour Books

I'll second this. Best used book store in the city.
posted by dobbs at 9:18 PM on August 31, 2008

And if you do go to Balfour books, pop into Utopia Cafe, just east of Clinton for great food.
posted by dobbs at 9:19 PM on August 31, 2008

For further great food when you're exploring Roncesvalles (and really, you should absolutely explore it before the weather turns nasty; there should be a street festival going on right now actually), you want to go to Freshwood Grill. On Roncey, east side, south of Marmaduke (no joke). Have the pulled pork sandwich (made with sourdough flatbread grilled over a wood fire) and a pint. Trust me on this.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 10:06 PM on August 31, 2008

Yes, West Queen West -- just take the street car to Queen & Spadina and walk west. Keep walking. It goes on.
posted by limon at 11:34 PM on August 31, 2008

I'll pipe up about the Freshwood Grill as well, but my vote goes to avoiding the place. Though I've never had their pork sandwich as I'm veg. They truly make the worst veggie burger in the city (though Brad's a short walk away is a very close second).

If you're into nice but casual men's clothing, try Decibel which is on Queen (you probably walked right past it) on the north side, west of University by maybe 1.5 or 2.5 blocks. Further west than that, at John, is Pages books. Great selection, idiot staff. Worth browsing though. North on John by a block is The Urbane Cyclist. If you're into bikes, it's probably the best shop in the city. Terrific staff!

Next to Pages is Black Market, which I think is a vintage clothing store. Down in that basement is also Penguin Music which has an interesting CD selection.

Another good book shop is further west (west of Bathurst and Rotate This) called Type. Nice selection, much nicer staff than Pages. In between these two book stores is some good fast food eatin' at New York Subway and/or Gandhi Roti. They're regular meeting places for MeFites. Fressen (one of the best vegan restaurants on the Planet) is also around there (east of NYS).

A block south of Queen, and maybe two blocks west of Spadina is a store called SW PE (swipe), which has the best selection of design/marketing books in the city.

Queen west of Bathurst also has these interesting shops: Commute Home (expensive but gorgeous one-off furniture), Spectacle (best eyeglass shop in the city), Great Stuff (men's wear), numerous art galleries, Cosmos Records (overpriced vinyl). There are a ton of neat little shops on both sides of the streets between Bathurst and Dufferin (a fair walk). Many of them are furniture shops -- not a lot of music/bookstores that haven't already been mentioned.

On Dundas West you should check out The Monkey's Paw. It's a treasure of bizarre used books--a one of a kind shop in the city. MADE sometimes has some neat stuff to look at as well (one off furniture and art).

Wallpaper (the magazine) has a series of city guides available. There's one for Toronto which lists a number of the hidden gems. You might want to pick it up or save the $12 and just read it in the store. Type and Pages definitely carry it.
posted by dobbs at 7:15 AM on September 1, 2008

blogTO often has best-of guides to the city (Best cheese shop, best roti, best green grocer, etc.) as well as profiles of interesting and quirky stores. It's a great resource. Also, if you bring your bike downtown you'll be able to expand your exploring radius by an order of magnitude.
posted by kamelhoecker at 7:57 AM on September 1, 2008

You might like Queen East, in Leslieville for an afternoon. Hop off the streetcar at Broadview and walk East - but feel free to jump across the street when you see neat shops, because it's better to do it in a straight shot than a full circle. There are neighbourhood maps available at some stores that point out neat places; and store owners are often happy to point you in the right direction as well. There are three record stores within a short walk between Carlaw and Leslie (mostly vinyl, not many CDs); and it's sometimes called "retro row" between Carlaw and Leslie for furniture and smalls. There's Gadabout for vintage clothing and accessories - though poking about the Value Village between Logan and Carlaw can be fun for books, cds/vinyl and clothes too. Disclaimer - I sometimes work at one of the vintage-type places - a little shop with a lot of stuff - and there are some books and lots of reasonably priced kitsch there. There's Dark Horse west of Broadview, and Mercury east of for good coffee; and there are many places where the food and drinks are good, but more for dinner than to grab a bite. Warning though - most of the shops close up by 5 or six - and most are closed on Mondays and sometimes Tuesdays. But for brunching and browsing, it's a nice area on a weekend.
posted by peagood at 9:51 AM on September 1, 2008

The best shops in Toronto (self link). What I think you'll find most interesting about that is the neighborhoods those shops are in. You're always bound to find something else interesting in neighborhoods that host thrift shops, because rents are lower in those places.

Beguiling is probably the most interesting comic store in the city. I mean, Silver Snail has always been the Toronto comic shop, but it is a little bland.

If you end up near the Silver Snail again -- Queen West between Spadina and University in general -- you've got to check out Active Surplus. They are on the second floor now, just look for the gorilla out front. I think there is another comic shop around there too, down a half flight on McCaul (or something) about 4 doors north of Queen. Sorry, I can't recall the name.. Also, if you are on that stretch of Queen looking for food, there is a food court in Village by the Grange that has spectacular independent booths -- the Greek lady is the best!

Yonge is normally a garish tourist-trap sort of place to shop, but there are actually some rockin' used bookstores between College and Bloor.

The used book stores have started to move away, but there are still at least a couple good ones. Generally those stores were always big on selection, but not particularly big on interest/quirkiness. Also two comic shops in that stretch; Grey Region is very interesting, 1,000,000 comix is kind of generic, though they are the store that organizes the big cons (I haven't been in either for several years, so..). A little south of College is 401 Games (used to be 401 Convenience, at 401 Yonge Street, obviously). A little further south again is Hairy Tarantula's.
posted by Chuckles at 5:58 PM on September 1, 2008

A lot of Vintage stores that were between Spadina and Bathurst on Queen have moved out to Dundas St. West and Queen. I think anyway. So you should head to Parkdale (very West Queen West) to check them out. As noted above, there are crap loads of vintage shops in Kensington. If you're up in North York though, you may as well go to a Value Village or similar shop out there. The ones in the city are picked over by hipsters.

Silver Snail on Queen St. is great.

Anyway, areas in the city worth a look at Roncesvalle, West Queen West, Queen East (Leslieville), Kensington, and Dundas St. West past Bathurst.
posted by chunking express at 9:12 AM on September 2, 2008

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