Spotlight: We Visit The Junction
Toronto is one of those few Canadian cities that has the privilege of being home to multiple neighbourhoods within its downtown core. In this week’s Store Of The Week, the Style Democracy team headed to a West Toronto neighbourhood gem, the Junction. Not only did we get the chance to check out some retail stores, we were also privileged enough to be led on a tour of the eclectic area by Kristina Skindelyte, the Executive Director for the Junction Business Improvement Association. Kristina took us to find the best of what the Junction had to offer, from restaurants to art galleries. The neighbourhood stays true to its history of being a railway intersection with train murals and detailing spread throughout much of the building fronts and stores.
Our first stop was The Junction Eatery, a neighbourhood favourite. The moment we walked in, guests informed us how good the food was. There is an immediate homey feel to the eatery, the aromas from the kitchen mixed with the decor make for a comfortable dining experience. Prints are hung on the wall, which we are then told come from the antique store, Smash nearby. Many of the businesses in this area support one another in this fashion by showcasing each other’s products. Derrick Markland, the chef and owner is a quick witted, sassy individual, telling Cornelia (our photographer) he’s not going to get any younger, as she snaps pictures of him in the kitchen. His French cuisine background provides each dish with immense flavour. A must try are the smoked bbq ribs and the freshly baked scones. It is clear to see why The Junction Eatery is a popular spot among both the local and visiting crowds.
After leaving the Junction Eatery, we were ready to embark on the neighbourhood’s old town feel. There is a definite focus on health related foods and natural remedies. Bunner’s vegan and gluten free bakery is just one example of how the businesses in the Junction are health conscience. I can still recreate the smells of fresh baked pies upon walking into Bunner’s. One of the most popular item’s is the Strawberry and Scream “Shooters” cupcakes. The cherry pockets looked and smelt delectable, reminiscent of my summer’s in the Okanagan. Bunner’s is one of the many establishments focused on local, organic, and health oriented ingredients. There are plenty of yoga and massage studios, nutrition stores, and even a centre for health and well being within the region. The businesses in this neighbourhood are very in tune with what the area and residents need. And of course what area wouldn’t be complete without its own ice creamery. Delight not only serves up organic handmade ice cream, but also fulfills any chocolate lover’s fix. Some of the most popular flavours include Quebec Blue Cheese, Guatemalan Coffee, and Drunk Cherries in Cap Franc. The ice cream and chocolate store has been in the area for 5 years, citing the fabulous neighbourhood and supportive crowd for contributing to the longevity. Delight provides take a way tubs, perfect for supplying the dessert to a summer dinner party. Follow Delight on twitter @delightchocolat.
As we make our way deeper into the West end of the Junction, we visit The Earth Collection, a clothing store focused on offering garments made with minimal impact on the environment. The clothes are made out of natural fibres such as cotton, linen, and bamboo. The pieces cater to those looking to preserve the environment while still being fashionably chic. Much of the clientele are women who want natural comfort in their clothes, though the store does provide a selection for kids as well. Asymmetrical cuts and bold colours pair well with the range of bohemian and tribal jewelry. Owner Nancy Bagworth informs us that there will be a blowout sale in September, with various 50% off sales throughout August. Bagworth lives in the area and admires the loyal customer base as residents in the area enjoy shopping local. The Earth Collection is just one of the many unique stores in this upcoming design district.
It is clear that the Junction is a design based neighbourhood, and yields many creative types. Walking down Dundas street West, there is an abundance of art galleries, studios, and antique shops. area has seen recent changes, with several new food locales, great health, design, and vintage stores. The BIA, a non profit organization, is there to support these businesses, fighting to get better rates, while helping to promote and beautify the area.
The first on our stop was Mjolk @mjolkshop (pronounced Mi-yelk), a design gallery featuring the fusion of both Japanese and Scandinavian designs. From furniture to kitchen ware, Mjolk showcases the streamlined pieces of Japanese creations with the muted colour palette of the Nordic region. The products carried at Mjolk cannot be found anywhere else in North America, some products not even found in Japan. All of the pieces are sourced by owners John Baker and his wife by going directly to the artist and collaborating in some way. This was one of my favourite destinations in the Junction, each piece was simply beautiful, with colour splashes of gold and royal blue to balance the pale woods. Baker describes the studio pieces as “being rooted in a Canadian aesthetic. Canada’s landscape is similar to that of Scandinavia, which shines through in the creations.” One of the things Baker loves about being located in the Junction is that it is full of niche stores. He prefers not having crazy foot traffic, rather enjoying that people visit from all over to really get to know the gallery. Mjolk is an impressive gallery in this area, juxtaposing natural media to the clean lines these designs stem from. Mjolk hosts exhibitions every other month. August 11 is an upcoming design show featuring Oji Masanori and Studio Prepa, where you can meet these individuals specializing in wooden creations.
Near to this gallery is Smash, an antique store with eclectic furniture that’s been in the Junction for 4 years. As we walk in, the owners are having an impromptu lunch with other business owners in the area, reinforcing this established community. The store deals with salvaged and reclaimed items that are then reworked. Smash has various odds and ends that look like they belong on a movie set, a large wooden shoe, old type, and seven-up pop boxes just to name a few. A reason for staying in the area this long is the non corporate aspect to it, most businesses are fortunate to be independent. It’s also a very accessible location to get to with great spaces available for potential establishments. Smash is having a design crawl August 24 and a show themed around the city of Detroit. People, photos, and objects will be brought in from Detroit, similar to a speak easy. This store is just one of the popular nostalgia shops in the area. Metropolis Living @metropolisTO is another intriguing shop you could spend hours in. Reclaimed pieces are found and then fixed up. Each item is so distinct, some of the objects that stood out were the dental cabinets, type writers, and botany corner with scales, microscopes, and fossils. Anyone looking to add character to a new home will be sure to have a plethora of choices here.
Leaving the remnants of the antique stores to stroll Dundas West, it is nice to notice how friendly people in this neighbourhood are. Junction locals all wave and acknowledge each other, rare to see this in Toronto where the hustle and bustle of city life can sometimes take over any other emotion. One of the most popular and oldest businesses in the Junction is Vesuvio pizza. It’s been in this location for over 30 years! Right next to Vesuvio’s is Kid Culture, a funky kid’s store that will have you wishing you could go back in time to being a child, or maybe having one of your own….. The store is filled with tutus, hand puppets, and beanies to be draped on the most stylish of children. We talked to sales woman Sandra Da Costa about Kid Culture’s location in the Junction, she stated how diverse the community is and how it’s an up and coming area with people from all walks of life, which really represents Toronto. Tying into the awareness businesses in this area have towards the environment, Kid Culture only sells products from local Toronto designers, lessening its carbon foot print. The shop also holds studio sales where designers come in for a meet and greet. Kid Culture embraces the imagination of tots by supplying capes and crowns for every child to wear. The store is also part of shopcastr, Facebook, Twitter: @kid_culture and has its own blog. Warning: bring any child here and they will not want to leave.
Down the street from Kid Culture is Sanction Skate @sanctionskate , a skate and snowboard shop with its own in house brand. Sanction Skate is the only skate store in the Junction, its clientele attracting the young crowd in the neighbourhood. They provide the best products in this line of sport, from apparel, to watches, and foot wear. This is just one of the many cools stores within this area, proving there is a niche for everyone.
Making our way to the East end now, we pop into The Rue Morgue House of Horrors. And yes, true to its name the magazine publishing house used to be an old morgue. The Rue Morgue is published in Toronto and distributed worldwide. It was originally one of the oldest funeral homes in Toronto. We are told that the creepiest thing about the establishment is the basement, where the old crematorium used to be. The Rue Morgue doubles as a venue for haunted movie nights during Halloween, just one of the many events this area holds. Across the street is the Beet Organic Cafe, an organic and eco friendly haven. I suggest the Bananarama vegan sandwich with almond butter and raw Ontario honey for a healthy breakfast.
The East side is just as filled with art galleries and studios as the West side. Articulations is an art store/ gallery/ studio/ and summer camp, a multi use space as told to us by Miki Rubin. The art supplies are endless, fuelling the imagination of any creative individual. Next door is Pandemonium, a record and book shop featured in many of Toronto’s blogs.
Between art stores, retail shops, and an old morgue, it was time for a coffee break. Kristina takes us to Locomotive coffee shop, the retro decor and puzzles of the “steam dream” on the walls, remind one of an industrial time. Even the lighting criss-crosses on the ceiling, like the tracks of a train. The cafe uses pasta as a pseudo stir stick, a unique feature that many of the cafe’s in this area utilize. The java and sandwiches were exceptional, all of us drooling over a customer’s bacon and egg sandwich with homemade ketchup. The front of the store is replicated from a train, characteristics that can be found all over the Junction. Banners displaying images of a diamond line the main drag, symbolizing the interesting history of the city. The diamond signifies the intersection of two rail lines when the area was known as the West Toronto Diamond. Look for all five of these beautiful banners. The Junction businesses and the BIA have done a wonderful job incorporating the rich history of the Junction in an aesthetically pleasing way throughout Dundas West. When asked what’s next for the Junction, Kristina tells us that the Junction BIA Board of Directors are hoping to increase events in the area and while continuing to work on beautifying the area. The area is changing rapidly, a reason why businesses are choosing to locate here.
Latitude 44 is an art gallery that includes all genres and welcomes new patrons. No judgement or fuss will be had here for newbie art lovers, unlike many of the Queen West art galleries. At Latitude 44, all of the artists are Canadian. Owner Janet Di Bernardo raves about the location, stating how it’s a great fit for unique, blossoming stores. Similar sentiments can be heard at Russet & Empire, a new and used vintage gift store. Owner Micah Leheman says that the stores are shared with friends, translating into a tight nit community. Her store has been open for two years, selling vintage cameras, talking teeth and bowling memorabilia. It is also part of shopcastr.
As we end our journey of the Junction, we stop at Opticianado, an eyewear boutique. This is an amazing store for anyone wanting to set themselves apart in the eye wear department. Colourful, futuristic styles mixed with vintage lenses will appease any fashionable Torontonian.
Once we finished our tour we got a chance to take in some of the excellent nightlife in the Junction. For light snacks, live band music and great drinks 3030 Dundas West is definitely a place to check out. If you want something a little more low key, The Hole in the Wall is intimate and has a great open-mic night.
The Junction is a dynamic neighbourhood that appeals to a variety of lifestyles and people. It is rare to see firsthand how friendly a neighbourhood can be, but the Junction really is a community in every sense of the word. Businesses support each other’s work by promoting another retailers pieces within their own stores. Camaraderie is strong amongst the Junction, store owners admiring the freedom allowed to express oneself in this area. Kristina informs us that many events are held from season to season. Currently, events include the summer solstice, weekly movie nights, farmers markets, and the upcoming music fest on September 22. The music fest features a band of a similar name called the Junction band. The Junction is a bright, quirky, and engrossing neighbourhood that embraces individuality. It is clear why so many young creative and health conscious types are moving to the area as it grows into its rich roots.