For shopaholics to casual browsers, Toronto offers a dizzying range of choices. While there are enough buys offered by the numerous international brands in Toronto to pack a U-Haul with, Toronto also has a bustling arts-and-crafts community, with a wealth of galleries, custom jewelers, and artisans. Don’t forget the local talent. If your passion is fashion, there are great Canadian labels such as Greta Constantine, Beaufille, Sentaler, Sid Neigum, and Comrags, for starters. Local arts and crafts are also abundant. Some of the best regional artisans are design-related, such as the eclectic collection at Swipe Design and Canadiana-with-cheek at MADE.
The Eaton Centre is Toronto's most famous shopping arcade, with more than 200 chain stores. Think: Banana Republic, Pottery Barn, Abercrombie & Fitch, and the Gap, plus two department stores, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom, at either end of the block-long mall. But the case remains: The Eaton Centre is convenient yet generally boring. Be adventurous and check out local neighborhood shops to score deals on unique clothing, housewares, and antiques.
Go Where the Dealers Go—There are plenty of antiques stores in Rosedale, on that stretch of Yonge Street from Rosedale subway station to St. Clair Avenue. True bargain hunters gravitate to Leslieville, the stretch of Queen Street East between Carlaw and Coxwell avenues, where small antiques shops offer great finds that need a little bit of fixing up. Parkdale and the Junction also offer good selections of used-furniture and other bric-a-brac shops.
Wine—In Ontario, Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) outlets include small boutiques, big stores, and some (wine and beer only) locations at grocery or convenience stores. It’s a government monopoly that rattles many a citizen who would prefer more choices. At least there’s plenty on offer. Look for tastes you won’t find easily elsewhere, such as locally produced wines (Niagara and Prince Edward County are producing exceptional vintages), as well as the popular ice wine, an intensely sweet dessert wine that has won awards the world over. There are LCBO outlets all over the city, and prices are the same at all of them.
The nicest shop is the LCBO Summerhill (10 Scrivener Sq.; tel. 416/922-0403; subway: Summerhill). Built into a former train station, this outpost hosts cooking classes, wine and spirits tastings, and party-planning seminars. It's open Monday through Thursday 9am to 10pm, Friday and Saturday 9am to 11pm and Sunday 10am to 8pm.
The Shopping Scene
While there are enough buys offered by the numerous international retailers in Toronto to pack a U-Haul with, don't forget the local talent. If your passion is fashion, there are great Canadian labels such as Anne Hung, Mercy, Lida Baday, Lydia K, Ross Mayerand, and Comrags, for starters.
Toronto also has a bustling arts-and-crafts community, with many galleries, custom jewelers, and artisans. Some of the best are design-related, such as the eclectic collection at Swipe and Canadiana-with-cheek at MADE. If you're an art-lover, note that artwork brought into the United States is duty-free.
Stores usually open around 10am from Monday to Saturday. Closing hours change depending on the day. From Monday to Wednesday, most stores close at 6pm; on Thursday and Friday, hours can run to 8 or 9pm; on Saturday, closing is usually at 6pm. Most stores are open on Sunday, though the hours may be restricted—11am or noon to 5pm is standard.
All Toronto retailers charge shoppers for plastic bags; the charge for a plastic bag is C5¢. While the move was intended to boost Toronto's eco-friendliness, the fact that the bag tax doesn't go into any environmental fund (in fact, the "tax" money is kept by the shops) has caused a hullabaloo among some shoppers.
Almost every establishment accepts MasterCard and Visa, and a growing number take American Express.
Hunting for Vintage
In-the-know shoppers will tell you that Toronto has had a truly great vintage-shopping scene since the ’70s. From couture and designer finds to simple smocks, collectibles to impulse buys—and if you’re prepared to rummage—you can find it at the treasure troves below.
- Courage My Love—Follow the wafting patchouli inside this long-standing Kensington thrift shop and you’ll find an antique library catalogue with drawers and drawers full of buttons: wood, bronze, brass, bone, horn, and more. The front of the shop is dedicated to accessories and baubles (old and new), but head to the wings of the store where you’ll find everything from ’50s cocktail dresses to disco jumpers and cashmere button-downs. (14 Kensington Ave.; tel. 416/979-1992; subway: Spadina, then streetcar 510 S to Dundas St. W.)
- Divine Decadence Originals—If you've ever wondered where Kate Moss shops for vintage glad rags when visiting T.O., it would be this Yorkville stalwart. For the past 30 years, fashionistas with a proclivity for dated duds come for silk Spanish caftans, black Chantilly lace ball gowns, and Yves St. Laurent evening dresses (made in the ’70s but in such great condition they hardly look a day over 25). (128 Cumberland St., 2nd floor; tel. 416/324-9759; subway: Bay)
- Exile—Named for the Rolling Stones song “Exile on Main Street,” this Kensington shop was founded in 1975 with punk chutzpah. Don’t expect a boutique experience. Shopping here demands a bit of cavalier spirit. It takes dedication to sift through the immense collection of clothes—not everything here is a gem, though between the ill-fitting leather bombers you may find the occasional Keith Richardsesque jacket. The offerings skew newer. The younger set, who think the ’90s are ancient, are sure to find some well-loved Levi’s or an ’80s prom dress to delight. A must-visit when putting costumes together; it even has a wall of wigs. (62 Kensington Ave.; tel. 416/595-7199; subway: Spadina, then streetcar 510 S to Baldwin St.)
- Gadabout—When a theater company is seeking out the perfect Edwardian bed coat for an upcoming production, they ask Victoria Dinnick, who is perhaps the most knowledgeable person in T.O. when it comes to pre-Reagan-era clothes. (Dinnick insists that anything post-1979 is just old, not yet vintage.) The shop is stuffed to the gills with curios, old games, vases, and other ephemera to keep even non-thrifters occupied. True fans of vintage clothing will swoon over the rare finds such as a 1930s Chinese silk wedding dress or a cat-printed ‘60s paper dress. The Victoria and Albert Museum in London has a paper dress from the same collection in its archives. (1300 Queen St. E; tel. 416/463-1254; subway: Queen, then streetcar 501 E to Alton Ave.)
- I Miss You—Glad rags from all the big European fashion houses (Hermès, Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada) along with local design darlings (Greta Constantine) line the shelves at this three-room Ossington shop. The selection isn’t limited to dresses of a certain vintage; you’re just as likely to find last season’s hot-pink velvet Balenciaga knife boots as you are a pair of suede Chanel bellbottoms from the ’80s. (63 Ossington Ave; tel. 416/916-7021; subway: Osgoode, then streetcar 501 W to Ossington Ave.)
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.