To honour small business week in mid-October, I’m saluting those newish storefront businesses in the Beach and Leslieville that have cultivated super niche products.
Take Pia Fox, a former biz consultant turned retail entrepreneur who has recently opened the third and only Toronto location of her burgeoning retail empire, Urban Cotton Company, right here in the Beach.
I say burgeoning because more have opened since then and by the end of November there’ll be 21 stores in southern Ontario. Not bad for a company that launched its very first store (in the Niagara Falls Fallsview Casino to boot) a mere six months ago.
As Pia put it to me one afternoon in the new Beach locale (in the former digs of Cotton Ginny, a store whose fashions are somewhat similar in my books), the company mantra is to provide casual, comfy ladies’ fashions that wash and wear well and will last a few seasons.
There’s no attempt to be trendy here: in her mid-50s, Pia says she saw a niche opportunity catering to women of her age group, but also to women a good 20 years on either side of 50.
Most of the clothing, a selection of separates for women sized 4-24, isn’t really my style, though I like the fact that pieces are designed locally by Krista Love and made with mostly natural fibres like cotton and silk. Prices are good, from $15-$125.
My picks: Cotton blend sweaters under $50 that are so fine they feel like cashmere. (Full disclosure: Pia gives me a super soft rayon slouchy bolero in a brilliant blue when I admire it).
The slub cotton tees with three-quarter sleeves, a slight A-line and delicate beadwork, $44.95, are pretty and would suit any body type, while the tummy control jeans with control band in the front, $64.95, are popular with yummy mummies I bet. Yoga wear coming soon.
2064 Queen St. East, 416-686-6326
Meanwhile in Leslieville I finally get a chance to drop into Holy Cow, a colour emporium of art, decorative accessories and home accents from Asia, India and more — over 20 countries are represented here, I’m told.
I admit it: when the shop opened a year ago I saw the brightly painted metal animal figures in the window and thought: junky.
My bad. I’ve since learned not to judge a shopping book but its cover, ’cos this shop couldn’t be more neat.
Owner and former restaurateur and cookbook author Aristedes Pasparakis, known as Aristedes, graciously shows me around the shop and educates me on some of the products he and his partner, Rosedale retailer and clothing designer Alexia von Beck, have amassed in their worldwide travels.
Gorgeous marble slab table tops with stone overlay that can be outfitted on a variety of wood or wrought iron bases start at $1,000. Huge wooden cows Aristedes has designed and painted with a colourful hand and sense of humour — there’s the pink and gold Gay Pride cow and a Marilyn Monroe cow with blue eye shadow and bright red lips — go for about $1,500.
And those colourful metal animal figurines for the garden or the home happen to be Aristedes’ signature pieces, for shame Kelly. He designs them himself and upon closer inspection they’re wonderfully whimsical.
The large Buddha statues, both new and antique, are stunning, and they’re not the fat Buddhas you see everywhere (Aristedes calls these ones obscene) but rather tall beautiful wooden or sitting marble ones with beautiful hand postures.
There is such a thing as an ugly Buddha, I’m told, so even though I ooh and ahh over the worn antique one in the window (for $2,500 if memory serves), Aristedes says age doesn’t matter when it comes to Buddhas: it’s all about how pretty they are.
Look for framed antique prints from the Kama Sutra, averaging about $200 each and hidden behind a curtain, and Turkish “magic towels”, $49 each, which Aristedes swears will forever turn you from fluffy bath towels.
A second location, in the former space of All … Most Antiques at 1114 Queen East on the upper level, is in the works and will stock the larger decorative pieces.
1100 Queen St. East 416-778-6555 www.holycowmarket.com
Across the street I’m thrilled to see Greg Perras’ new store, Highway 11, is open and Perras is back in the retail game.
After selling his successful Ethel store about a year ago, Perras went back to school and apparently hated it. He’s risen from the retail ashes, so to speak, and returned with a nifty vintage décor concept.
In the space formerly occupied by Winkel, another fave I miss heaps since owner Kari Measham closed to focus on other pursuits, Highway 11 pays homage to its retail precursor with its homey vibe and reverence for semi-gaudy decorative accessories. Except here the look is Canadiana cabin chic meets western tchotchka heaven.
The place is so cozy I almost expect to see a fireplace raging in a corner casting a welcoming glow over the westernesque books and comics artfully arranged over vintage and refurbished wood tables — but wait, there is a 1960s metal acorn faux fireplace that just sold for $450.
Fun finds: unusual vintage lamps, like the 1940s impala lamp with new shade, $225, that I eyeballed, and a vintage (cow) skull lamp, $280, that’s both freakish and funky.
1107 Queen St. East 416-466-6960
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