Most people don’t know this, but my love for fashion stems from growing up in my mother’s womenswear boutique on Queen West in Toronto. It was watching her run her amazing business that sparked my interest in the industry, and I always admired that she championed great Canadian design (well before it was cool to do so) and helped launch the careers of some of Canada’s most established designers.
Shopping ‘local’ was never something that was ever really discussed in my family, it was just something we did by nature. And how could we not? As entrepreneurs, my parents always preferred to support neighbourhood businesses, and all of our family friends were creators in the arts, in fashion, in food, and every other creative field you could imagine. We supported our friends whether we needed something to wear, or something to eat, just like Yellow Pages does with their year round program, Shop The Neighbourhood. The program helps to ensure the success of local businesses, who contribute to strong and thriving communities.
Now, as an adult, I feel proud that I have maintained this mentality, and make a conscious effort every day to support great local businesses, no matter where I am in the world. Perhaps that’s what makes me a good fit to be FLARE’s Toronto Localist-at-Large, or the Founder of The Chic Canuck, but, it truly all started when I was just a little girl.
Since I quite literally grew up on Queen West (in a shop no less) I can say, with confidence, that I know the Queen Street shopping scene like the back of my hand. And guess what? No matter how much it’s changed or how many years have passed, I’m still not sick of it. In fact, it is genuinely still my favourite area in the city to shop, and it always feels like I’m right at home when I’m there.
I was ecstatic when my friends at Yellow Pages asked me to share my very own Shop The Neighborhood guide, because there’s nothing that makes me happier than spreading the word about my favourite local shops and brands in Toronto. The only hard part was narrowing it down to a manageable list, but I feel very strongly that you need to visit each and every one of these 12 stores (all west of Bathurst) on Queen West as soon as possible.
So without further ado, here is my Queen West Shopping Guide featuring 12 of the best local fashion stores on West Queen West in Toronto!
Graffiti Alley is just as much a part of West Queen West culture as the shopping
Smoke + Ash is such a wonderful example of how a pop up can quickly turn into a successful brick and mortar shop when you hit the nail on the head. I remember first meeting owner Jaya Kahlon in her first pop up for her new shop (then called Sauvage) inside the The Burroughes Building. I was so impressed with her keen eye and impeccable selection of accessories, that it was a welcomed surprise when I heard she would be opening up a permanent shop at Queen and Tecumseth soon after. Like a true entrepreneur, Jaya is always re-inventing her brand, and recently rebranded as Smoke + Ash. This shop has been one of my go-to’s for amazing footwear and trend-focused affordable fashion pieces that will quickly update my wardrobe for any season. I always recommend a visit to Smoke + Ash to anyone who asks, especially because I always get asked about what I’m wearing when it’s from her shop.
Smoke + Ash, 644 Queen Street West, Toronto.
Full disclosure: you will not find any fashion in this shop, except for the extremely fashionable owner, Nitasha Goel, who will greet you warmly while wearing an effortlessly chic outfit on any day of the week. The Cure Apothecary specializes in all-natural beauty products, and is a total haven for anyone who is as obsessed with great natural skincare as I am. Thankfully, she will happily nerd out over everything alongside you, and teach you about every single fabulous product in her shop. Nitasha also carries a growing number of Canadian made products, and even creates her own in-house line. The Cure is always a must-visit when I’m in the area.
The Cure Apothecary, 719 Queen Street West, Toronto.
Perhaps I’m a little biased as a #MendoMuse, but I think Mendocino’s newest boutique on the West Queen West strip has been a welcomed addition to the area’s shoppable offerings. I always know I can run in and find a great new pair of jeans, the perfect party dress, or the outfit update I was looking for to complete my look (or make it better), anytime I go in. Plus, their range of labels make it possible to shop whether you’ve got $20 in your pocket, or $200.
Mendocino, 825 Queen Street West, Toronto
Buying a new pair of designer shades may not be in the cards every time you go shopping (although I certainly wish it was) but there’s only one place to go when that special time comes, and that is Spectacle on Queen West. Whether you’re looking for frames or shades, this is THE place to shop for THE best and coolest eyewear in Toronto. My recommendation would be to clear the day’s schedule and reserve all of your time to be spent at Spectacle if you’re a serious shopper because they have an endless selection of incredible styles. Seriously, if you think there’s a lot on the shelves when you walk in, just wait until they start opening up the drawers beneath them.
Spectacle, 752 Queen Street West
Toronto’s coolest accessories shop is another Queen West success story that I love. It wasn’t too long ago when owner, Zane Aburaneh, launched his business as a small online store called A to Zane. Since then, he’s condensed the brand name to simply ‘Zane’ and built his brick and mortar shop into one of the most stylish spots on the shopping strip. This is one of the best boutique retailers in the city to shop great bags, watches and jewellery from local brands such as Hoi Bo and Jenny Bird to brand favourites from around the world such as Giles and Brother and Rebecca Minkoff.
Zane, 753 Queen Street West, Toronto.
The majority of my jewellery and accessories have come from shops on Queen West over the years
For nearly a decade, Fawn’s teeny tiny little boutique has been a go-to for Toronto fashion girls and creatives to shop from owner Kasha’s curated selection of contemporary brands from around the world. You can always rely on her to find modern, interesting and unexpected pieces that will make a statement and elevate your wardrobe. Fawn is also one of the few places where you’ll be able to get your hands on pieces from the coveted Toronto-based label, MARKOO Studios.
Fawn, 967 Queen Street West, Toronto.
The Drake General Store is unlike any other hotel gift shop you’ve been to before. This quirky shop’s popularity amongst locals and visitors has not only helped propel the recent expansion of the brand’s flagship location on Queen West (now a multi-story shopping destination that includes a coffee shop, barber and event space, in house) but it’s growth across the country as well. My favourite items are their Canadiana themed pieces from their own in-house line, often created with clever collaborations with Canadian establishments such as the CBC and the Toronto Public Library. If you’re ever in need of a last minute gift, here’s the best place to find one.
Drake General Store, 1151 Queen Street West, Toronto.
Wearing unisex shirt (worn as a dress) by Toronto-based menswear designer, Andrew Coimbra. Fun fact: Andrew and I went to high school together in Grade 9!
Fig plants and succulents are now as essential to any stylish home as a fresh pressed green juice is to your daily routine. Thankfully, the new Crown Flora x Greenhouse Juice location on Queen Street brings us the best of both worlds in one highly instagrammable environment. Should your stomping ground be further west in the Parkdale neighbourhood, you can also stop by Crown Flora’s flagship location – just look for the bubblegum pink brick building
Crown Flora x Greenhouse Juice, 740 Queen Street West, Toronto.
If you could imagine a mall filled only with small, local brands and designers, the Toronto Designers Market is the first step towards this new form of concept shopping that helps make it possible for small businesses to obtain an affordable retail space in a brick and mortar shop. Here, under one roof, you’re able to shop Toronto-based designers such like Krane, Andrew Coimbra, Quill & Tine and Noble Sole, as well as our curated selection of Canadian goods from The Chic Canuck.
Toronto Designers Market, 1605 Queen Street West, Toronto.
Located in the heart of Parkdale, The Future of Frances Watson boutique is a heavy weight when it comes to neighbourhood shopping for men and women. Even with staple streetwear brands like Cheap Monday, Ksubi and Filson, an abundance of treasured local brands can be found inside including Fortnight Lingerie, OSC Cross, Outclass and Iris Denim – providing a great range of Canadian-made items for both guys and girls. For further proof of this store’s greatness, please refer to it’s mention in 36 Hours in Canada by The New York Times.
The Future of Frances Watson, 1390 Queen Street West, Toronto.
You never know what you’ll find on Queen West, including abandoned vintage cars.
Just over a year old now, CONVEY recently emerged on the Queen West strip with their minimalist boutique offering am array of contemporary pieces from lesser-known and emerging designers, mainly hailing from Australia and New Zealand. Over the past year they have increased their inclusion of more local talent, hosting in-store pop up shops by Toronto-based leather brand, Namesake Label, and womenswear by TMR.
CONVEY, 754 Queen Street West, Toronto.
Whether you’re shopping for a new pair of Vans or a Marni dress for yourself (or your kid) Gravity Pope has got you covered. This two-storey retail location is hard to miss at the corner of Queen and Ossington, and is significantly bigger than most other Canadian-owned shops in its vicinity. With its first location opened in Edmonton back in 1990, Gravity Pope has since expanded to include locations in Calgary, Vancouver and, most recently, Toronto in 2012. With such a huge range of carefully curated brands available in one shop, it’s never hard to find something you’ll want to buy.
Gravity Pope, 1010 Queen Street West, Toronto.
Although this list in no way covers all of the amazing stores that can be found on Queen West (seriously, I could go on forever!), I hope that it helps you navigate your way through the area, or encourages you to venture beyond your usual territory. Most of all, I hope it encourages you to shop local more often, and help support the incredible talent and amazing independent businesses that we are so lucky to have in this wonderful city we (now) call #the6ix.