Toronto, Ontario – Shopping
Lots of people include shopping – beyond just the usual souvenirs – as an important activity in a visit to any large city. Well, Toronto has many urban malls but the largest, right in the downtown core, is the Eaton Centre at Yonge and Queen Streets (subway stop: Dundas or Queen) with hundreds of stores to choose from. Its airy, Galleria-style architecture is often seen as a tourist attraction in itself, especially for visitors from small towns. Many other shopping malls with recognizable chain-store names and some uniquely Canadian ones exist in and around Toronto.
In this article, we will focus on both unique shopping areas or streets that have interesting streetscapes and storefronts, and also some places for bargain hunting. Because of the volatile retail environment I will not mention any particular individual store. However, the best "finds" are often unplanned and ones you just happen upon. However, the areas or streets I’ll mention are also fun for browsing, café-sitting and people-watching.
In the downtown core, Queen Street West, between University and Spadina, is great for stylish clothing and one-of-a-kind specialty shops and funky bookstores and coffee shops. Further west on Queen Street, from Bathurst to Lansdowne, the ambience is even more trendy and fun, with second-hand shops, funky art galleries and more craft shops.
For more traditional art galleries, try the area of Queen Street east of Yonge and King Street East, as well as the more uptown area of Yorkville in the Bloor/Yonge area. The area around the Art Gallery of Ontario has interesting art-supply shops and is near the old Chinese area of downtown with its colourful markets. While taking in Toronto’s Lake Ontario waterfront try the Queen’s Quay two-level shopping: stores with a view and neat stuff. If pawn shops are your thing, try the area of Church street above and below Dundas Street; who knows what treasure may be lurking there?
By the way, Yonge Street (north-south and the longest continual street in the world) is the dividing line between east and west in Toronto. To combine sightseeing, architecture and a pleasant walking experience, hop on the Queen East streetcar. Get off at the Woodbine stop and find yourself at the beginning of an area known as "The Beaches," which has lots of fun, unique shops. It truly has a village atmosphere, and a boardwalk on Lake Ontario to boot. If you love dogs, this is the place to spot them, with their owners in tow.
The aforementioned Yorkville (Bay-Cumberland-Yorkville) has trendy and pricey shopping and Hazelton Lanes. As well, Bloor Street between Yonge and Avenue Road has some interesting places like The Manulife Centre and on-street shops as well. Do not judge a book by its cover though – good prices and value can be found anywhere! The area of Yonge Street from Eglinton south to Saint Clair, and further south past the fringes of tiny Rosedale to Bloor, also has a variety of shops with lots of places to stop in for a snack or coffee; in any season it’s also a very pleasant walk.
The Bloor West Village shopping area west of High Park has some interesting shops -mainly clothing and home accessories – and some wonderful East-European cafés for decadent pastry-lovers. There are also old-fashioned fresh-produce and florist shops where the goods of the season (except for perishables) are displayed outside as well. Don’t overlook this area, and combine it with a great nature walk in nearby High Park.
And now, ladies and gentlemen, to the "B" word (music to a shopper’s ears): BARGAIN!
Well, of course, a lot depends on the season (for seasonal sales) and finding that one clearance item in your size and taste. While many outlet centres and "value malls" are in the far suburbs, two areas of the city itself (accessible by public transport) come to mind.
One is Spadina Avenue (from College south to King Street). While not big on "eye appeal," why pay for the fancy look? All types of shops and factories open to the public are here, especially between Dundas and King as the city’s garment-fashion district is nearby.
The second is one long street called Orfus Road, with block after block of shops of all varieties, though clothing predominates. This seems to be a mecca for the savvy shopper who has a good eye for bargains, just as New Yorkers shop on the Lower East Side and downtown Brooklyn for great buys. This street is off Dufferein Street near Yorkdale shopping mall. There is parking, but stay away during weekends if you can: the street is mobbed with cars and people. Midweek is much quieter.
Looking and browsing may be half the fun, but finding that one-of-a-kind discounted item, waiting just for you, is even better. Hopefully, you’ll like it even more when you arrive home and utter the often heard, "Why in the heck did I buy this for?"