As we prepare for our Toronto popup shop, we get the insider scoop from Nicole Hudson, founder of Bot Communications and the brand[ED] workshops (which we’ve hosted at the Poppy Barley showroom), on the best places to shop while visiting Toronto.
Having spent the last few years helping small businesses build their brand, I have learned to value those who work tirelessly to live their dream. I do my best to buy gifts from craft shows/markets and etsy, and eat at local restaurants whenever possible. And thankfully, in a vibrant city like Toronto it’s very easy to support the local scene.
But that wasn’t always the case. I’ll admit when I first moved to Toronto in 2008, I played it safe in large chain restaurants and found comfort in buying my latte through an iPhone app at Starbucks. If you’re like me you’ll agree that it’s sometimes easier and natural to do what we know and love. But once you’ve caught the “local bug” (it’s a good one, I promise) there’s no turning back. Here is the near impossible task of choosing 5 of my favourite local businesses in Toronto, in no particular order.
When you don’t know where to start, chocolate is usually a good choice. Determined to find new ways to create and enjoy chocolate, David Castellan and Cynthia Leung turned a little corner of a former whisky distillery into Soma, or as I like to call it a taste of heaven. Fast forward twelve years and there are now two locations, a small chocolate factory and a bunch of wholesalers so there’s no shortage for chocolate lovers like me. If you get a chance to pop in you need to try the hot chocolate. The classic is delightful, but the mayan (chocolate with a kick) is a must if you’re feeling a little adventurous.
Soma is one of my favourite Toronto businesses not only for the chocolate but for the entire experience. From the friendliest staff, to the variety in goodies (truffles, gifts, gelato, snacks, coffee) you really get a sense that a lot of heart has been put into the place. Plus, it doesn’t get anymore local than watching everything being prepared behind the glass as you sip your hot drink.
Founded with the mission to make a difference, Peace Collective is a philanthropic fashion brand aimed at providing local clothing while doing good. They’ve partnered with the World Food Program USA to provide one child a school meal for a month with every Peace Collective garment purchased. I love being able to do something good while also looking good. The collection is made up of tanks, tees, sweatshirts, hats and totes with phrases like “Toronto vs Everybody” and “Home is Canada.”
The clothing is fashionable, gender neutral and has an urban feel which is very Toronto. Plus, it’s a perfect alternative to a touristy overpriced CN Tower shirt! The clothing is available at various Toronto shops (including Spacing, which is a cool local shop curating the best non-cheesy-Toronto-esque goodies) and online! So for those of you reading this from afar, do yourselves a favour and check out here, because let’s face it, with the Jays making the playoffs everyone in Canada should be repping Toronto.
I know, I know, how typical of me choosing a juice place. But, hear me out. Union Juice is going to be the fast-food of the future. Unlike most juice shops (don’t get me wrong, I love me some cold-pressed juice) Union Juice focuses on fresh, made-to-order juices, smoothies, sandwiches and other healthy snacks. If you haven’t tried an Acai bowl you haven’t experienced breakfast. Trust me on that.
Union Juice is inspired by a Denmark-based chain called Joe & the Juice, but with local influences. Jacknife Design, a small firm just down the street is not only responsible for the branding and design but also the bright, Scandinavian minimalist interior of the space. I love that the cold brew and espresso come from Propeller, a fully sustainable, green coffee roaster in town. And the furniture is custom made by hollis + morris, a design studio based in Toronto.
One other perk: the Adelaide location is right next to Sweet Jesus, an amazing local ice cream shop.
The Detox Market
A combination of sensitive skin and a passionate mother lead me to change the products I put on my skin. I remember reading a statistic somewhere that the average woman encounters hundreds of toxins before she even starts her day. Yikes! I spent a couple years scoping the good ol’ inter web ordering from small batch and local companies passionate about natural, paraben-free, sulfate-free, clean products. And then I discovered the Detox Market which had already done all the research for me and packaged it into the perfect little shop of curated goods. It’s the perfect meta pick for this post as it’s essentially a local business full of other little local or small businesses.
Detox Market carries the best in clean, toxic free skincare, make up and nail polish for men and women of every skin type. They also carry healthy snacks, water bottles, tea and other goodies. I love that it features some of my favourite Toronto-based businesses like Mai Lin Jewelry and Province Apothecary. Plus, one of my favourite local cold-pressed juices, Greenhouse Juice, has a darling little pop up inside so you can refuel while you shop!
Swipe Design + Books
Swipe is an independent bookstore featuring the best in design, architecture, advertising and urbanism. It’s nestled on the lowest level of the 401 Richmond building, a restored tin factory that houses many galleries, locals and other creatives in downtown Toronto. I love the experience of walking into Swipe and perusing the perfectly curated books, drooling over minimalist watches, clocks and wallets and flipping through some of the coolest magazines I wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else.
Swipe isn’t just a design-lovers dream, but a shop with something for everyone. There’s an adorable children’s section, greeting cards, a great assortment of pens and a whole bunch of other trinkets that make it impossible to leave empty-handed. Plus, it’s one of the only shops in Toronto that carries my favourite, the Stendig calendar. Oh, and it’s right next door to Spaces, the Toronto-esque shop I mentioned above.
Well, there you have it: five of my favourite local businesses in Toronto, but if I’m being honest, I could have featured 100. If you ever visit Toronto, I highly encourage to take a few steps off the main touristy roads and check out some neighbourhoods that highlight the local scene (Queen West, the Annex, Kensington Market and Leslieville). You’ll be glad you did. I also challenge you to support the local businesses in your city, so if you ever catch yourself writing a story like this one you’ll have trouble narrowing your list down from 100 to 5 too.