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Thirty-four Toronto stores that didn’t make it through 2009


A huge rent increase forced Pages to close last summer (Photo by Neal Jennings)

Last year was for Toronto store owners what recent seasons have been like for the Blue Jays: difficult to endure and full of loss. Thanks to the most severe economic downturn in decades, the city said goodbye to many long-standing businesses, notably Dack’s, Syd Silver and Rotman’s Hat Shop and Haberdashery. There was a high turnover of businesses on Queen Street West and at Yonge and Eglinton, and the independent bookstore sector was hit hard. Here, a look back at 34 shops we lost in 2009.

The independent bookstores
One of the biggest shocks was the closure of 30-year-old literary icon Pages. The shop had thrived despite the opening of nearby Chapters and Indigo mega-stores, and it was one of the few businesses with personality on a strip of Queen West that looks ever more like an outdoor mall. But proprietor Marc Glassman couldn’t afford a whopping rent increase and closed his doors in August. After 35 years on Markham Street, David Mirvish Books, known for its rare tomes and 50-foot-long Frank Stella painting, closed, selling its remaining volumes on-line. Proving “substantially unprofitable,” Winnipeg’s McNally Robinson filed for bankruptcy protection in December and closed its first and only Toronto location (it blames e-books for disappointing sales) only months after opening at the Shops at Don Mills. Type Books’ Danforth location couldn’t draw in enough traffic to make a go, though the locations on Queen West and Spadina are still kicking. Heading into 2010 barely afloat, the Toronto Women’s Bookstore, which opened in 1973, hopes to avoid a similar fate by pleading for donations from its customers.

The fashion industry
In fashion, 175-year-old Dack’s Shoes went bankrupt and closed all four Toronto locations, going toe-up in a market that favours cheap and cheerful over quality, handcrafted footwear. And though classic bowlers and fedoras might be back in style, Rotman’s Hat Shop and Haberdashery, a relic from when Chinatown was Toronto’s Jewish quarter, hung up its hat after 75 years on Spadina.

In an area that saw much turnover in 2009, Nike and Puma closed their Yonge and Eglinton stores (though Puma has relocated to Bloor Street). For 82 years, tuxedo experts Syd Silver suited pimply prom-goers and nervous grooms but announced just before Christmas the closure of all 17 Canadian locations in early 2010.

The luxury sector
A number of high-end women’s stores have folded, notably the last location of Zola Shoes, which lost its Yorkville location in 2008, and 34-year-old Finishing Touches, the luxe Yonge and Lawrence boutique. The Yorkville outpost of Aquascutum sold off its remaining stock of signature raincoats after the company went bankrupt, joining other area stores, like Marc Laurent and Furla, in closing.

The mani-pedi hub at Queen and Tecumseth suffered the closure of such spas as Flow Nail and Aliviar, though the latter has been replaced by Spa Toi. The relatively new Toronto chain HIT Fitness, which offered “revolutionary” short workout sessions to busy patrons, also closed.

The decor icons
Asian-focused home outfitter Rumah closed after 30 years, and kitsch lovers bemoaned the loss of Red Indian Art Deco, Queen and Bathurst’s 27-year-old purveyor of jukeboxes and vintage furniture. Red Indian owner Brad Hill hasn’t entirely abandoned the concept of an art deco–themed store, though; he’s simply moving it out of the city to Sauble Beach. Modern furniture specialist Casalife shut down its Vaughan location to focus on the Liberty Village storefront, and Koma left its location at 1239 Queen Street West in September in search of a better space and presumably cheaper rent, though customers looking for a spring-loaded rocker or a metal beanbag chair can still shop on-line.

Other 2009 closures
Cartel, 498 Queen St. W. (clothing)
Urban Planet, 262 Queen St. W. (clothing)
Heart on Your Sleeve, 61A Bellevue Ave. (eco-clothing, now on-line only)
Da Zone, 498 Queen St. W. (sneakers)
Token, 888 Queen St. W. (gifts)
Studio Labiri, 548 Danforth Ave. (clothing)
Left Feet, 88 Nassau St. (vegan shoe store)
Mr. Movie, 108 Mutual St. (video rental)
Barking Room, 744 King St. W. (pet grooming)
Christmas Rose, 1798 Avenue Rd. (Christmas supplies)

  • Bill

    Please take note Mr. Harper is unavailable at this time as he has closed goverment because he has decided the economy is not important enough and it only 34 stores in Toronto, so call back in March if you need any assistance! Meanwhile call NDP or Liberals for assistant’s

  • Joan Gauthier

    I am so very disappointed that the new (to us) McNally Robinson bookshop has fallen. After 30 years in the US we are about to return to Toronto and were very much looking forward to going there to browse and buy. During our time in Pittsburgh we have seen independent bookstore after independent bookstore fall first to the the chains and then to a weakening economy – and less reading?
    Will we have to buy all our books in Stratford?

  • Andrea

    When our government allows development of box stores in thriving small biz communities you KNOW they’re more interested in short term personal gain over the long term financial health of the community. It’s one thing to box store an undeveloped piece of land and quite another to stick a box store in an urban centre that has a thriving small business sector.

    I own a small shop in the St. Lawrence Market. In the past 5 years our government officials have green lit the development not of 1 but 5 big box stores, all within a 1 block radius of the market: Sobeys (on Front), Metro (on Front), Shoppers (coming in 2010 and being built on the parking lot that served the market) – a Longo’s (slated for development on, you guessed it Front street for 2010) and Loblaw’s (on Lower Jarvis).

    Tell me- the 70 small businesses housed in the St. Lawrence Market are supposed to compete with this?

    Politicians need to look to governments like France where they ban box stores to protect the small business, the community and the overall health of export and product development that actually SHAPE a cultural identity – which is totally lost in these big box stores.

    The benefits of small business to a community are:
    - A small business generates a middle class to upper middle class income for the owner and their families. It is more common for small business to pay above minimum wage to employees than big box stores.

    - There is no greater sense of community than that which comes from building relationships with your convenience store, butcher, spa etc…

    - Creativity and local demand shape products and services which in turn shape our cultural identity ie – Montreal bagels, back bacon sandwiches Toronto’s barista coffee shops, Sam the record Man, these are things that create culture and when we lose our small businesses, we lose a bit of our culture.

    Shop local, write your government officials, support your future generation of entrepreneurs.

    Thanks –

    Andrea owner of Selsi Searocks in the St. Lawrence Market

  • Glen

    Selsi, I live and work (in my own business) across from the St. Lawrence Market, have shopped there nearly every day for the past 10 years, and know many of the vendors. However, you don’t go to the market for toilet paper and toothpaste but it’s great to walk across the street to Metro or Sobey’s to get what I need there.

    Also, the market is closed 2 days of the week – if I need something on a Sunday (when I see lots of tourists and people walking by the closed doors) or Monday, I have to go somewhere else.

    The choices are what makes this neighbourhood work.


  • Susan

    With respect to the St. Lawrence Market area, I tend to agree with Glen. When I first moved into the area (in early days of the area’s condo boom), I seem to recall that it was around the last time all of that hoopla about closing down the market due to lack of use was winding down (and I’d have to admit that pretty much the only people I’d see there were students on field trips). Unlike then, when the market seemed to be dependent on customers living in other parts of the city making a special trip in to shop there, today’s customers appear to mostly be people who live within walking distance.

    I shop at the market as often as I can, but also always found I had to stop in afterwards at Dominion / Metro or Rabba to get something I wasn’t able to obtain in the market, or when the only free time I had to go grocery shopping that week was late in the evening/in the middle of the night (thank goodness for 24hr stores!). When Sobey’s opened up I switched over to them for these “additional” purchases…so in my mind, I think that it’s more about the chain stores competing with each other in their niche than with the market in its own very special niche (besides, why would anyone in their right mind, for example, buy withered asparagus for $4 at Metro when you can get a fresh bunch at the market for 50 cents?!?).

    And since the population in the area (including the Distillery area) has exploded, even though I’m not a fan of “big box”” stores, I tend to think that there’s room enough for everyone and that, generally, much of the development has brought “life” back to an area of downtown core that had the potential to end up looking something like a ghost town.

  • Tamika A.

    This is just another reason we need to rally around our great Toronto boutiques. Shop Socials will be hosting events around the city to promote and celebrate our fantastic fashion gems.

  • Natalie

    I just visited the new spa that replaced aliviar. Their name is not spatoi, it is Sant’Urbano Spa ( It is just beautiful and the service was very very good. The staff was saying that it is the first of many spas that the owners are developing. They are catering to busy women.

  • Shinn Cook

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  • X employee

    their president in the 1980′s was an egotist who thought he could do no wrong, including opening stores in questionable locations to ‘bury’ excess inventory that the factory produced, re-designing and ‘updating’ store to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars annualy, introducing ladies footwear into a male domain (“WHAT?? are you guys catering to queers now????) amoungst other questionable practices.

    sad to see, but even after 175 years of solid leadership, one person in particular can sink a ship. may he take his legacy to the grave.


  • Matthew Dack

    Well they managed to put Dack’s in bankruptcy in December 2009. The brand was relaunched as an online store in 2012 and has had great success since.