A haven for artistic types with money and independent businesses with moxie, the western stretch of Queen West is bursting with character and still as intriguing as it is trendy.
Often referred to as West Queen West, the section of Queen Street West that runs between Bathurst and Dufferin streets features more than 300 businesses centred largely on creative pursuits like fashion, design and art.
When Kalsang Dolkar opened the Tibet Shoppe (664 Queen St. W.) almost two decades ago selling clothing and other items from her homeland, she was one of the only stores of her kind in the city.
“Eighteen years ago there were not many Tibetan stores. I just wanted to share my culture and bring awareness of Tibet to Canadians. The Tibetan population in Toronto has grown about six times since then and I’ve been here so long people know where I am,” Dolkar said.
Now several Tibet restaurants share a jam-packed streetscape of independent fashion, food and artistically inclined businesses along the Queen West stretch — a far cry from the area’s humble beginnings.
“Queen West was run down in those days and there were a lot of empty retail spots — I had my pick of any location. Now it’s become very trendy, there are a lot more interesting stores and people are making the trip down here to shop,” Dolkar said.
Vinyl-record mecca Rotate This (801 Queen St. W.) has been in several locations on Queen West since 1991 and owner Pierre Hallett says the area has always drawn a lot of attention for its individuality, even back when he originally opened.
“Queen West was cheaper and it had more character; now it’s more expensive with substantially more character,” Hallett said.
While veterans of the Queen West scene like Hallett and Dolkar have seen the area transform over time, relative newcomers like Joanne Saul have entered the neighbourhood to take advantage of its cultural cachet.
Saul co-owns the independent bookstore Type (883 Queen St. W.), which opened four years ago and says Queen West’s strong sense of community is what makes a store like hers — and other independent businesses — possible.
“It’s a neighbourhood full of artists, writers and community-minded people. Like most independent bookstores we’re community focused and it’s the kind of neighbourhood that could support an independent bookstore in the first place. There’s such a neat mix of businesses here,” Saul said.
While Saul is worried rising rents have forced some stores out of the area, she’s happy the area’s sense of individuality is still strong.
Further west at the iconic, 120-year-old Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen St. W.), manager Ann Powell says Queen West is the quintessential artist’s retreat and the area’s popularity has made it a strong place to do business.
“It’s an artists’ district now, you can see the artists’ industry east and west. Foot traffic is big here. Queen West is just so thriving,” Powell said.