Just west of downtown and pulsating with plenty of energy, Kensington and Little Italy are not just dynamic neighbourhoods, but prominent destinations for customers and the business owners who serve them.
Kensington Market, with its open-air stalls and hip food and drink spots located west of Spadina Avenue between College and Dundas streets, is one of Toronto’s oldest, most well-known and most frequented places.
At Paul’s Boutique (2 Nassau St.), owner Paul Babiak says the thriving nature of the market has kept it relevant over the years to customers looking for a unique experience.
“There’s always new businesses coming and going and there are some nicer restaurants here, although the rent in Kensington used to be a lot cheaper,” Babiak said.
Despite Kensington’s increasing trendiness, Babiak says in the 10 years his shop has been open the market hasn’t sold out its heart to big business.
“This place is like a small town and I don’t think it’s going to turn into a fully commercial neighbourhood like Queen West. There’s still a pretty hardcore artists’ vibe here,” Babiak said.
Along College Street, distinctive boot-shaped neon lights hang off of streetlamps signalling a playful welcome into Little Italy, where young city-dwellers converge on excellent restaurants, hip bars and outdoor cafés.
The area’s cultural cachet drew in business owner Chrissy Maduri, who after graduating culinary school took over an existing location to open Gaucho Gourmet Market (614 College St.) less than a year ago. The store is an extension of her family’s longtime business located at the St. Lawrence Market and Maduri says her clientele is varied, and while the tight-knit community was apprehensive when she took over the former Il Centro Del Formaggio store, they were very welcoming once they realized she understood their needs.
“There are different clients that come in the door, it’s not just little old Italian ladies — there are lots of families and yuppies — I like the scene here. At first people were very skeptical about us but we’ve gotten really positive feedback,” Maduri.
At neighbourhood pub Southside Louie’s (583 College St.), manager Donna Wolff’s Scottish charm is infectious as she serves customers and offers a friendly ear. She says while rents have stayed high and business has dipped a bit during the recession, business owners help each other out and the neighbourhood still has a great spirit to it.
“I love the people here, knowing their drinks, knowing their families — everyone knows each other here. You try to support local business, because while competition is healthy, there’s plenty of business to go around if you’re good,” Wolff said.