I recently completed a fun assignment: a feature for Toronto Life magazine on four storefronts-turned apartments.
This is a type of space that you see in other cities (such as New York), but it’s got a particular history in Toronto, a city defined by its long strips of retail. Most of the examples I saw are on roads that used to be local commercial streets and are now residential: like Sackville Street and Davenport Road outside the downtown core.
As the historian Stephen Otto told me, these housed retailers – grocers, bakers, butchers and dairies - and had a short window of prosperity. Until the late 19th century, the vast majority of Toronto’s food was sold at three central markets. The growth of the city and looser laws meant grocery stores spread out to serve local areas (with booze, too, since ‘grog shops’ and grocers were often combined for a time.)
The neighbourhood grocer largely disappeared with the rise of the supermarket in the 1950s – except in areas where many locals didn’t have cars, and depended on their corner stores for another generation.
By now they’re largely variety stores, or vacant – or houses for creative types in search of unusual spaces. Here’s one in Riverdale, redesigned by Mazen Studio.
Look out for a feature I wrote in an upcoming Designlines Toronto on another building like this.