The first thing I noticed when I stepped into the interior of Curiosa was the music: the familiar strains of “Hedwig’s Theme”, the theme song from the Harry Potter movies, was playing softly over a loudspeaker. Dark-coloured bookshelves lined every wall, notebooks and trinkets were displayed on every surface, and….was that cauldron stirring…itself?
Co-owners Stephen and Heather Sauer have set out to create a space that feels completely magical—and they’ve succeeded. Stepping into their Queen West shop is as close as you can get to Diagon Alley without leaving Toronto. And just like the famous Alley, there’s something to see at every turn. Challenge your kiddos (and yourself) to find Hedwig sitting in her cage, wand boxes that look straight off a shelf at Ollivanders, and a sign pointing to the Restricted Section. (No, you can’t go in!)
Besides the self-stirring cauldrons, (“Kids go nuts for those,” says Stephen), there are reproduction astrolabes and other curiosities that you might find on a table in the Astronomy classroom at Hogwarts, a trick box that can’t be opened that seems like something Fred and George would give to Ron, and official Hogwarts-issue notebooks exactly like the ones students in the movie used for note taking during class.
There are shelves dedicated to each of the four Hogwarts’ houses. Choose from various notebooks, pens, wallets, and other trinkets that are either embossed with the crest from your favourite house or are otherwise adorably on-theme, such as the dark-coloured book in the Slytherin section that says “List of Enemies” on the cover.
Not to be missed is the writing desk covered in ink and nib pen kits, pencil quills, and, one of the most popular items in the store, wax initial seal kits for sealing up letters and cards with old-timey flair. ($26 per kit).
Also popular with kids visiting the shop is the large metal typer—insert a dollar and you can create a good luck token with a custom phrase. The token will be in one of Hogwarts’ four house colours, but the colour is a surprise.
The “Harry Potter store”, as people have dubbed it, opened on Tuesday and is already a hit. The store is a labour of love for the husband-and-wife team. “We’d wistfully talked about doing this for a while,” says Heather, “then we got the space in May, and here we are.”
Not everything in the shop is Harry Potter-themed. The store is a curated collection of things relating to books, magical worlds, and curiosities. The shop carries a wide variety of cards and paper goods, scented candles from the Paddywax Library and Apothecary lines, and books and artwork from the worlds of Sherlock Holmes, Tolkien, and other classic books. For a cute memento, check out the rack of book pins—pretty and tiny covers of beloved favourites like Nancy Drew, Anne of Green Gables, 1984, A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and more.
Heather and Stephen share their love of magical worlds and reading with their two girls, ages 10 and 7 years. Stephen says the girls drew up plans for the first window display and had opinions on how the store logo should look. Draw Stephen over to the shelf of board games and he’ll eagerly tell you which ones the family enjoyed playing together most. He especially recommends “Harry Potter Hogwarts Battle” as a game the whole family can get into. (Officially best for ages 11 and up, but he says their 7-year-old manages fine.) Another board game to check out: “Purrrlock Holmes”, a numbers and deduction game for kids 10 and up that Stephen designed himself.
One of my favourite items in the store is their collection of art prints—see if you can find the poster announcing the Quidditch World Cup between Ireland and Bulgaria, or the poster inviting students to the Yule Ball. All are exact reproductions from the movies, created by the graphic design company MinaLima, which did all the art for the films. In fact, Curiosa is the only place you can buy the prints in North America, except for Universal Studios.
Good to know: the store can get pretty busy, so if you’re planning to visit with kids, (and I highly recommend that you do) consider heading out on a weekday or arriving in the morning before the crowds.
Curiosa: Purveyors of Extraordinary Things is located at 1273 Queen Street West, Toronto, and is open Monday-Friday from 11 am-7 pm, Saturday from 10 am-6 pm, and Sundays from 12-5 pm.