Even before Toronto entered its second lockdown period, we were being encouraged to “shop local.” Now, with most small businesses restricted to curbside pickup or delivery, that action is more important than ever. But while we all know what “shop local” means, how do we actually do it if we can’t take a stroll down a favourite street and pop in and out of cute shops?
Here are some answers to that question. Various gift guides, digital markets and other special projects have been popping up all over the internet in an attempt to try and help direct attention and dollars to Toronto-based small businesses. Here are some of our favourites that are easy to browse and packed with businesses that you’ll want to shop at.
Bag of Toronto | bagoftoronto.ca
Remember grab bags from when you were a kid? Bag of Toronto is kind of like a grown-up version of that. Each bag contains five-to-seven carefully selected items from a specific west-end neighbourhood. Shoppers can choose among the following five neighbourhoods: Bloorcourt, Bloordale, College Promenade, Ossington and Queen West. While participating shops (everything from coffee shops to jewelry boutiques) are listed for each bag, what items you’ll receive is a mystery. Each bag costs $60, including taxes and delivery, with a pricier premium upgrade also available for the Ossington option. Just be sure to place your order by December 8.
The Mama Market | themamamarket.ca
Run by two GTA moms, the Mama Market had big plans (and a new space) lined up for 2020. COVID of course changed those plans and now it’s gone virtual for the holiday season. Its curated roaster of vendors tends to focus on products for moms and little ones, making it a great place to start if you’re shopping for babies, kids or new parents.
Narcity & Interact’s Gift Guide | narcity.com
This partnership highlights 11 small, independent stores, “that sell unique items perfect for anyone on your gift list.” Included are Dynasty Plant Shop for grandma, Bellwoods Brewery for your brother and Downtown Winery for your kids’ teachers. While most of the listed shops are found west of Yonge, a few options for East End residents are also included.
Nishe | nishe.shop/ca/on/toronto
This cool initiative is essentially a big database of Toronto shops and services. In addition to being searchable, all businesses are organized by neighbourhoods, meaning it’s super easy to find a store near you. You can also browse through dozens of categories including “Books, Zines and Comics,” “Games and Toys” and “Baby.”
Off Menu | shopoffmenu.com/collections/all/toronto
Purchasing takeout and delivery aren’t the only ways to support your favourite restaurant. Off Menu offers t-shirts, hoodies, and tote bags branded with logos from such beloved Toronto eateries as Bar Vendetta, Donna’s, and The Federal. Want to take your gift up to the next level? Consider pairing a gift certificate with your Off Menu purchase.
One of A Kind Virtual Market | oneofakind.balluun.com
While it’s not quite the same as weaving through the crowds down at the Enercare Centre, the One Of A Kind’s Virtual Market still gives you the opportunity to get almost all your holiday shopping done in one place. Its virtual market offers a ton of beautifully crafted items at a wide variety of price points. Many of the vendors are offering special OOAK deals, such as reduced or even free shipping. While the above link will take you directly to the market’s over 300 Ontario artisans, the website features access to over 700 makers from across Canada, which can be helpful if you’re trying to find a gift for that relative who lives out West.
Taste of Toronto Gift Guide | tastetoronto.com
Foodie website Taste of Toronto has assembled this interactive guide of 15 amazing gift ideas for the food and drink lover in your life. While many of the recommendations do feature edible and drinkable items, the guide also throws in some non-perishable suggestions, such as a cast-iron pan endorsed by well-known Toronto chef Matty Matheson.
Your East End Community Stores are Online for You | facebook.com/groups
So the name of this public Facebook group is a bit of a mouthful but its intention is simple: Connect shoppers to stores in Toronto’s east end (which it defines as stretching from the Don River to the Bluffs and from O’Connor Drive to the lake). Local businesses are allowed to promote themselves and their deals while group members are encouraged to help each other in tracking down that perfect item. With over 8,000 members, someone is sure to be able to help you find that obscure item you kid asked for (one mom shared a story about her son’s wish for a megalodon tooth, which she was able to buy locally from the Skull Store).
Your Local BIA | toronto.ca
Toronto is home to 83 BIAs, which is short for Business Improvement Area. To see which BIAs are near you, click the link above. BIAs are dedicated to promoting local businesses in their specific area and all of them offer online directories that might lead you to discover an unknown gem in your neighbourhood. Some BIAs, like the Leslieville one, have taken things up a notch and created fun gift guides that will help you find that perfect present.
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