Recently relocated to a large multi-purpose space, this Kensington Market print shop doesn’t just want to showcase local artists, it wants to teach you how to become one yourself.
From an inauspicious start 11 years ago as a basement print shop, to a move into a cramped space on Nassau Street, through to their spacious new multi-use storefront at 205 Augusta, Kid Icarus has undergone a transformation which parallels that of Kensington Market, the neighbourhood it’s called home right from the beginning.
How they got started: “It all began with me screen printing,” says Michael Viglione, who, along with partner Bianca Bickmore, owns Kid Icarus. “I wanted to do it for a living, so I started printing for bands and some artists. Then, in the greater scheme of things, I wanted to be able to sell these things in a retail environment and there was nowhere really to do it in the city. There was never really anything consistent in terms of just walking in and buying screen printed posters. So that idea kind of grew into what Kid Icarus is.”
How they grew: Custom design and print work soon expanded into an entire product range, including stationery, greeting cards, and writing sets. When they added the handmade creations of other craftspeople to the mix, Viglione and Bickmore quickly found themselves running out of room. “We had floor-to-ceiling product—we basically grew as vertical as we could,” says Viglione. “We were at 400 square feet, Bianca had an office, I had my print shop, we had the retail, we had three other employees, and we could never work at the same time—it was just too packed. So it was basically stunting our growth—we couldn’t really make any more things from that small space. We didn’t want to leave the Market, so we just kept looking at spaces. Then, a year and half after searching for a space, this place opened up, so we just jumped right in as fast as we could.”
In addition to offering a little room to breathe, the new space has also greatly increased their visibility. “A third or a quarter of the people who come in say, ‘Are you new?’ and they have no clue that we’ve existed until now—which is amazing, because for five years we were just around the corner,” says Viglione. “It just shows that people stick to their streets or to the main areas of a certain neighbourhood and that’s all that they see.”
Putting the new space to good use: “We now have space to do workshops—I’ve been dying to teach people how to screen print,” says Viglione. “We can teach sewing, we can teach woodblock printing—anything that you see up front that people are creating, we can actually turn into a workshop so people can create things. And then we have space for professional screen printers to come in and rent time.”
“We’re also going to be having business talks,” says Bickmore, “and my old professor from school will be doing a talk on container gardening—a little bit of DIY stuff.”
Keeping it local: The emphasis at Kid Icarus is on Toronto-produced merchandise—”as much as we can,” says Viglione. “There’s things, though, like letterpress cards, where there’s no one really local doing it, so we reach out to Kingston, Ottawa, Montreal, Vancouver, and even further out: across the country or into the States.”
Adds Bickmore, “There’s a huge craft community here, but it’s really nice to be able to go to those places and have the same kind of conversations down there [in the States] that we would have with people here. One of the things that’s really important to us is knowing all our vendors and having a really good relationship with them. Some of them we don’t get to see all the time but, when we do, we have a good conversation with them like we would a friend—I can tell you a story about almost every product in the store.”
In addition to local vendors, Toronto-inspired subject matter is important to Kid Icarus. “Dave Murray has a Kensington Market print which I’m sold out of right now—that was his first print that he actually ever did,” says Bickmore. “And Raymond Biesinger prints have been flying off the shelf. He’s an illustrator form Montreal and he does a lot of editorial stuff for Monocle and other magazines. There’s one print of Toronto in 1976 when the CN Tower had just been built and it’s just beautiful.”
Market growth: Just as Kid Icarus’ business has been expanding, Kensington Market has seen an ever-increasing influx of stores, restaurants, and bars, bringing with them a whole new crop of customers.
However, in contrast to the unchecked gentrification seen in some nearby neighbourhoods, the unique community of Kensington Market has managed to temper the transformation. “I think the change that’s happening here is definitely at a slower pace than Queen Street or even Dundas and Ossington,” says Bickmore. “It’s a definitely a good thing, and I think the strong community base here is going to keep it reasonable. I’ll have a conversation with a lot of the older shops around here, and it will be a completely different conversation than I’m having with you. It’ll be, ‘This is not good, we’re not happy with this, we don’t know what’s going to happen to tomorrow.’ There’s definitely an element of fear.”
Even Viglione has some reservations: “I think all these stores opening up is definitely helping to change the Market. I’m kind of opposed to change but, at the same time, things need to change and obviously we are contributing to it as well,” he says. “In the end, everyone is going to benefit: This is going to be a busier, more bustling place than it is right now.”
It isn’t just the number of new businesses that the community has kept in check, but also the kind of new businesses, rejecting large corporate chains outright. “There’s a strong community that’s kind of suppressing that,” says Viglione. “When Nike tried to open up the Presto gallery [in 2002] and then everyone found out it was [a] Nike [operation], everyone went apeshit—they had to hire to security guards and people were throwing fruit at them.”