At this Ossington vintage shop, new owner Jessica Shvili is slowly curating her own unique aesthetic, and learning the realities of owning a small business.
Since it opened in 2009, Silver Falls Vintage has witnessed the many changes taking place in the Lower Ossington neighbourhood it calls home—an initial influx of bars and restaurants has recently given way to a Shoppers Drug Mart, a Starbucks, and the 109OZ condo development. But change is also afoot at the shop itself. In April of this year, former employee Jessica Shvili became its new owner.
The move from employee to owner: When Lindsay Fernlund (who now owns Symbolist on Queen West) first opened Silver Falls, it shared a space with the Hunter & Cook gallery and later with Melissa Ball’s Chosen and Lauren Baker’s LAB Consignment, which have both since moved on to new locations. Shvili initially started working for Baker. “I knew Lindsay and Lauren from when we worked at Preloved—they worked at production and I worked at the store—and Lauren needed someone to work a couple of days a week at her store. Then I started working for Lindsay and Melissa too,” she says. “And then Lindsay decided she didn’t want the store anymore and propositioned me, and I took it.”
What’s changed at the shop since Shvili’s taken over: In terms of what’s on the racks, less than what one might think. “It’s more or less the same. I already was picking with Lindsay, so I obviously had some influence on the stuff. She still teaches me a ton of stuff and we still pick together, although now I have the final say. So if she picks something I don’t like, I can say no,” laughs Shvili. With Shvili in charge, shoppers won’t find much in the way of hats. “I don’t like hats. I’m not excited when I find a hat. And I hate hat racks.”
What’s changed the most is largely behind the scenes. Shvili is currently learning firsthand about the stresses of being a small business owner. “There’s a lot of hair pulling and a lot of stress,” she says. “No one else is in charge but me, so it’s always on my mind.”
The changing landscape of the Lower Ossington neighbourhood: “I know there’s a lot of people who are really upset about those things, but as a business owner, it’s not like I can say that’s horrible—it’s going to bring way more people. Yeah, it’s going to change the area a bit, but it already is different,” says Shvili. “The only thing I would worry about is it becoming too touristy or too commercial. But luckily CAMH is still there—it’s like a built-in red line.”
Finding merchandise in a competitive market: With an ever increasing number of vintage clothing stores opening in the city, the demand for merchandise from notoriously private suppliers is growing. “You have to find out how you’re going to get it. It’s hard, even for me,” says Shvili. “If I want to start picking in a new place, I have to figure out how I’ll even find one. You kind of need an in. It’s the weirdest business I’ve ever been in. It’s way harder than I thought it was going to be.”
That said, Shvili doesn’t look at the situation negatively. “I don’t really feel it’s competition—I feel like the word ‘competition’ comes with ill feelings,” she says. “Instead of focusing on that, motivate yourself to make your own store more exciting. We all have really awesome stuff and people have different tastes. If you want to get a beautiful ’50s cocktail dress, you don’t come here, I don’t have them. You’ll go to Cabaret. And if you want to get a really awesome fringed leather jacket, you probably won’t go to Cabaret, you’ll go somewhere like this.”
Forecasting fashion trends: Shvili doesn’t. “I literally pay no attention to fashion things. I have no idea what’s cool or current. But you know what, I want more people to wear leather skirts—I’m really into them, I’m all over it,” she says. “Seeing people on the street and what they’re wearing, in your subconscious you notice, and you know what’s good. Usually it’s predictable, but I made an entire romper rack in the summer and it was half gone the end of the same day. That just blew my mind.”
The mysteries of men’s shopping habits: “The men’s stuff is not my main focus—it’s hard, because it’s just me. I mostly even think of the men’s rack as a unisex rack,” Shvili says. “To be honest, men are really difficult shoppers. You think you know what dudes want when they buy clothes, but they’re not shopping like chicks—they’re totally different and it’s really interesting to watch. They’re actually very careful shoppers and they know what they want. They’re coming to get something specific and there’s not a lot of wanderers—it’s smart shopping. I saw a guy try something on and he put one arm in and was like, ‘I don’t like how it feels.’”
Silver Falls Vintage, 15 Ossington. #OSS 416-588-3500.
CORRECTION, SEPT. 5, 2012: The original version of this article misspelled the name of the store’s owner. The text has been updated.