How the Junction found its retail niche in reclaimed furniture.
The most exhaustively quoted moment in Field of Dreams is when farmer Kevin Costner hears a voice whisper, “If you build it, he will come.” By “it,” the voice meant “a baseball diamond in your corn field,” but in the Junction, a similar adage holds true. If you reclaim, refurbish, and maybe spit-shine it a bit, customers will come—in droves.
Four of the city’s best-known spots for salvaged homewares are scattered along the 450-metre Dundas West drag between Keele and McMurray. On the north side, you’ll find the sprawling Smash. Lining the south, there’s Smash’s predecessor, Post + Beam; Metropolis Living, with its esoteric knick-knacks; plus Forever Interiors, HQ for owner Martin Scott’s heavy-duty custom woodwork.
That’s quite the hive of expert scroungers and handyfolk, but it suits the history of the buzzy strip. More than a century ago, the Junction was the intersection of the CP and CN railways. It was a good time to be in business: Immigration was booming, taxes were non-existent, and rent was hella cheap. Unsurprisingly, manufacturers flourished all around, including mills, wire factories, Canada’s largest meatpacking district, and, in an early artsy twist, the Heintzman piano factory. The area’s vibrant hands-on ethos was born. Then thanks to a nasty recession and the area’s buzz-killing Prohibition law (enacted in 1903), local industry stalled and the formerly bustling area fell into grimy disrepair.
It wasn’t until late 1997 that Junctioneers were allowed their chance at public inebriation. Those roomy, vacant storefronts became a hot commodity among restaurateurs and creative types. “Not only is it difficult to find downtown retail spaces this large, but the Junction is a much more affordable option,” says Kristina Skindelyte, executive director of the ’hood’s business improvement area. On Queen West, ground-floor spaces can rent for $10,000 a month, while in the Junction, they’re about a third of that.
Take Doug Killaly. A former baker and software salesman, and a Junction resident of six years, he opened Post + Beam in 2005 with business partner Paul Mercer, who now runs Smash across the street. As with most of the block’s furniture aficionados, Killaly came for the inexpensive rent, not the ambience. “Eight years ago, there wasn’t anything upscale about the Junction,” he says. His store is teeming with reclaimed doors, garden gates, and stained-glass windows, which dangle tenuously from the rafters. “I didn’t love it, but I [chose] good stuff and hung out my shingle.”
Mercer was similarly unimpressed by the area—“The place looked flash-frozen,” he recalls—but he saw potential. “We’re on the way to High Park and Roncy, and we capture a pretty nice clientele.”
That clientele is expanding. These patrons are energetic enough to rummage through rows of velvety armchairs on weekends, hip enough to care about the cachet of one-of-a-kind treasures, and moneyed enough to shell out for them. Commercial ventures have taken to featuring the Junction-made furnishings, too: Martin Scott’s B.C.–fir tables can be seen in Indie Alehouse and Playa Cantina, while pieces by Metropolis’s resident tinkerer Phil Freire fill new gastropub The Passenger. In a way, the whole ’hood has come to embody a Platonic ideal of crafty cross-promotion.
Though the potential for neighbourly rivalry seems high, Mercer insists that there’s a “pals-y” vibe among the Dundas stretch’s furniture foursome. They all seem too busy with their labours of love to bother with petty competitiveness. “The fact that we’ve reused and repurposed something—we made it and can be proud of it,” Skindelyte says. “The area’s original DIY culture is alive and well today.”
There is a nice symmetry between the polished nostalgia the Junction now supplies and the ’hood’s shabby-looking main drag. Strolling westward, past the low-lit food spots, boisterous watering holes, and—the quintessence of soulless modern commerce—Dollarama, one can still find ’70s-era drycleaners, pawnbrokers, and family bakeries nestled in the antiquated architecture. Yes, rents are starting to rise, ever so slightly. But much like their inventory—and stubbornly vintage surroundings—the area’s antique appreciators are sitting pretty.