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Design Stores

Russet and Empire

Posted by James Buttivant / Posted on October 6, 2010

Russet and Empire TorontoRusset and Empire, in the Junction, just north of Dundas West, is a great stop for anyone looking for some unique vintage pieces or fun, locally-made gifts. The new store successfully walks a tight balance between hippie baby stuff, classic Canadian memorabilia and vintage, antique decor and design items.

Russet and Empire TorontoThe kid and baby items include a set of solid wood egg maracas for $12 and a modern paper playhouse for $25. The playhouse includes a kit of self-assembly furniture, wall, light fixtures and other home accessories. They also have a pink octopus kite for $29 and a wooden balloon powerboat for $13. It's this type of variety and cheekiness that flows though the entire store and makes you want to stop, look and even rationalize buying everything.

Russet and Empire TorontoFor those not in the market for toys and baby related merchandise, the store has some stylish tartan scarves and RCAF bags and memorabilia. Scarves aren't for everyone, but I would think that it's hard not to look handsome while sporting a Canadian, Ontario, New Brunswick or RCAF tartan scarf, available for $50 or $30. I also liked the enormous, but seemingly very practical RCAF bag for $150.

Russet and Empire TorontoFor those into knick-knacks and assorted glassware, Russet and Empire has a good variety of cups, mugs, saucers and jars at a range of prices. A set of vintage Swedish milk glasses for $9 caught my eye, as well as a tin alcohol dispenser - as I am always looking for new and unusual ways to dispense my alcohol - for $75.

Russet and Empire TorontoThere's also a collection of old cameras (ex: Kodak motormatic 35f from the 1960's for $30) and framed, black and white photographs (ex: "Helen's wedding" for $11) in close proximity to an array of candles, soap boxes, flower vases and soap bars.

Russet and Empire TorontoAs I explored the store, I found it hard not to crack a smile as it became clear that every item had been chosen and displayed with a real sense of care and affection. There's a real sense of pride in Russet and Empire and you can't help but root for it. I mean, many design and decor stores across Toronto sell similar stuff, but Russet and Empire is downright heartwarming.

Russet and Empire TorontoAfter I left, I spent the rest of my day telling everybody I knew about how much I fell in love with this store. It's bright, friendly and warm, but it's a shame that it's a little off the beaten path, situated on Keele, north of Dundas West, rather than in the heart of the Junction. This likely means it won't get the foot traffic it really deserves.

Russet and Empire TorontoPhotos by Dennis Marciniak



Charles / October 6, 2010 at 11:08 am
No need to head there now, you've LITERALLY seen every item in the store. Its pretty sparse in there but here's hoping she starts filling the shelves with a bit more stuff. Trinkets won't pay the rent (as cheap as it may be on that stretch of Keele)

Erin / October 6, 2010 at 12:29 pm
Not so fast Charles, I think there IS a need to visit (and frequently) - the R & E owner is constantly adding new treasures, more beautiful than the last - and the goods are getting snapped up quickly. Can't wait for the Christmas season at R & E - I know for a fact that they have some lovely things in store for us!
Love this place!!
Trina replying to a comment from Erin / October 6, 2010 at 12:53 pm
Are you friends with the owner?
Sexton / October 6, 2010 at 01:22 pm
Looking forward to visiting this store, thanks for profiling it. I live right nearby and hadn't spotted it yet!
Jovana / October 6, 2010 at 01:24 pm
Charles, I don't really understand the sentiment of your comment.

First of all, it is not true that every item is pictured - in fact, one of my favourite pieces - the stacking gold totem cups - is not shown. And that is naming only one item.

Secondly, to my eye, the store is not sparse, but well curated. The items are not crammed on the shelves - what's the problem with that? Why go out of your way to dissuade people from going in to see for themselves?
Little M / October 6, 2010 at 01:59 pm
The owner is charming as hell.
She curates with a sense of style that is by all accounts whimsical, refined and clever.
The Modern Paper Playhouse is MOMA.
This corner of the city is coming into its own.
Go here and they check out Mjolk.
Junction all the way.
Ken / October 6, 2010 at 02:17 pm
So lame that the measure of a neighbourhood is what you can buy there. Can't we think of another way to enjoy a neighbourhood aside from buying cheap crap?
The Shakes replying to a comment from Ken / October 6, 2010 at 02:46 pm
Just what exactly are you railing against? And what do you suggest we measure the quality of a neighbourhood's retail strip by, aside from the types of retailers on the strip?
Matt replying to a comment from Little M / October 6, 2010 at 04:54 pm
I would say the neighbourhood isn't "coming into its own," it's just changing. Somewhat for the better, somewhat for the worse.

And nothing is more aggravating than hearing middle-class, usually white professionals with money to burn claiming that a neighbourhood is really "turning around" or "coming into its own" or whatever, when what they really mean is simply that its amenities suit their tastes more than in the past.

I like that Little M says "Junction all the way" when five years ago she/he probably never would have considered moving there. Sigh. Cafes and boutiques are not the principal measures of a neighbourhood. Or they shouldn't be.
Charles / October 6, 2010 at 05:12 pm
Erin; Seems like someone was sent here to stick up for the owner. She is a nice girl, she just needs to prepare for a long winter if thats all she's going to stock.

Jovana; in reply to "Why go out of your way to dissuade people from going in to see for themselves?".... I'm saving people the time and disappointment of going to Keele stn, then taking the 41/89 north, then realizing that what you saw is what there is.

Matt; well said. I've been in the Junction a while and the yups buying into the condo projects and townhouses that think they're discovering a gem always make me chuckle. 10 years ago most people thought the Junction was a shitty piece of coal, and now those same people are trumpeting the diamond they've "found".

With all the new faces around here, the only thing I've "found" is a longer lineup for breakfast @ the Purple Onion or full tables @ the Pho spot.
infernalmachine / October 6, 2010 at 07:28 pm
the junction is getting a bit less seedy, but i have to agree that it seems that all the retail there is either junk/vintage/aka design shops or older dumpy appliance repair shops.

it's not that i wish the strip to go West Queen West or anything, but can the junction seriously get "up and coming" on used fireplace mantels alone?
Charles replying to a comment from infernalmachine / October 6, 2010 at 07:39 pm
We're getting a Starbucks!! (and a Subway).... "there goes the neighbourhood"
bullring / October 6, 2010 at 08:08 pm
Sure beats the usual pawn shops that open up in that area. I think.
Jovana / October 6, 2010 at 09:28 pm
Charles, by reiterating your point that what is pictured is "LITERALLY" what there is, and adding that the trip to Keele and Dundas (which you seem to imply is but a corner away from the actual edge of the Universe) is not worth the trouble, you have not responded to my question regarding your seemingly unfounded write-off of this place.

If you are so concerned about this "nice girl" making her rent, why not go back to the place, check out the new merchandise and buy something?


To the others discussing the trend of neighbourhoods being evaluated solely on the basis of what there is to consume there - I get it. But at the same time, places like R&E and Smash (another cool Junction spot) are more than just retailers. They are set up like showrooms or galleries and host events, offer a place to come see something interesting or talk to interesting people. Local designers and artists are commonly on display and there is more of a sense of neighbourhood support and collaboration between the businesses. So yes, consumerism is bad, and ought not to define neighbourhoods and communities - but at the same time, all businesses and all shops are not alike and can affect their environments in very different ways.
Matt replying to a comment from Jovana / October 6, 2010 at 09:59 pm
That's true. And that's good. I like stores like this. But I'm also worried about the urban ecosystem (if I can be super-pretentious) and the balance of income levels and demographics in a neighbourhood. And I don`t want the Junction to become some loft-filled upscale shopping destination. Or at least, not exlusively.

It seems so hard to strike a balance between rejuvenating neighbourhoods and wiping them clean of their old character and grit, to employ an overused word. I like the Junction as is. I`d rather it was a little livelier, but I`d take it in its current form rather than see Dundas and Keele looke like another Queen and Beaconsfield or god forbid, Queen and Spadina.

Plus, I want people without loads of money to be able to live and shop in the community.
Jovana replying to a comment from Matt / October 6, 2010 at 10:27 pm
Matt, I agree with you that it is, in fact, very hard to balance rejuvenation so that it does not lead to gentrification. The very thing that brings life to a neighbourhood and makes people want to live there, is eventually the thing that leads to its decay. This decay-rejuvenation-decay seems to be cyclical - but the ideal would be to have a city full of vibrant and demographically equivalent neighbourhoods.

So I think, yes we want new people, new business, but we have to be concerned with who can participate in and benefit from the improvements in a heighbourhood. R&E is not an upscale, exclusive place. It has quirk, taste and fun, but if you notice from the article, most items are in the $15-$25 range. It is certainly cheaper than Mjolk, the other Junction design/gift shop. I think that is pretty accessible - and this is coming from a totally skint student.

Little M replying to a comment from Matt / October 6, 2010 at 11:26 pm
Matt and Charles:

Gosh you're thoughts are both so poignant - as if the concept of gentrification hasn't been exhausted on this blog, in this city. Get off your righteous soap boxes already, that we can't simply be stoked to see a fledgling store owner try to make something out of ... nothing... and this in regard to a vintage shop, is ridiculous?! It's great to see empty storefronts attract attention! Eff, it's not like I was praising the installation of a Rick Owen's pop up shop or something similar. It's just a cute and quirky shop and I'm happy to see good people trying out new things in a space that would otherwise go derelict, or ... and perhaps your would prefer, another cash n go?!

It just so happens I've lived in the Junction my whole life...30 years. I'm a second generation Humberside Husky with penchants for Busker bakery and cheesecake from the Annette Fruit Market (which my family owned). As much as I love a good knife fight in front of Shox... I would much prefer to hear more of your profound insight into the kind of white yuppie I am, so please...
S / October 7, 2010 at 02:35 am
Too bad $tarbuck$ will spoil the neighbourhood...
Charles replying to a comment from Little M / October 7, 2010 at 09:11 am
Little M, what I REALLY want are anchor tenants (like Starbucks and Subway) for our neighbourhood. Then we won't see R&E type stores (or "Puppy Spaw" that opened next door to it) come and go every 6 - 12 months. These flash-in-the-pan shops are great and all, but a real, legit, sustainable business would be a nice addition to the strip.

Hopefully the retail businesses that goes into the main floor of Heintzman Place on Keele st. are a little more sustainable. Oh... and a sushi place would be nice. Just sayin
Matt replying to a comment from Little M / October 7, 2010 at 09:46 am
Geez, way to be a jackass about it. Look, the "concept of gentrification" may be exhauseted for you, but it's a very real concern for a lot of people in this and every other big North American city.

With your "knife fight in front fo teh Shox" comment you again put for the false dichotomy that we've got to choose between gentrification and, well knife fights and ghettos. The problem is that neighbourhood revitalization never seems to reach an equilibrium... it just keep going until the neighbourhood is unaffordable and is overrun with doggie clothiers and pricey foodie joints.

Sorry to offend you with my concern for my city adnd neighbourhood.
The Shakes replying to a comment from Matt / October 7, 2010 at 09:55 am
So let me get this straight, you're lamenting the good old Junction days? Like when the residential community used to avoid the strip and when street life consisted of desperate people and vagrants? If that's the urban ecosystem you're pining for, you can be part of it (or more likely get eaten by it) at Queen East and Sherbourne. It'll be several decades before you have to worry about middle class white folk ruining that neighbourhood.

In the meantime, spare us your criticism of the hard work done by merchants, the BIA and the community, who over the last decade have driven huge positive change in the neighbourhood. As far as neighbourhoods go, The Junction is one of the least commercialized, one of the most community engaged and is far from exclusive. If you have a real point, real examples of negative impact or other specific criticisms feel free to articulate them. But blanket statements saying gentrification and stores like these = bad for neighbourhood is tired.
Jenn / October 7, 2010 at 10:49 am
ANYWAY. i bought some soap from there and i love it.
Matt replying to a comment from The Shakes / October 7, 2010 at 10:55 am
I didn't say they were bad for the neighbourhood. They're probably good.

I just said I'm wary about where the neighbourhood is going in the future. (i.e., I hate the idea of it being "hot new neighbourhood" and losing what it has now--variety, relatively inexpensive retail rents, etc.)

Stop being such a defensive twit, btw. I'm not attacking you or anything. Just expressing my opinion. I really wish Internet comment forums could host discussions rather than stupid, unproductive back-and-forth sniping.

(Thanks to Jovana for having a real conversation, unlike Shakes and Little M.)

The Shakes replying to a comment from Matt / October 7, 2010 at 11:10 am
When people call your bullshit (i.e. whining out of your ass using broad sweeping generalizations without any sibstantiation) they are not attacking you, they are attcking your bullshit. If you can't handle that, then maybe you shouldn't be on the internet. And as far as i can see, you're the only one attacking people with "twit" and "jackass".
Matt replying to a comment from The Shakes / October 7, 2010 at 11:25 am
Hmm, maybe Little M was more attack-y. Nonetheless, you basically dismissed my concerns as bullshit. And now I'm "whining out of my ass."

Maybe I'm going to stop trying to discuss this with you. Because people who disagree with you are not necessarily full of "bullshit." Maybe they just have a differing opinion.

(Again, I'm not wishing for a vagrant-filled strip, and I wasn't attacking you or this store. I was lamenting the fact that every inner city 'hood is rejuvenating in the same way: boutiques and galleries and shit catering to the same demographic, a broad homogenizing of the inner city. Yeah, that's a problem. Bye for now.)
J.R. / October 7, 2010 at 02:35 pm
So Glad to see the north block of Keele street inhabited with new shop fronts. That little stretch has proven economically challenging to say the least. The new condos should prove to be beneficial for R&E and the other businesses in that block. The Junction as a whole is a difficult economic environment, the train tracks north, block any residential activity. You can only draw from people South of Vine that are willing to come to Dundas Street and venture North on Keele.
A number of little gems have opened up recently, Aquila, Russett
and Empire and my new favorite weekend brunch spot The Junction Eatery at Dundas and Indian Grove. The decor is a little miss matched but with time and more capital I'm sure it will be great.
If you like the Junction support the Junction. If you like small business support small business. If you don't that's your choice, but I really think this is a great time for this neighborhood and everyone should take advantage while they can.
I wish all the new business owners the best of luck.
P.S. I bought a really neat Glass moulded 1940's toy pistol at Russett and Empire. they have really well thought out products.
Melissa replying to a comment from Jenn / October 7, 2010 at 03:17 pm
I also bought some of the soap - blood orange - it is wonderful!
Charles replying to a comment from J.R. / October 7, 2010 at 04:56 pm
JR; I have yet to go to the Junction Eatery... to be honest, mostly because the initial menu had several dishes with fish for breakfast and no simple bacon and eggs. Can you give a quick review of it for me, pretty please???
Ken replying to a comment from The Shakes / October 7, 2010 at 05:25 pm
I was referring to the post on the main page that directs you to this review. To quote:

"It's no secret that the Junction is one of Toronto's most up-and-coming neighbourhoods. But for all its cool shops, cafes and restaurants it's painfully obvious that the retail concentration is still a fraction of what it needs to be to become a legitimate shopping destination. So it's good news that another shop has opened in the area"

I think it is materialistic, short-sighted and just plain stupid to judge the quality of a neighbourhood by what can be purchased there. What about parks, community initives, organized activities, the state of the schools, relationships between neighbours etc.?

I'm not saying the Junction doesn't have these things only that BlogTO's definition of a neighbourhood is limited to what can I buy and how much. This lazy attitude is becoming more and more evident on the blog and is reducing Toronto to a menu and a catalogue. I should probably just stop complaining and read some other blog.
Ken replying to a comment from The Shakes / October 7, 2010 at 05:25 pm
Community initiatives*
Neill / October 7, 2010 at 10:58 pm
I was in R & E today, it is a lovely store and a great addition to the Junction retail environment. As the owner of Pandemonium (around the corner on Dundas), and having just celebrated 10 years in the Junction, (yay!) I would like to say that we should all just enjoy the Junction as it is, and not worry about what it will become. I believe the neighborhood will be able to walk the edge of trendy and grungy for a long while yet. The Junction has great history and character as a benefit and the negatives of industry, geographical location and the rail line cutting it off. 10 years ago it was being heralded as the new trendy area and I was silly enough to believe the hype and jump in. You can blame me for the gentrification if you want... There is room in this neighborhood for all sorts, welcome and good luck to all. I love it.
smash / October 7, 2010 at 11:58 pm
Smash loves Russet and Empire! Stick at least $100 in you pocket and go there now for your Christmas presents if you have a brain
Jordan / October 10, 2010 at 01:16 am
Looks like stuff you would find at urban outfitters.
AV replying to a comment from Neill / October 13, 2010 at 10:23 am
Pandemonium, now theres a great Junction shop. Gotta ask, whats the deal with the tattoo parlor next door? Seems a bit seedy... and I feel for the dog being tied up outside all day!
Sharlene / November 3, 2010 at 03:30 pm
Come and check out a new gallery in the Junction - Telephone Booth Gallery. We're at the very end of the strip but worth the walk. On Dundas at St. John's Road across from Baker's Dozen. The focus of the gallery is young, emerging artists and fine craft.
Sharlene / November 3, 2010 at 03:35 pm
Check out a new gallery at the end of the Junction strip (Little Malta). The Telephone Booth Gallery features young emerging artists and fine craft. On Dundas just past St. John's Rd. Worth the walk! Grab a coffee at Crema on the way and stop in at Wise Daughters.
Sharlene / November 3, 2010 at 03:38 pm
Sorry about the double comment. Computer glitch.
Michelle / November 28, 2010 at 08:34 pm
Can someone tell me the email address for Russet and Empire? I am not from Ontario but would like to email her to purchase some items... thanks
micah replying to a comment from Michelle / December 3, 2010 at 11:15 am
Hi Michelle- the email address for the store is thx!
ffff / December 6, 2010 at 01:38 pm
this store carries another shameless attempt to curtails the existence and struggles and empowerment of natives...all in the guise of hipsterdome...imagine that.
friendly giant / December 11, 2010 at 06:54 pm
I think that people are willing to overlook "distress" when the term doesn't apply to paper, but selling vintage game boards and other paper items that are grimy leaves me the impression of a bad yard sale. I like the store and I like the owner but I think there is room for improvement.
matt replying to a comment from ffff / March 26, 2011 at 10:29 pm
what is a hipsterdome? is that something mad max fought in? a new baseball stadium perhaps?
"Antique Decor fan" / May 12, 2011 at 10:19 am
I'm looking to move into an apartment or condo soon, and I've been trying to find vintage or antique decor. There is just something so unique and beautiful about it that I love. It's always fun to find those "off the beaten path" stores.
looksey / October 31, 2011 at 04:15 pm
A WARNING FOR COOL KIDS!!!! GO AWAY!!! KEEP COOOL!!!! DONT BE FOOLED!!!! cool kids where are you????? your not here for sure. I totally undetand your into all that shit thats coming out of L.A. and buffallo This store sucks. I checked it out and i almost fell asleep. its the usual toronto bullshit totallty expected usual safe shit... youd be better off going to duffern mall dudes! anyways its the classic owner been wronge'd by urban outfitters culture and for those who know "vibe"........ listen girl youd be better off collecting coke cans from the garbage and setting up tsrget practice than trying to inspire others with four walls and a shitty paint job. once again everybody this store sucks. if your in the mood for a total dissapointment with your lame ass boyfriend who tries to tell you hes got this really great plan for the future but is to hung over to really do anything then you should check this shit out it will keep you demotivated however if you want to have fun you better stay in light a fire make hot chocolate put on a record and get on your bikes to find some awesome treasures on queen east. be sure to stop by mercury coffee for a tea or whatever. trust me don;t get caught up in this girls weird idea of fun she wants to to take your money! cuz shes like that shitty hangover you had 2 weeks ageo. wheeee!
SLT-A65 / November 17, 2011 at 01:22 pm
הלו שם. מצאתי את אתר האינטרנט שלך דרך גוגל כשחיפשתי חומר דומה, אתר האינטרנט שלך יש כאן למעלה. נראה טוב. יש לי אותו בסימניה סימניות google שלי לחזור מאוחר יותר.
Laura / December 19, 2011 at 02:25 pm
I agree with Looksey. This store is awful. I think the owner opened it just to praise herself. This lady is full of herself not to mention rude.
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Newlyelbert / January 16, 2012 at 09:41 am
you must read aimersoft dvd to iphone converter , for special offer to take huge discount
Taylor Parker / June 26, 2012 at 12:49 pm
Those pictures of the home are absolutely to die for! They are so adorable! I love the eighth picture - which the blue circular window. I'm currently looking for an appliance repair shop in the Brooklyn area for my broken toaster. Does anyone know of a good appliance repair place, that has reasonable pricing?
Binky / February 26, 2013 at 02:35 am
This store is deadpool now.
dave / March 19, 2013 at 11:36 am
it's closed. you should remove this from you list , or change the posting (it's also on your "The Best Places to Buy Unique Gifts in Toronto" post)
lol / June 11, 2013 at 03:48 pm
The customer service here was awful. So no wonder it closed.

The owner was a bitch!

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