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Best of Toronto

The Best Places to Buy Unique Gifts in Toronto

Posted by Dayna Winter / December 3, 2010

Gifts TorontoThe best places to buy unique gifts in Toronto have nothing to do with food courts, fake-beard Santas, and multi-level parking lots. Outside of cookie-cutter shopping malls and made-in-China chain stores, the city is full of independent design shops offering alternative gifting ideas. They celebrate local. They delight in the obscure. And, they ensure I'll never gift another H&M sweater again.

It's that time of year. You know, when I should have sugar plums and gingerbread on the brain but all I can think about is the stress of buying gifts. And every year, don't I find myself helpless and frustrated in the middle of a mall? I assure you, this is not the meaning of Christmas. (I have ingested enough Charlie Brown to know better.)

I fall into the mall trap partly due to my suburban upbringing. I grew up on New York Fries. But I'm hip and urban now (right?). There's really no excuse. Unique and thoughtful gifts are best found in the tiniest West Queen West and Kensington and off-the-beaten-path street-side shops. On any budget and armed with a TTC Day Pass, indie shopping beats the mall crush any day. Whether I'm on the hunt for a Barbapapa alarm clock, Philippe Starck designer kitchen gadgets or screen-printed posters by my fave Toronto illustrator, these shops always man-up.

Check out our list of the best places to buy unique gifts in Toronto, as chosen by readers of this site.

Drake General Store

Drake General Store

Maybe it’s because I was a military brat, or due to summers spent in a canvas tent, or that I would rather have been a Boy Scout than a Girl Guide. Whatever the reason, there is something way-appealing to me about this store. It’s a boys’ clubhouse without the “No girls allowed” policy. Against a log-cabin backdrop (Bathurst location), I find a wardrobe worthy of Paul Bunyan, all-natural pet treats, Cannabis-scented candles, and squirrel nutcrackers. Boyfriends won’t wait outside for this one. More »

Swipe Books

Swipe Books

In its newer location, Swipe became a major player in the gift game. What was once a place I frequented for cool design books during my art-school days, has evolved into a MOMA-worthy gift store. Quebec-made modern pottery, Frank Lloyd Wright LEGO sets, and designer pepper mills squeeze in among books about typefaces and colour theory. More »

Bergo

Bergo

Bergo’s collection of European designer housewares, décor and furniture manages to fill every available inch of their massive Distillery District space. And that’s just the first room. In the back, trinkets and what-nots and gizmos delight kids and kids-at-heart alike. I am especially partial to the glow-in-the-dark graffiti kit – vandal-like fun that won’t earn me a misdemeanor. More »

Studio Brillantine

Studio Brillantine

I feel like a puppy that hasn’t grown into her paws, but I suppose my size-9 feet are proportionate to my frame. Still, I seem ultra large and clumsy in this shop. It’s stuffed with product but still feels dainty. When I hit my head on a hanging light, elfish Ferdinand tells me he “didn’t consider the tall people”. No matter. He’s too cute for me to stay upset, and Studio Brillantine stocks the most adorable kitsch in the city. I dig the Comme Des Garcons leather pouches, vinyl taco luggage tags, and garden gnome cookie jars. More »

Bookhou

Bookhou

This sweet little Dundas West studio produces modern and natural furniture pieces and soft goods in-house. Best bets are cotton/linen home bowls that mesh well with contemporary and boho spaces, and screen-printed Canadian animal stuffies. Larger splurge pieces include “steam bent” wooden benches that can be custom made in any size. Be sure to add on a Bookhou letterpress gift tag or card. More »

CubeShops

CubeShops

This Baldwin Village shop isn’t much bigger than the average downtown backyard, but excellent “lateral thinking” means that it’s still airy and not too cluttered. Man, the Japanese could sure teach me a thing or two about maximizing small spaces. 90% of the wares are Japan-made. Out-there colour, innovative design and wacky gadgets are indicative of the country’s exports. I am both impressed and amused by the offerings, including a little plastic dude that tells you (by changing colour) when your instant ramen noodles are ready. More »

Blue Banana

Blue Banana

Gotta say, I’m a little confused by this store. It was intended to be a handmade destination, I suppose, but it still seems overwhelmed by mass-market stuff. The 2-level Kensington shop is as large as a Walmart, though there are lots of quirky prezzie ideas if you’re willing to dig. The space is so large, it has it’s own coffee shop and ATM. In between the too-common “Keep Calm” posters and cheesy cat clocks, there are some finds. I marvel over Le Petit Chapeau fascinators, the build-your-own lip balm bar, and handmade peppermint-flavoured marshmallows. More »

Up To You

Up To You

The sibling proprietors of this novelty concept shop have been bringing unique design gifts to the East end since 2004. Whether it’s a Scrooge-approved Christmas tree ornament (“bah humbug”), architectural grow-kits, tongue-in-cheek smoker-friendly mittens, or diamond ring erasers (not recommended for proposals, guys!), Up To You stocks clever gifts for even the most challenging of recipients. More »

Rolo

Rolo

I’m warning you, this is sensory overload. Rolo stands for Realm of Ludicrous Objects and these guys aren’t kidding. This is The IT Store for the Yorkville set (or those who’d never be caught dead in The IT Store). Gadget-heavy, the shop piles cool inventions upon gag gifts and stacks ‘em high. There isn’t a merchandising strategy here, really. Best gifts include the orgasmic head massager, heart-shaped optical computer mouse, and placemats that convert to retro paper airplanes. More »

Good Egg

Good Egg

We should really cook at home more often. That’s maybe the hint the folks at Good Egg are none too subtly trying to impart. I am shamed. With cookware this adorable, why ever bother with take-out? But my run-of-the-mill pots and pans at home aren’t as inspiring as the fuchsia and tangerine Le Creuset roasting pans, or the plaid nested storage bowls, or the alphabet-print lunch bags. This is the one-stop-shop for gifting if you tend to hang out with a lot of foodies and budding chefs. Or, if you’d like to be invited to dinner more often. More »

Distill

Distill

This Distillery gift shop is high on whimsy. I discover unique gift ideas and hard-to-resist personal splurges at every turn. Handmade hats with recycled fur pom-poms, plush cloud mobiles, and TTC-station resin bracelets are good bets. I also love the silkscreened elbow-length mittens and “Be Proud” badges. The local factor here is paramount, and the buyers have scoured the city (and country) for the best-of-the-best in made-with-love goodies. More »

Discussion

35 Comments

BergoButtLover / December 3, 2010 at 10:31 am
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Uhhhh you forgot to include Bergo on your map, no #5.
Phil / December 3, 2010 at 10:43 am
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Up to You is East end....
Veronica / December 3, 2010 at 11:45 am
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Wise Daughters in the Junction!
cynthia / December 3, 2010 at 12:08 pm
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Lady Mosquito on 1020 Queen West!
Alex / December 3, 2010 at 12:40 pm
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You forgot about Propaganda 686 Yonge St
Ang / December 3, 2010 at 01:33 pm
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You forgot my two favourite gift stores!
Red Pegasus on College and The Outer Layer (Queen W. and Annex)
Alexandra / December 3, 2010 at 03:19 pm
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Warning: Everything in the Distillery District is expensive.
Dayna / December 3, 2010 at 03:47 pm
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Once again, the "Best Of" winners are chosen by readers. Don't agree with the results? Be sure to vote in our next poll.

(@Phil, thanks, we'll get that corrected. @BergoButtLover, I suspect that #5 is hiding under #17 as it's the same address.)
jameson / December 3, 2010 at 05:12 pm
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SB is so great, the friendly staff make it worth the trip alone.
m / December 3, 2010 at 06:15 pm
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Mjolk.
Junction
Wendy / December 3, 2010 at 08:20 pm
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Excellent article! I agree there are many more fantastic boutiques in Toronto - that's what makes this city so great - however, I really love the ones highlighted above.
Jeff / December 3, 2010 at 09:33 pm
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Some great local gift ideas from handwovenbysteve.com
Ryan L. / December 4, 2010 at 09:01 am
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Are there any other places similar to Rolo?
ct / December 6, 2010 at 01:05 pm
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Fresh Collective has clothing & jewellery that's by local designers...and they have cute gift wrapping too!
Fashionotes / December 7, 2010 at 02:44 pm
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YES! To fun and easy holiday shopping, minus the overcrowded malls and parking lots! I Will be checking out some of these shops soon!
Rachel / January 29, 2011 at 10:06 am
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You guys forgot my favourite store in Toronto. Kidding Awound in Yorkville.
COSPLAY / September 26, 2012 at 11:35 pm
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Wise Daughters in the Junction!
Sherry / October 28, 2012 at 07:50 pm
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Owl Monkeys, love this online store!
owlmonkeys.com
Lisa / November 20, 2012 at 08:48 am
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Art Interiors 'Smalls' artworks are all under 250$- These are amazing gifts!
All Canadian artists. All Original. You can also buy online- 'Festival of Smalls'.
Wendy / January 28, 2013 at 08:03 am
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I am looking for a gift store in Toronto selling made in Italy goods - stationery, soap, glass items - something suitable for personal hostess gifts. Any ideas?

diablo 3 gold info / February 20, 2013 at 08:15 pm
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Thanks for giving your ideas. I'd personally also like to say that video games have been actually evolving. Modern tools and innovations have made it easier to create genuine and fun games. All these entertainment video games were not that sensible when the actual concept was first being tried out. Just like other areas of technological innovation, video games also have had to advance via many many years. This is testimony towards the fast progression of video games.
Jaye / July 12, 2013 at 10:46 pm
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What A Jewel - Canadian online gift shop. Many unique 'made in Canada' products.
adres / August 16, 2013 at 06:50 am
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It have to be constantly to operate what is going on to your
funding given towards bank or investment company.
Jess / October 15, 2013 at 02:45 pm
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It wouldn't be up here because it's new- but if you're in the East End, McCormick's Imports at 1347 Danforth Avenue is a great unique gift store! mccormicksimports.com
Jermaine / November 12, 2013 at 04:52 am
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You are so awesome! I do not believe I have read anything like this before.

So great to find somebody with a few unique thoughts on
this issue. Really.. thank you for starting this up. This web site is one thing that is
needed on the internet, someone with a bit of originality!
Magaret / December 8, 2013 at 10:54 pm
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Hi, every time i used to check web site posts here early in the dawn, for the reason that i enjoy to gain knowledge of more and
more.
Sheri / December 14, 2013 at 12:24 pm
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The Arts Market 846 College and 1114 Queen St East. www.artsmarket.ca
Charles / December 14, 2013 at 12:38 pm
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Everyone should definitely check out Freedom Clothing Collective. Their store is at 939 Bloor St. West. near Ossington. Check them out! They have way more than just clothing in their store. There's unique and locally made jewellery, household decor, furniture, beauty products, and more. They just got a new BlogTo review today: http://www.blogto.com/fashion/freedomclothing.
sandra / December 14, 2013 at 01:04 pm
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Where does the Day of The Dead pillow come from in the top photo on the right?
sandra / December 14, 2013 at 01:06 pm
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@Wendy try Consiglio's 1219 St Clair West for Italian gifts.
elizabeth / December 14, 2013 at 10:47 pm
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Inka Roots also in Kensington Market... They have awesome things from Latin America!!
elizabeth replying to a comment from elizabeth / December 14, 2013 at 10:48 pm
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Their address is 179 Baldwin St.
SC / December 21, 2013 at 03:22 pm
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Is there ever a blog write up that doesn't include The Drake? This place is overpriced, over-hyped and seems to be heavily influencing every popular Toronto blog or magazines. If Toronto writers actually did some proper research, including getting the addresses and maps correct, the community could flourish. The Drake is officially on everyone's radar. BlogTO is actually more ideal for the comments, not the blogs. Why don't you commentators create a competing blog about the REAL Toronto? Give us some REAL options about the best places to eat, shop and hang out at.
JMP / February 15, 2014 at 07:40 am
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Another best gift for your love one.
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Usually the duration of a aromatherapy massage is approximately one hour. This is the time required for the essential oils to enter the body through the skin, activate the necessary chemical reactions and fianlly be removed through our breath, sweat and/or urine.
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Its greatest popularity in nearby Thailand, hence its name. Considered one of the most “energizing” of massage styles, it involves the therapist moving and stretching the client into a series of yoga-like positions. The practitioner often pulls the clients toes, fingers, ears, etc., as well as cracks knuckles and walks on the clients back.

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gifts novelties houston / March 19, 2014 at 05:12 am
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I really loved such type of gift collection stores where all the unique gift items are available.It's amazing and also very attractive.

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