Ransack the Universe
Ransack the Universe is Bloordale's one-stop shop for vintage goods, records, local crafts, jewelry, and one-of-a-kind decor. Originally located in the basement of 1207 Bloor Street West, the store recently expanded to the main floor when the previous occupant, 69 Vintage Collective , moved out. The eye-catching display of vintage accessories, records, and knickknacks in the window has let people in on the secret of Ransack's treasures, greatly increasing the number of visitors since January.
Owner Jess Paehlke opened the basement store just over three years ago as a means to sell his collected goods while avoiding the occupational hazard of getting rained on at outdoor markets. The store is a way to indulge his love of collecting things, "but then I don't have to keep it," he explains. The goal is simple: to counteract mass-produced, big-box store culture by selling unique goods, be it vintage or handmade, with a sense of humour. "We look for quality things, but we also look for ridiculous things. Absurd things."
I could definitely sense the influence of Paehlke's dry wit throughout the store, making for a particularly amusing treasure-hunting experience. Vintage romance novels are priced variably depending on whether you refer to them as "smutty books" ($10) or "erotic literature" ($20). Handmade soaps by McCabe's Essentials are affectionately labeled "Smelly stuff: $5 or 3 for $12."
Most notably, scattered throughout the store are "crass cross stitches:" framed cross stitches of your favourite expletives and colourful synonyms for body parts (priced variably, around $10-$40). I was taken aback a few times when an intricately stitched swear word or insult jumped out at me, slyly, from among the merchandise.
Other handmade goods for sale are striking for their creativity and charm. Some of my favourites included scrabble letter cufflinks ($15) and rings ($8), tweek trouser cuffs for stylish cyclists ($28), button earrings by Jesse plus Josh ($10), and printed canvas totes by Avril Loreti ($15). Handmade goods are "local-ish," says Paehlke, from around 30 artists either working at the store, in the neighbourhood, across the GTA, or in nearby locales like Cobourg, Peterborough and Guelph.
Despite the departure of 69 Vintage Collective, there are still plenty of vintage goods to be found at 1207 Bloor Street West, including men's and women's clothes, outerwear, accessories, housewares, art, books, furniture and knickknacks. I had to peel myself out of an antique wooden rocker ($125) sitting amidst the furniture and kitchenware in the basement.
Among the wide range of clothes and accessories upstairs, I spent far too long digging through vintage buttons ($2) and scarves ($4), and admiring retro Samsonite and Collacutt shoulder bags in sky blue, tan, and orange ($35-$45). The collection of obscure vintage board games (most around $20) made me want to host my own game night just to learn what a round of Chicken Out entailed.
Paehlke is keen to mention that the record collection is also big draw to the store, particularly as vinyl grows in popularity across Toronto. Their collection includes bins of "cheap-o-records" for thrifty collectors ($4 each or 3 for $10).
Since moving above ground, Ransack has seen more and more visitors like me--curious passersby who may not have the need (or space) for anything they see, but who stay for longer than intended and enjoy a laugh. Paehlke has also noticed that Bloordale is becoming somewhat of a vintage shopping destination, where groups of friends come for brunch and "do the strip" of vintage and thrift stores from Value Village eastward. Ransack is open to one-time visitors, loyal regulars, vinyl enthusiasts, and vintage aficionados seven days a week, 12- 7 pm (6pm-ish on Sundays).
Now that they've taken over the main floor, Paehlke will "keep on ransacking!" He is considering outdoor bargain yard sales in the summer, and exploring what new ideas work with the expanded space. Out of Toronto's many vintage and handicraft stores, why is Ransack worth checking out? Paehlke offers a simple argument: "We have cool stuff but we're cheaper than Queen Street. Come to Bloordale first!"
Photos by Jesse Milns