Ethel Toronto

Is Corktown Toronto's next design district?

Corktown is probably one of the last neighbourhoods that comes to mind when looking for great design. The Junction is the place for salvage and antiques, King East for the newest in high-end and modern — but the blocks just to the north? Not much.

Though it looks like that might start to change. After all, the right ingredients are already in place; plenty of vacancies, relatively cheap rents, and an influx of first-time homeowners who will need to deck out their new condos.

Longtime Leslieville design shop, Ethel, is already prepping for its move to Corktown next week. The shop has been on Queen East for at least the past 15 years, under the current ownership of Shauntelle Le Blanc for the last three. But the sale of the building, combined with a rise in rent and decline in local sales, has motivated Shauntelle to pick up and move the store elsewhere.

"Financially, the cost to lease is quite high," she says. "But I also felt that while Leslieville has this 'retro' reputation, there are a lot of tire kickers; they like the idea of the shop being here, but they don't actually shop here."

Shauntelle's rent was to go from $4000 to $4500 monthly — not an incredibly drastic increase, though she says her new landlords also expected her to help with the cost of repairs and maintenance. So she starting looking around the city for new neighbourhoods for Ethel. "One that kept coming up," she says, "was Corktown."

"I think it's where Leslieville was 10 or 20 years ago," Shauntelle continues. "Especially with the condo development, there will be lots of new people looking to buy coffee tables. The people in Leslieville already have theirs."

Of course, that's not the view of all the design shop owners in Leslieville, many of whom consider the area to be flourishing with furniture customers. "I think it's as vibrant as ever," Jake Keck, owner of Machine Age Modern, says when I stop by his store. "Especially on weekends, there are lots of people. Many come from the west end specifically looking for furniture."

Jake does acknowledge, however, that rising rents in the area have made running a business tough. "Leslieville is not a deal, that's for sure," he says. "My rent has doubled — tripled since I first moved in. That's why so many businesses come and go."

He admits he never thought of Corktown as the next up-and-coming design district, but some new businesses owners have already sniffed out the potential. One is Carmen Tsang, who just opened up her design shop Even & Odd yesterday.

"It has all the things we were looking for," she says when I ask her why she settled on Queen and Parliament. "The area is developing — it has personality — and the rent is pretty good."

"With all the condos developing nearby," she continues, "people will be moving in. And they'll need home accessories."

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