Old's Cool General Store
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Old's Cool General Store offers a new twist on the neighbourhood mom and pop shop on the edge of East York. Hidden amongst aging bungalows and low-income rentals at Lumsden & Westlake, Old's Cool is equal parts convenience store, grocery, cafe, candy shop, local market, antique store, museum and community meeting place.
Remaining virtually untouched for over 80 years, the building once housed a grocery-butchery and more recently a traditional convenience store. Many of the artifacts from the location's long history have been preserved including the original tin roof, butcher block and cash register.
While still serving as a corner store, gone are the grimy, poster-plastered windows and dusty cans of soup with best before dates of ten years ago. Brightly lit, clean and decorated with local and international art (including gifts from the community and a pair of antelope horns) the store hums with life.
Old's Cool offers a variety of drinks, snacks and grocery items including fair trade, organic Mountain View Coffee (drip) and Yogi Tea ($1.65 for a small and $2.00 for a large).
Regular Coke and Sprite can be found along side Boylan, Pop Shoppe and Jones sodas. Lena's Vintage Treats offers local, handmade chocolates ($1.50 for a chocolate pop) and Leslieville's Jarred provides jams and spices ($6.00 for a small and $10.00 for a large).
Many everyday grocery items are paired with their organic, all-natural and often Toronto-based counterparts. Beside the Maple Leaf Foods bacon are the Life Choices grass fed, all beef hotdogs ($9.99) and along with the ketchup is the locally sourced Augusta's Don't Be a Jerk Sauce ($8.00).
Everything from all-natural soaps, hand-knitted dishcloths and scarves, collectible action figures, locally produced honey, hand-painted greeting cards, organic chips as well as milk, bread, lottery tickets and cigarettes grace the rest of shelves.
When I dropped by on a sunny Thursday afternoon, I tried a Vancouver-sourced Good Drink Ice Tea ($2.75) to go along with a large peanut butter chocolate chip cookie I could swear was homemade (it's not; it's from Red Rocket Coffee and totally worth the $2.00).
I also sampled some of the handmade chocolates (a little too sweet for my taste) and Jarred's apple butter (the perfect balance of sweet and tart).
As I perused the shelves, I watched the steady stream of customers drop by, all greeted by name by owners Zahra Dhanani and Mariko Nguyen-Dhanani. Most came for their lottery tickets or a bag of chips but others stayed to browse the considerably eclectic variety of the store's offerings.
As we chat, the owners tell me that soon they'll be serving homemade, real Indian masala chai ($2.50) along with other treats sourced from their travels and childhoods. The couple hopes to make the store a community social hub, hosting events like a jazz night and holiday market.
"We want to be a neighbourhood hub. We want to be somewhere where people come and meet each other and talk to each other," Zahra says.
"We want people to get what they've always gotten, whether it's chips, pop or bread. But we've traveled around the world and we've traveled around this city and there are amazing things out there. So we also wanted to make sure we had alternatives to the usual. And that we brought the best of what we've experienced to the community."
Writing by Evelyn Senyi. Photos by Hector Vasquez.