On a drizzly early November evening, the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, took to a stage in front of Yorkville?s Holt Renfrew (50 Bloor West, 416-922-2333) and belted out Respect to kick off the annual unveiling of the luxe retailer?s holiday windows.
It was one of those over-the-top, shameless and slightly diva-esque moments that the swish neighbourhood does so well.
If you're one to embrace the season's rampant shopaholism, this is where to do it. Boutiques full of glittery goodies and the perfume of pine and peppermint filling the air will easily distract you from a dwindling bank balance.
Neat Storage Essentials ideas
There's nothing practical about a good holiday shop, so we'll get our visit to Neat Storage Essentials (70 Yorkville, 416-972-9700) out of the way first. Truth is, scouting out waste baskets and organizational aids is never more sneakily functional than when you're browsing Neat's selection of stylish Simple Humans garbage cans, Chilewich doormats and Umbra gadgets galore. Every toppling CD pile, heap of wrinkled clothing and paper-smothered desktop can find mess relief in Neat's aisles of storage solutions.
Upstairs, classic neighbourhood diner Flo's (70 Yorkville, 416-961-4333) still serves up satisfyingly greasy grilled cheese focaccia sandwiches.
Rolo co-owner Rowley Ocampo with the iPod pillow
More Rolo fun stuff
The zany ying to Neat's practical yang is Rowley Ocampo's Rolo (24 Bellair, 416-920-0100, www.rolostore.com). Every square inch of the boutique is packed with useful-to-useless merchandise that leans toward the kitschy and/or design-savvy. The season's kooky hot seller is a faux fur pillow in the shape of an iPod. (They're in such high demand, Ocampo rides the subway to work every day with a new batch from a stash in his basement.)
For more refined tastes, housewares by Alessi and Warhol-themed timepieces are the items to watch. Heat up your Hanukkah with menorahs in the shape of lined-up handbags or stiletto heels.
Williams-Sonoma dining designs
At the end of Bellair, behind the old University Theatre's facade, are the area's twin home meccas, Williams-Sonoma (100 Bloor West, 416-962-9455) and the Pottery Barn (416-962-2276). Torontonians felt a sense of all-American approval when these two stores finally arrived on Bloor. It's easy to see why. Williams-Sonoma is a two-storey tool box for culinary masters and novices, dishing out as many kitchen gadgets as free samples of candy cane bark. The Barn offers easy-to-incorporate decor pieces, colour-clustering classic dishware, textiles and furniture.
Cool Guild Shop crafts
Through the Village of Yorkville Park, planted to reflect Canada's geography from coast to coast, sits the Guild Shop (118 Cumberland, 416-921-1721). The gallery and boutique is one of the city storefronts of the Ontario Crafts Council (the other is the OCC Gallery at 990 Queen West). Cards, ceramics, glass, Inuit art, jewellery, textiles and woodwork by local artists and crafters are primed for present-picking and guaranteed to deliver one-of-kind impact.
Yorkville is also well stocked with stationery stores ready to help you wrap and greet. Turn off your mobile's ringer before descending into the Papery (124 Cumberland, 416-962-3916) and browsing its unbeatable card stock. Paper Things (99 Yorkville, 416-922-3500) has been selling giftware, journals and other fine paper products benefiting the National Ballet of Canada for almost five decades.
The new Hazelton Hotel (5 Hazelton, 416-928-1859) was celeb central during this year's Film Festival, and its One restaurant continues to lure in bigwigs and leisurely lunchers.
Nestled behind its five-star rooms and million-dollar condos is Hazelton Lanes, home to Whole Foods (87 Avenue Road, 416-944-0500). Eco shop Organic Lifestyle (87 Avenue Road, 416-921-7317) rides the sustainability wave of its earthy supermarket neighbour, offering adult and kid items made of natural materials. This is where to source bamboo flooring, AFM Safecoat paints and beeswax candles.
Teatro Verde floral designs
Teatro Verde (55 Avenue Road, 416-966-2227) anchors the other end of the Lanes, and no other store creates a more luxurious holiday look than this floral and decor boutique. Windows are filled with miniature moving winter dioramas with skiing and sledding figures touring a plastic hill.
Different corners of the store are colour-blocked so you can easily integrate goods into your existing seasonal style. A silver-and-white grouping includes twinkling polar bear ornaments, while a red section is filled with velvety flocked balls and obelisks. Porcelain orbs painted in earth-toned paisleys are neutral enough to cluster fashionably on your coffee table all year round.
End your Yorkville day by doing your own walk-by of those over-the-top Holts windows. This year's display features a sparkly whitewashed fashion wonderland, with vignettes tracing the designer process from drafting table to runway.
If the department store doors are still open, head downstairs to Holt's holiday boutique, where baked goodies and plush teddies are budget-friendly but plenty swanky.