This here is a love song to a chunk of old Yonge Street north of College, south of Wellesley, full of life. Consider it a toast to cherished pieces of Toronto fading fast in the face of cold-hearted development.[rssbreak]
It was some 20 years ago, when I lived up around there, that I first discovered Holco Firestock Sales and Bankruptcy Liquidators - and $11 seal fur boots. Returning to the store recently, looking for steel-?toed boots, I mentioned my beloved mukluks to Dave, the man on the cash.
"Oh, I remember those," he remarkably remarked. "We only had the one shipment."
The spell the place casts is magically still intact. The $8,000 inventory of a quality shoe store in Hamilton has just come in. A pair of oxblood Golden Horseshoe-?made leather-?lined certified safety boots were a sad tad too small. So I talked myself into some that even with nine socks on each foot wouldn't work for me. They make my feet much too big to keep track of. No refunds or exchanges.
I tell you, it's an atmosphere I've only encountered before at the gone Buy The Pound on Adelaide. Random, unpredictable merchandise and people I don't mind mixing with in close and friendly-?competitive quarters.
Holco is on the west side of Yonge, up from the just-closed Syd Silver Formals. Syd Silver opened around the same time as Fidea Jewellers, established in 1928. A beautifully maintained timepiece, Fidea still displays vintage watches - original stock. The vermilion-glazed brass door pusher alone is worth a hundred malls.
Next door to Fidea is Laughing Stuff & Novelty, selling wigs, funny glasses, noisemakers and senselessly useful toques and gloves. There's Persian food, second-hand books, shish kebabs, a gay men's bar and an out-of-place 7-Eleven franchise on the corner.
The east side of the block is just as rich. The venerable Papaya Hut, an original purveyor of health food to the original health nuts, has been rebranded Papaya Island, or so it says. I used to accompany Gwendolyn there on her breaks from Le Strip down the street.
This bit of old Yonge is urban diversity in action. You can get pierced, buy a bong or souvenirs, acquire shades, porn, shoes and martial arts training or use the Internet while keeping your strength up on the Papaya's Big Kahuna special.
Dave at Holco declines to give his last name. "I'm not the boss - just the frontman." Dave married into the fire sale/ liquidation game. It was 45 years ago that his father-?in-?law set up shop. Dave says government workers from nearby offices frequent the store. That explains the well-dressed men I see rooting through the boxes of Florsheims. Holco does not deal in seconds.
Another employee, whose name it seems pushy to solicit, is as reluctant as Dave to comment on how he spends his days. It's as though it could break the mystery. He's busy mating single shoes and putting them back in their cardboard houses - and he's very calm. A flustered type would break right down in the face of the casual, comfortable disarray. Slippers are $7, men's shoes $23, women's $14, thread 25 cents, but Holco is priceless.
I also like how it feels like there's some kind of telegraph operating on old Yonge. No texting or devil's machines involved. It seems word gets around that there's a reporter walking around with a little notebook and a pen. Shopkeepers come out to check me out and bask in the fresh spring sun. Greetings are exchanged, regards sent.
These precious blocks enjoy a security system built on daily human contact over time. It's the small-town life that forms the foundation of real cities. It can't be faked or rushed. The installation of instant "public meeting places" and hired guards to police behaviour is an ugly suburban phenomenon that's invading and degrading cities everywhere. Well-?heeled louts and yokels convert lively streets into dead zones to suit their unimaginative homogeneity.
Decades after the Eaton Centre, a heart still beats in the centre of this silly lost town. Viva La Calle Yonge!