The area around queen and ron cesvalles in Toronto's Parkdale neighbourhood is a veritable Cannery Row of misfit storefronts, outcasts of entrepreneurialism peddling a whimsical array of antiquarian items from chandeliers and chemises to bicycles and birdhouses.
But nowhere is this gritty neighbourhood's paratactical personality more thoroughly embodied than at 49th Apparel (49 Roncesvalles), Andy Pepall's retail answer to John Steinbeck's Palace Flophouse.
Those who have promenaded along Roncesvalles on their way to or from the lake will know the establishment, if not for its unique mass of wares, then for its equally eccentric congregation of characters.
The shop has been a fixture on Roncevalles since the mid-90s. Pepall took over a little over a year ago, and since last December the 49th's mismatched selection of chairs straddling the sidewalk has been providing passersby with a place to rest.
Any and all were welcome to take a seat, and this gave rise to a type of neighbourhood clubhouse, much to the chagrin of some locals. A select few voiced their displeasure as well at the spilling onto the sidewalk of 49th's merchandise, an assortment of outdoor gear, wall-sized maps and rock 'n' roll T-shirts.
"That the idea of offering chairs can be controversial is sheer lunacy," says Pepall.
Those who complained accuse Pepall's set-up, best described as an outdoor living room complete with music, artwork and seating for 12, of impeding the flow of pedestrian traffic, and some went so far as to claim the clutter constituted a potential hazard.
When Pepall learned his lease wouldn't be renewed, he and a group of supporters decided to keep 49th and its outdoor living room open 24/7 for the final 1,000 hours of its existence, until the end of August.
I was unaware of these events until late one recent Monday night when I happened upon one of Pepall's pals sprawled across the chairs and sawing logs at 3 in the morning.
Part protest and part business strategy, the 1,000-hour vigil became, over the course of the past month and a half, a kind of cause célèbre along lower Roncesvalles.
Those who came by to take a load off and shoot the breeze came from every imaginable walk of life: well-to-do couples, elderly Polish women, young hipsters, people with dogs, people with kids, even the guy who routinely asks me for change in front of the local McDonald's. They talked about everything from the state of the neighbourhood to the weather.
I find myself wondering what Pepall plans to do with himself come the end of August. The street philosopher and sometime canoe guide happily tells me he'll move on to the next rapid, probably in the wilds of Temagami, if he can find a way to get his stuff there.
As we speak, he's cradling a broken canoe paddle with the inscription "Live to Trip." But what of those who have come to rely on his vacant chairs?
For them, the sentiment along that once welcoming stretch of Roncesvalles will be anything but sweet.