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Retail Photo Tour: Retail at The Distillery Historic District in Toronto and What’s to Come

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Retail Insider continues its Photo Tour series of Canadian retail centres to provide a window into shopping centres and retail districts across the country that are continuing to grow and expand while dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. This edition takes us to The Distillery District in Toronto. 

The Distillery Historic District is a commercial and residential neighbourhood, encompassing more than 40 boutiques and one-of-a-kind shops within a 13-acre plot of land in Downtown Toronto. 

We connected with the team at The Distillery District in order to create a memorable and informative article for our readers. It’s important to acknowledge and thank Elena Price, General Manager of The Distillery Historic District, and the entire team at The Distillery District. We also want to acknowledge Laurie Weir from NextPR.

The Distillery Historic District. Photo: Dustin Fuhs

These images were taken over a period between March 10th and March 21st, 2021 during which Toronto was in the “Grey Zone” of a stay-at-home order and into a modified lockdown. 

The History of The Distillery District

Distillery District National Heritage Site. Photo: Dustin Fuhs

The Distillery District stands on land that was originally the traditional territory of the Anishanabek First Nations (including the Mississauga of the Credit), the Haudenosaunee, and the Wendat. When the British began colonizing and subdividing the land, the space now known as The Distillery District was designated as a park. In the early 1830’s the park was divided into lots and sold in order to raise funds for a Hospital.

The Distillery Historic District History

One of the first to purchase this land was James Worts, a British immigrant who had been a miller for years.  His intention was to partner with his brother-in-law William Gooderham to build a windmill and make flour and use some of the grains to make beer. The windmill was completed in 1832, but Worts suddenly passed away in 1834 leaving Gooderham to manage the business and take care of both men’s families. In 1837 Gooderham decided to add a distillery to the mill to make whiskey, ultimately changing the direction of the company. After a time the sale of whiskey became more than their sales of flour and the windmill was torn down.

As the Gooderham & Worts Distillery expanded they built more buildings that could specialize in different aspects of production.  This was especially helpful during the First World War when many of those additional buildings were converted to making chemicals necessary for the war effort. When Prohibition struck Canada in 1916 Gooderham & Worts were able to keep producing alcohol as the Ontario Temperance Act did not prohibit alcohol production. By 1923 the Gooderham heirs sold Gooderham & Worts Distillery to Harry C Hatch who began bootlegging and rum-running his newly-purchased whiskey all over prohibition North America. He also took the time to change the name of the company to Hiram Walker – Gooderham & Worts.

Eventually the alcohol production at the Toronto branch of the Hiram Walker – Gooderham & Worts company stopped and the site focused on industrial alcohols, but even that was coming to an end and by 1990 all production at the old Gooderham & Worts Distillery had ceased. After it was closed it was used periodically for movie and television shows (hits include Tommy Boy, Cinderella Man, Chicago, X-Men, Murdoch Mysteries, and many more). But the future of the area remained uncertain — many of the buildings desperately needed expensive renovations and the entire Distillery had been designated a national historic site in 1988 which limited the potential for development.  

Finally in 2001, Cityscape Holdings purchased the site, and by 2003, and after extensive restoration, it reopened as a hub for arts and culture. Today it is owned by both Cityscape Holdings and Dream Office REIT and is recognized as the largest collection of Victorian-era industrial architecture in North America.

The Distillery District in 2021 

If you look at the directory below, there are three main streets (Tank House Lane, Trinity Street, and Gristmill Lane) with additional streets that are home to hidden gems. We’ll be focusing on the retail side of the location, but it’s important to share that the restaurants and tourism offerings bring the personality of the district to life.

The Distillery Historic District – Directory March 2021
The Distillery Historic District Leasing Plan – March 2021

Distillery Retail News for 2021

Incubator Pop-Up Retail Spaces

This is an exclusive announcement from Retail Insider on the area, and we are excited to share it with our readers.

In 2021, The Distillery Historic District will be launching 6 ‘incubator’ pop-up retail spaces in a high-visibility location at the end of Trinity Street. These pre-built storage containers will allow for new tenants to join the Distillery community starting in early summer.

The rental opportunity is unique, as the district is offering flexible leasing terms for varying durations and allow exposure to the current customer base. The spaces will be semi-permanent, which could be interesting for future tenants to join the lineup. It’s a way for brands and entrepreneurs to try a cost-effective solution for a physical location while testing the market and developing their proof of concept.

The containers are described as having elegantly styled, front glass doors and window panels. In addition to finished ceilings, wall and flooring the units will have a full HVAC system, Hydro, and Wifi.

If anyone is interested in the pop-ups, reach out to John Berman at: jb@thedistillerydistrict.com

5 New Tenants in 2021

Although we are unable to publicly confirm the brands at this time, The Distillery District has provided us with the locations and will circle back when they are able to share with our readers.

Retail Space for Lease 

Former Mini Mioche Location. Photo: Dustin Fuhs

Space in The Distillery District is incredibly difficult to get, so when a unit becomes available, it is definitely newsworthy.

There is currently one retail vacancy. A unit, sitting at 1,558 square feet, with 200-year-old brick interior and an exposed wood beam in the ceiling. The original doors and windows bring character into a high-traffic spot on Case Good Lanes.

If anyone is interested in this location, reach out to John Berman at: jb@thedistillerydistrict.com

Sniffany & Co. Expansion

Sniffany & Co. at Distillery District. Photo: Dustin Fuhs

Pet-focused retailer “Sniffany & Co” has expanded its Distillery store by taking over the space next to their current location, essentially doubling the square footage. The brand started in Zurich Switzerland in 2009 and opened its Distillery location in 2019.

By growing its online business and creating a social media platform, the brand has been able to grow its business offerings to include a doggy spa service. The brand has also helped to bring more products to the ever-expanding pet market, especially in the growing communities that surround The Distillery District as new residential buildings are completed.

Retailer Spotlight

With an abundance of unique retailers and incredible interiors that make the Distillery a one-of-a-kind location, Retail Insider will be focusing on a number of spaces in particular.

Gotstyle

Gotstyle at Distillery District – March 2021. Photo: Dustin Fuhs

The 7,000-square-foot Gotstyle location in the Distillery brings together men’s and women’s fashions, formal wear, and tailoring services. Retail Insider actually covered the opening of the store back in 2012, which discussed the evolving retail landscape within the Distillery District at the time.

In 2020 and into 2021, GotStyle was forced to evolve its brand in the midst of various lockdowns and COVID requirements. In addition to closing its Bathurst location, Melissa Austria (co-owner and founder of GotStyle) documented the experience of being a business owner during the pandemic and what was going on behind the scenes.

The store carries a variety of brands in-store and online, including:

Canadian Brands:

International Brands:

Red Canoe

Red Canoe at Distillery District – March 2021. Photo: Dustin Fuhs

Started by Dax Wilkinson, Red Canoe is home to heritage brands that we all can identify with. The current lineup includes designs from the CBC, Bushplane (Cessna & De Havilland), RCAF, Boeing, NASA, and more.

Red Canoe has another location in the Junction at 2989 Dundas Street West.

Corktown Designs

Corktown Designs at Distillery District – March 2021. Photo: Dustin Fuhs

One of The Distillery District’s hidden gems, Corktown Designs, is located at 5 Trinity Street and sells artwork from over 75 international and local designers and artists.

Wildly Delicious

Wildly Delicious at Distillery District – March 2021. Photo: Dustin Fuhs

Wildly Delicious has been one of Canada’s specialty food companies since 1995. The flagship retail location is located at 11 Tank House Lane and provides a huge variety of food options, including quick service take-out and local retail partnerships.

The SPORT Gallery at Distillery District – March 2021. Photo: Dustin Fuhs

The SPORT Gallery opened in the Distillery in 2006. After an expansion in 2009, the brand found it’s current home in 2016 in a 2500-square-foot location beside Wildly Delicious and within a 3-pointer of the LOVE Locks art display. It’s also the home to Arena Coffee Bar.

On top of vintage-inspired sports apparel, the store is a must-see for folks who love to talk hockey or splurge on a piece of memorabilia. In 2020, the store made the decision to close its Granville Island store in Vancouver.

John Fluevog

John Fluevog at Distillery District – March 2021. Photo: Dustin Fuhs

Retail Insider covered the opening of the John Fluevog store at the Distillery District back in March 2013. The Vancouver-based footwear brands has stores in markets globally.

Blackbird Vintage Finds

Blackbird Vintage Finds – Photo by Dustin Fuhs

Blackbird Vintage Finds is celebrating their decade in the Distillery District. Opened in 2011, this retail gem is stocked with vintage and unique gifts.

The store is the second retail store that owner Paula DiRenzo started, with the first being “Fleur de Terre” at Avenue and St Germain. That location ran from 2001 to 2011, just before Blackbird opened in the Distillery at 11 Trinity Street.

Yummi Candles

Yummi Candles in the Distillery District – Photo by Dustin Fuhs

Yummi Candles moved to its current flagship location on the main stretch of Trinity Street from a retail space at the Cherry Street entrance, and it was a great decision. The opportunity to expand the retail business along with candle-making classes brings the space to life.

Gentil Uomo

Gentil Uomo in the Distillery District- Photo by Dustin Fuhs

Owner Antonio Gentilucci opened Gentil Uomo in the Distillery District back in 2012. With Chase Architecture looking after the design, the space came to life with a distinct style and loyal client base. This is the only retail location for Gentil Uomo.

GW General by Biltmore Furniture

GW General by Biltmore Furniture at the Distillery District. Photo: Dustin Fuhs

GW General by Biltmore Furniture is a hidden gem full of assorted antiques and local handmade items.

The Distillery Historic District Outdoor Environment During COVID

2021 is all about keeping guests and retailers safe during the ever-evolving pandemic situation. On top of creating online and curb-side pick-up and delivery options, retailers are adhering to a number of safety requirements. The current information for the Distillery can be found at their dedicated page: https://www.thedistillerydistrict.com/covid19/.

With the situation changing almost daily in Toronto, the communication has to be constant. Staff have been able to discuss support options for tenants through virtual meetings and weekly memos.

Spring & Summer Programming

In previous years The Distillery District has been known for its large outdoor events like music festivals and, in particular, its annual Christmas Market. These large outdoor events were cancelled in 2020 and look to be on hold for the majority of 2021, but the Distillery hopes to offer creative and socially-distanced ways to have fun outdoors.

With the addition of The Distillery District summer patios throughout the site, over 1,000 patio seats will be available. Guests can enjoy the open air in a pedestrian-only environment, while also supporting local food establishments.

The relaunch of The Distillery Flower Market is planned for the spring, and will run throughout the summer on weekends. All information on this will be posted on the website, as things can change at a moments notice with the pandemic safety protocols.

Goals of 2021 are to provide guests a variety of unique and experiential offerings in the historic open-air environment so that everyone can feel safe. The event calendar is on hold until the clearance from Public Health Ontario can be secured to host large events, which we are all looking forward to experiencing soon.

Looking Ahead

The Love Locks at the Distillery Historic District. Photo: Dustin Fuhs

We had a very interesting photo walk around The Distillery Historic District in Toronto and we hope you enjoyed coming along with us. Don’t forget to check out our other retail photo tours over the past few months. Thank you for taking this tour with us.

All Photos in this article were taken by Dustin Fuhs

Additional Distillery District Photos

Gristmill Lane at The Distillery Historic District. Photo: Dustin Fuhs

Gristmill Lane

Gristmill Lane at The Distillery Historic District
Artemide Limited Lights on the Left, at the Parliament Street Entrance to The Distillery District – March 2021
Go Tours Canada Managing Partner, Jason Rizzuti
Palgong Tea
Beauchamp Art Gallery
Cacao 70, Go Tours Canada and District Pizza
Deciem The Abnormal Beauty Company
District Pizza and the Shop Local art installation.
Lemon Water Wellness
All in the Wild
Hatley Little Blue House
Izumi Sake Brewery
ARVO Coffee at The Distillery District
ARVO Coffee at The Distillery District
Arta Gallery
The Distillery District – March 2021
Gooderham & Worts on the Boku patio
Boku
Crimson & Clover and the Voice Integrative School

Trinity Street

Trinity Street
Trinity Street Sign
Balzac’s at The Distillery District – March 2021
Balzac’s at The Distillery District – March 2021
The Queen’s Trunk
Spirit of York
Trinity Street Storefronts, including Blackbird Vintage Finds, Skin Treats, Hoi Bo, Red Canoe and Gentil Uomo
The Distillery District – March 2021
Trinity Street, including Blackbird Vintage Finds and Corktown Jewellery.
Madrina Bar y Tapas and John Fluevog

Tank House Lane

Locks of Love at The Distillery District – March 2021
El Catrin Destileria
The Sweet Escape and Tank House General
The Distillery District – March 2021
Bergo Designs at The Distillery District – March 2021
Young Centre for the Performing Arts at The Distillery District – March 2021
Soma Chocolates at The Distillery District – March 2021
Maisonette
Cluny at The Distillery District – March 2021
Spectacle at The Distillery District – March 2021
Pure Spirits Oyster House & Grill
Mill Street Brew Pub at The Distillery District – March 2021
FloorPlay Socks
Tank House Lane

Distillery Lane

Deciem
Miss J Lash Lounge
Thompson Landry Gallery
McManus & Campbell Hair Salon
Green Panda Convenience

Artscape

ARTSCAPE STUDIOS, GALLERIES & SHOPS – Click for a link to the individual retailers and their shops/websites

More Distillery Businesses

The Wax Pot and H20 Float Studio
The Beer Store Boutique

Thanks for Joining Us

The Distillery District Entrance Signage during COVID-19. Photo: Dustin Fuhs

Article Author

Dustin Fuhs
Dustin Fuhshttps://stepstomagic.com/
Dustin Fuhs is a Digital Marketing Entrepreneur and Retail Specialist with over 15 years experience. At Retail Insider his duties include managing the social media channels, SEO and various tasks on the Operations team. He is the founder of Steps to Magic, a travel website that focuses on Disney & Universal theme parks.

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