There might be more than one Drake General Store around Canada, but for good reason. Opened as a companion to the Drake Hotel back in 2008, Drake Genral Store carries everything from well-designed tourist souvenirs to clothing to housewares, all with the design-enthusiast in mind. What started out as a simple hotel shop has turned into a multi-location brand with a self-sustaining collection of goods you can’t get anywhere else. We spoke to co-founder Carlo Colacci about the shop, expansion and business challenges:
Why did you pick this city/neighborhood to launch the shop?
The Drake General Store first opened in 2008 to provide a retail offering for the iconic Drake Hotel, so naturally we opened our first location in a vacant storefront directly next to the landmark property on West Queen West in Toronto. The neighborhood has since thrived and become the creative + cultural heart of the city. It was recently deemed the “second coolest neighborhood in the world” by Vogue – and has become a destination for Torontonians, visitors and globetrotting tastemakers alike to experience the best in food, art and retail that the city (and country) have to offer.
Where did you get the name for the store?
Jeff, Joyce and I (we’re the 3 founders/owners) chose Drake General Store because we wanted to create a retail environment that carried the best-of-best versions (+ our personal faves) of all of the staple items you would expect to find in a traditional general store or hotel gift shop. House-made Drake Granola, Marvis Toothpaste, in-house designed + locally produced Shared t-shirts, Harry Allen’s gold piggy bank and Canadian Mountie cocktail napkins to name a few…
Has it changed much since it opened? How?
When we first opened, 100% of our assortment was curated from other vendors and local artisans. Today, we are proud to say that approximately half of our offering is designed in house, with as much being produced locally as possible. We identified gaps in the marketplace for many items that we imagined and wanted to carry, but couldn’t find the perfect pieces to meet our needs or match our vision. So, we took a leap and set up an internal design team made up of graphic designers, fashion designers and product developers with the goal of making unique product that would fill these holes in our retail offering.
What’s one of the challenges you have with the business?
As we continue to expand and open new doors, we work very hard to ensure that the independent character and distinct look + feel of our stores remain intact. We thoroughly research every new area and create a unique product mix that best reflects the customer demographics and tastes, while always staying true to the authentic Drake General Store experience. As we open in new cities and reach new markets, it is becoming increasingly important to stay on top of each location and ensure we are both listening to our (new) customers and meeting their needs, while also introducing them to our DGS favorites.
What other stores have you worked in before opening this one?
Joyce and I ran a Shared t-shirt pop-up shop the summer prior to opening Drake General Store. Joyce had worked at a hosiery store prior to university and growing up, I worked in my family’s retail furniture business.
What’s your favorite item in the store right now?
Our Shared Sunday Chef Apron made locally of cozy jogging fleece. It has become my go-to to over the weekend when I’m prepping breakfast for my family.
What is this season’s theme/inspiration/story?
We have created a collection of t-shirts and sweats that take inspiration from vintage Canadian sports that are 100% knit, dyed, cut sewn and printed in Toronto. Perfect for summer training, relaxing at the cottage or enjoying the outdoors in our great country!
Are you carrying any new products and/or undiscovered gems you’re particularly excited about?
Streetcars are synonymous with Toronto public transit and recently, we were approached by local maker, Ian Vendenberg, who had made a butter dish modeled after the city’s nostalgic symbol of the city’s urban environment. I love it when functional items are created using an unexpected twist!
What’s been a consistent best seller?
Our Shared Canada Creatures Baby Blanket is my go-to gift when buying for a newborn. We commissioned a local illustrator, Ani Castillo, to create a map of Canada populated with ‘creatures’ native to all areas of the country. My 10-month old twins love lounging in the park on this blanket.
Does the store have its own line?
Yes, we current produce the following in-house brands; Shared – locally produced basics, Held in Common – classic apparel and accessories that make the perfect travel companions, Arborist – Canadiana-inspired clothing, accessories and products designed with a sense of nostalgia and novelty + Drake General Store – housewares and apothecary products that personify the Drake General Store lifestyle.
Any special events/exhibits/pop ups/collaborations coming up?
We just launched a collection in collaboration with Shared + Bather Trunk Co. (designed and made in Toronto). The assortment features an exclusive print applied to Bather’s classic swim trunks, a 5 panel cap + a Shared t-shirt with a printed pocket. We’ve also recently launched a Drake General Store location at the new UP Express downtown station, linking Canada’s 2 busiest commuter hubs – Union Station and Pearson Airport.
Do you have anything from the store in your own home?
Our Landscape Dinner Set is one of my favorite lines from our store. Not only does it create a natural (Canadian) landscape on your table, but also the fun colors we chose to play off the scenes liven up my dinner parties!
What’s next for you and your stores?
We’re planning on continuing to expand our brand by opening new stores across Canada through our partnership with Hudson’s Bay. We are also focussed on investing more time and energy to develop our private label brands and increase our exposure in new markets by partnering with select retailers to wholesale our product through. We are passionate about buying, creating and ultimately sharing the DGS story with everyone!