Shopping locally is the name of the game. For years, I have bought beautiful seasonal tablecloths and runners from the M & F Linen Bazaar on College Street, just west of Clinton. The cloths have always attracted compliments, are easily washed and need no ironing.
Walking home from the Y in recent weeks, I have given myself the time to browse the street and discover what is available in my backyard. Do not be deceived by the racks of cotton aprons, kitchen cottons, and slippers at the store entry. Look closely in the display windows and discover the treasure trove inside. The tableware collection at the Linen Bazaar is much more extensive than even I had realized, with cloths, runners and laces in all colours, sizes and materials, plain and beautifully decorated. Holiday table ware for all occasions.
The surprise to me was that the Linen Bazaar also carries a full range of dry goods. There is bedding of all sorts. Italian bedspreads, matching pillows and bed ware, sheets, comforters, pillows, pillowslips, even 1000 thread count Egyptian cotton sheet sets for under $100.00. Brightly coloured vinyl and flannel backed vinyl is available by the yard and custom cut to size. There are carpets and hosiery. Lingerie includes fine cotton and wool underwear from Italy for men and women, and a wide choice of nightwear. The white linen nightgowns like those I buy at the One of a Kind show? There is a great choice right here, complete with instructions to wash them in the machine but hang to dry.
Had I known the range of goods available here, I could have saved myself hours of trudging downtown and out to the big box stores where I bought lower quality at greater cost. Barbara and Servi, two customers who live at Parliament and Gerrard, come to the shop they consider “the best in Toronto” to buy their dry goods by the batch. They already knew what I was just learning. My buying patterns are clearly going to change in the future.
The best part of shopping locally is that I am getting to know the shop-owners. Mimi Santelli opened M & F Linen Bazaar 34 years ago, in the building owned by her parents. Her parents had come to Canada from Agrigento in Sicily, in the early 1950s. Her father came first, and then arranged for his bride-to-be to join him from back home. She was Mimi’s mother who had a sister in Toronto already and vaguely knew her future husband from their social circle in Italy. Engaged by proxy, they married in Toronto on her arrival.
Mimi grew up in Little Italy and went to Grace Street Public School (now Pierre Elliot Trudeau French school) and St. Lucy’s Catholic School (now St. Francis of Assisi) on Clinton Street. In the 1950s, her father was the produce manager at the Power grocery store which was formerly in the CHIN building. He bought his first building at 613 College Street, across from his former employer, and opened a fruit and vegetable business which he ran until the late 1970s. When Mimi married in 1978, she ran her parents’ fruit store and lived above the store with her husband. When her father sold the produce business, he bought his second building (where Mimi now has the Bazaar), and moved to Etobicoke. Mimi opened the Bazaar in October 1982 and, five years later, she and her husband moved to Mississauga.
Although she and her parents now live elsewhere, her heart remains in Little Italy where the neighbourhood is “very tight” and “like family.” Like many, Mimi is preoccupied with providing care to beloved parents “who have given (her) so much.” We spent the next two hours, until I had to go home, talking about the challenges of caregiving.
The hours of the Linen Bazaar are Monday to Saturday, 10:00 to 6:00. The address is 603 College Street and the telephone number 416-531-1023.