Ralph’s Hardware

It’s soccer season, Euro Cup is just ahead  (June 10 – July 10), and Little Italy is gearing up for big multinational festivities. No one is busier at the moment than Libby and Mike Sinopoli, the proprietors of Ralph’s Hardware, on College just west of Ossington. Their shop, bedecked with the brightly coloured flags of the soccer nations, becomes “action central” for soccer accessories and memorabilia throughout the summer.

In addition to t-shirts and hats for all ages from infants to grandparents, Libby fashions dresses, tank tops, golf shirts and fedoras  emblazoned with the emblems of all the teams and countries. Where mainstream suppliers do not provide for particular countries, Libby creates the right accessories herself. She likes to give for her customers what she would want to wear herself. There is something for everyone, so all can dress for the party.

Libby was brought up in the Açores, where celebrations were held for any occasion – some religious, some in response to the afternoon bullfight, preferably every weekend, as often as possible. She and Mike liken the summer soccer season in Little Italy to those Portuguese festivals where everyone stops, joins with their friends and neighbours, and has a good time. For Libby and Mike, the soccer season is the highlight of the year.

The historic sign on “Ralph’s Hardware” is a bit of a misnomer. Beginning around 1906, the Whetstone family owned the building and ran the hardware store for three generations. Mike’s father bought the building and the business sixty years ago and ran it as a traditional hardware store. Forty years later, Mike and Libby settled into the upstairs apartment and took over the store. The wall of wooden drawers behind the cash counter is original to the hardware store, each drawer with a story to tell.

Since Mike and Libby took over, the business has evolved into something quite different. What started as a hardware store, and still stocks all the hardware basics, has morphed into an amazing emporium well worth the browsing. Apart from the soccer memorabilia, it is a cache chock-full of collectibles, home-made lamps, used furniture, restored porcelain, goods on consignment, garden goods, jars, baskets, all sorts of hidden treasures just waiting for you to discover.

Libby and Mike are into re-using, recycling and restoring. They welcome second-hand furniture, kitchen goods, silverware, collectibles, which they are happy to accept on consignment and put on display in the window. If there is something you want to get rid of, Mike will come and pick it up. He will also make house calls to attend to built-in lamps needing attention.

Since she was a child and earned her own pocket-money, Libby has always worked with her hands. In her 20s, she sold her homemade sheepskin moccasins, jewellery, and hair bows in the street. Now, she makes many of the soccer goods for sale. She also collects old glass lamps, rewires them, and hangs them from the ceiling, all the better for customers to see the lovely range of colours. She repairs lighting and restores porcelain and other collectibles. She fixes costume jewellery (not gold). It occurred to me that she is like my father, who had the skill and the patience to fix anything. I think I will bring to Libby that box of old costume jewellery which has sentimental value and needs to be fixed. During the quiet winter months, she has time to attend to that kind of work.

In the meantime, the soccer season is moving into high gear, and the party will begin. Ralph’s Hardware is open 9:00 to 9:00. Later, during soccer season and other festivities. It is located at 840 College Street, Toronto M6H 1A2. The phone number is 416-533-7294.

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