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Not your typical general store

The Drake is a 'new version of the hotel gift shop'

The Drake General Store has four Toronto locations. Credit: Courtesy of the Drake General Store

If you’re anything like me, you’re starting to get into a bit of a panic around the whole gift-giving thing for Christmas. Now that I’m firmly entrenched in middle age, it’s become abundantly clear that just snatching up some tat from the local dollar store is no longer cute or kitschy: it’s downright cheap and tacky. So I’m always on the lookout for quirky, quality gifts that won’t cost the earth.

The Drake General Store is one of those chachka stores that offers a variety of neat stuff, from adult-sized onesies to retro clocks and dinnerware. There’s a nice vintage/hipster vibe going on, with barn-board panelling  and rich colours. And like many similar lifestyle shops in Toronto, The Drake’s interesting stock seems to have a unifying style and colour palette that gives the store a cohesive style — without looking too matchy.

Of course, as varied and random as the items may seem, it’s all been carefully thought out. In marketing they call it “branding,” and the man behind The Drake General Store’s marketing vision is Daniel Okorn.

“It’s a new version of the hotel gift shop,” says Okorn, who has worked in marketing since 2006. “It’s young, it’s eclectic, and we try to source all of our products so they have a consistency.

“In the culinary section, for example, we curate everything. We pick the five or six cookbooks that we really love and put them in our shop. I can compare it to Kiosk in New York, or Siegfried’s in London, that idea of multiple departments but all very small and select.”

It’s also very Canadian, with many of the store’s bestsellers locally made by Toronto designers. There are flea-market signs, cashmere and knit sweaters, and a selection of totes and bags that are delightfully different than what you’ll find at The Bay or Holt Renfrew.

As you might expect, the thought and planning that goes into designing a season at The Drake General Store occurs months before the products actually hit the shelves. Okorn works closely with co-owners Carlo Colacci and Joyce Lo to keep things fresh and seasonal, incorporating the shop’s whimsical character into gifts that are both modern and nostalgic.

“We basically start with determining who our audience is for a specific campaign,” Okorn says. “For our holiday campaign, we came up with four different personas, and then we use those personas to build concepts for how to market to those groups.”

The store is a real delight for window shopping. I love the tangerine-orange clock radio on the shelf, designed to look like one of those old flip clocks from the 1970s (yes, I had one). And the boyfriend brooches, rendered in different faces, hair and ages, are absolutely adorable. I confess that it would probably take a gun and several pharmacists to get me into one of their adult onesies, but they are damn cute. 

There are also several private-label brands at The Drake General Store, including Shared and Shared History, a clothing, textiles and soaps line that is 100-percent Canadian designed, knit and sewn, and Arborist, an affordable socks, aprons, toques and scarves line that is also designed here. The 2013 Christmas season saw the launch of Held in Common, a higher-end collection of luxury knitwear.

“We love to try new things,” Okorn says. “And social media is an important part of reaching out to people. We use Instagram to show snapshots of what our lives are like at the office or in the stores.

“We’re not just trying to market products to people. Our main objective is to create context that people will want to see or read that is actually interesting, without necessarily pushing a product.”