Can anyone save The Salvage Shop?
Kingston Road fixture brimming with antique hardware (and plenty of oddities) faces eviction
Roy Clifford can't help it.
Antiques, he explains, "just find me."
The self-professed "collecting machine" owns The Salvage Shop, which is filled with tonnes — literally, tonnes — of antique everything. He also has a big problem. He's being evicted.
Clifford loves toys. So it's no surprise there's a mini version of his Kingston Road shop behind the cash register, complete with a wooden wrecking ball heading straight for it.
He was making enough to pay his rent, but major road repairs in the area had slowed business in recent years. This year, he was hoping to bounce back, until his landlord sold the property.
"We were just getting on our feet when the company came and ran us over with the bulldozer," he told CBC Toronto.
Now, "the nightmare clock is ticking."
Core Development Group recently purchased Roy's store and the adjoining Kingston Road strip of stores and plans to replace them with condo buildings.
In February, Clifford said he was given an eviction notice for July 17 and told his shop could be converted into the development's presentation centre.
Core's president Bryan Nykoliation sent CBC Toronto a statement that says: "We are sympathetic to the concerns of small business owners who are affected by the redevelopment and are working with them to achieve the best outcome for all involved."
Clifford says the news has been devastating.
He also says he has no idea how he's going to move everything. What shoppers see is just 20 per cent of what he actually has, while the rest is squirrelled away in three other buildings that will also be part of the condo development.
One of Clifford's friends has a joke that his business is a like a "100-year-old Home Hardware," which may actually be a good way to visualize the store's inventory.
And everything must go.
Clifford's customers are crushed.
On a Friday afternoon, a steady stream comes through the shop. Clifford gives a TTC worker some advice on repairing an old door while another woman launches an hours-long search for some items to put some vintage soul into her home.
Sophie Stead first met Clifford at his store's first incarnation, a storefront in Leslieville, and has been coming ever since.
"It's like walking back in time," she said.
"I just feel like we're losing a lot of the heartbeat of the city when places like this shut down."
Jocelyn Greenwood and her husband come all the way from Whitby to shop at the Salvage Shop, due to its collection of brand new, but very old hardware.
"To me, this place is a gem," she said, holding a classic light fixture that Clifford had untangled from the ceiling.
To some, it may look like a mess. To minimalists "it's living hell," Clifford boasts. But somehow, Clifford, who stands well over six-feet tall and will turn 60 this year, seems to know where everything is and moves through the shop with ease.
When something is out of place, he knows why.
"Ugh, customers," he says, only partly joking.
Even as the clock ticks toward moving day, he still seems to have a strong connection with everything he's acquired. At one point he takes a call about an 80-drawer card collector that once likely served a small library, but admits after hanging up that he's still not sure he wants to give it up.
"I like things that will hold a lot of stuff," he says.
Toronto Coun. Gary Crawford said his office is trying to help Clifford relocate, and there are some good reasons to keep him open. For one, Crawford said he wants small business to thrive. But the city is also interested in keeping some of The Salvage Shop's biggest clients — Hollywood set designers — happy.
The city made some $2 billion from the film industry last year, and many of the movies shot here contain odds and ends from Clifford's collection.
"We absolutely need to figure how to continue to make that grow. Roy's shop is one of the important aspects of that — that's how vital it is," he said.
Ask Clifford about the industry, and he's far more enamoured with the set designers who go to great lengths to make backgrounds historically accurate than the stars.
Here's an incredibly incomplete list of the things you can find at the store:
- Hundreds of doors, doorknobs and door-knockers
- Dozens of typewriters, radios and other gadgets
- Several autographed pictures given to Roy, including one from Gord Downie and another from Jennifer Lopez, who he claims to have met at a bar — "I didn't know who she was," he said.
- A rescue cat named Princess Scruffy (note: Scruffy wasn't found during the visit, but this isn't a surprise considering the number of hiding places available in the shop.)
You get the idea.
Clifford is running an online fundraiser to find a new space, but admits it's not going well. "Are you blasting it out on social media?" one concerned customer asks him, to which he just shakes his head.
"I'm not too techno-savvy," he responds.
Roy says he doesn't know what he'll do next. There will be a lot of sales, he says, but it's hard to see how he'll be able to offload everything, especially because he doesn't want to sell his stuff by the box-load at an auction.
"This is monumentous to try and move this," he said.
What does he want to do? Expand, of course. And open a Toronto antique mall.