Between 1995 and 2020, Canada’s oldest independent record retailer, KOPS Records, occupied an aged storefront at 229 Queen Street West, between Simcoe and Duncan Streets.
I don’t remember what, exactly prompted me to seek permission to photograph this particular store in February 2016, but it may have been hearing the news that Vortex Records on Yonge Street had just closed forever. Both KOPS and Vortex had entered the record business in the mid-1970s, and both specialized in vinyl.
By 2016, rising rents along Queen West were already causing some small retailers to close or move away. I may have had an intuition that the days of visiting KOPS at this welcoming location were numbered.
As my photos show, every part of the building’s intimate two-storey interior had been put to an appropriate use. Although it was packed with merchandise, it didn’t appear cluttered. This organized plenitude was something I was eager to record before it disappeared.
KOPS Records was in fact forced to vacate 229 Queen West in 2020 when its lease expired. Fortunately, it was able to find new accommodation at 395 Queen West, closer to Spadina Avenue. The facade of No. 229 has been cleaned up, and its interior renovated to accommodate its newest tenant, Toronto Cannabis Authority.
One of the anomalies of architectural preservation in Toronto is that many undistinguished but adaptable commercial storefronts along our main streets have outlived numerous buildings whose architectural quality, often a matter of civic pride for earlier generations, should have saved them from destruction.
229 Queen West is one of the survivors. It’s reasonable to assume that it was built in 1869 or 1870, since it first appears in Robertson and Cook’s Toronto City Directory of 1871-72. KOPS Records was the building’s thirty-seventh tenant, and its tenure was the longest. (See a complete list of tenancies from 1871 to 2023 (PDF), based on city directory listings.)
Whether it is worthy of historic designation or not, I think this storefront could serve as a case study of commerce along Queen Street West over the last 150 years.
Click any image below to open the slideshow.
All photos © P. MacCallum, 2023 (petermaccallum.com)