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Toronto thrift shop Double Take ramps up online sales ahead of temporary closure
Photo: OG Productionz/Pexels

Toronto thrift shop Double Take ramps up online sales ahead of temporary closure


Toronto thrift shop courts e-commerce clientele as it prepares for a large-scale renovation

A non-profit thrift store that’s been a fixture in downtown Toronto for over 20 years is exploring new ways to reach shoppers as its bricks-and-mortar location readies for renovation.

Double Take launched a shoppable website in December 2021 and is ramping up its social media presence to build brand awareness, especially among younger thrifters.

The online store stocks women’s and men’s clothing, accessories and household items, and offers shipping within Canada and the U.S., as well as free pickup for locals.

Double Take’s location in downtown Toronto is due for renovation beginning in late 2023. The shop has started offering e-commerce options ahead of the temporary closure. Photo: Double Take/YSM

Isabel Alves, Double Take’s online sales and digital marketing specialist, led the overhaul of the website, introducing fashion-forward imagery, tidy product photography and filters to search by colour and size.

“Having those selections make it a lot easier to shop online,” she explains. Without much budget available for marketing or web development, Alves keeps costs low by promoting on social media.

While the in-store demographic skews older — generally people who are local to the neighbourhood or returning customers — Alves says the website is geared toward Gen Z and Millennial shoppers.

Screengrab of website homepage depicting a woman with brown hair hanging a brass frame on a white wall.
Double Take’s new online store offers a curated selection of vintage, secondhand and upcycled fashion, decor and accessories. Photo: doubletakeysm.ca

“We don’t see a lot of them shopping in our store, but having a website and putting effort into our social media is a way to burst our bubble and get to more people,” says Alves, who currently adds the best pieces from the storefront location to the online store to convey a more curated experience for the online shopper.

Double Take steam presses all of its inventory and launders linens, which store manager Sharon Abel says sets it apart from the big-box thrift shops.

“We’re trying to be good stewards of the things people give to us,” says Abel of Double Take’s donations, which often come from entire private collections.

“People give us really amazing pieces. They know we are independent, they know we are doing good in the community, and they’re very generous to be giving us their grandmother’s prized possessions.”

Storefront to be redeveloped

Double Take has been located between Toronto’s Cabbagetown and Regent Park neighbourhoods at 310 Gerrard St. E. since 1999, and is the only non-profit thrift shop left in an area that once housed many, says Abel.

Rising property prices and developers battling over precious parcels of land in the city’s downtown core may have driven out other shops over the years, but for now, Double Take is staying put.

Exterior view of a thrift store decorated with a mural depicting raised hands in various skin tones.
YSM’s Double Take thrift shop in downtown Toronto sees a mix of community members, thrifters and resellers pass through the doors. Photo: Double Take/YSM

As an employment initiative of the Yonge Street Mission (YSM) — a community development agency that assists families in need, street-involved youth and people experiencing chronic poverty — Double Take is part of a group of YSM-owned buildings slated to be redeveloped.

Construction is expected to begin sometime in late 2023 once zoning applications are approved.

The project will see three buildings and a parking lot replaced with a modern 10-storey mixed-use building called The Opportunity Centre, which will offer affordable housing and market rental units, space for community programming and a larger retail space to house Double Take.

‘More than enough’ clothing for community, resellers

Double Take’s business model is to provide paid work placements for adults and youth engaged in YSM programming and “who have had traumatic employment experiences or who don’t have many employment experiences at all,” explains Abel.

“The participants gain experience and confidence” while tapping into YSM services to land their next roles.

When and if the shop does make a profit, the proceeds are poured right back into the YSM for more community programs.

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Double Take’s storefront is designed to serve a wide range of clientele, from community members who need affordable clothing options to thrifters who are seeking interesting vintage and secondhand finds.

A “boutique” area stocks a selection of quality and designer pieces at higher price points. Proceeds from those items help to cover the cost of cleaning the clothing, and in turn allow Double Take to maintain lower prices on the rest of the racks, Abel says. A clearance section has items tagged for a few dollars apiece.

A collection of black, grey, cream, and burgundy winter jackets on a sale rack.
A constant flow of donations means Double Take is well stocked for shoppers. As a non-profit, all proceeds go back into community programming through parent company Yonge Street Mission. Photo: Double Take/YSM

Abel says there’s more than enough inventory coming through the store to keep members of the community, thrifters and vintage sellers coming back.

“We have so much stuff, and we are trying to be responsible and pick out the things that we know our target market is going to be interested in online,” she says.

A steady stream of donations means there’s always new products in the mix. Abel says that while there’s been a rise in reselling, those shoppers are usually on the hunt for “gems” or specific items. “I don’t think that the community has suffered from it,” she says.

Double Take does occasionally implement limits on types of clothing that are critical for people in need, such as winter coats, to ensure there is enough to go around.

But the store is still experiencing the effects of the pandemic on its retail operations after being closed for five months in 2020 and limiting in-person shopping in accordance with COVID-19 protocols. Ultimately, the shop needs more revenue to continue employing people, Abel says.

Temporary transition to online

To attract more young shoppers while at its current location, Double Take plans to add more onsite workshops — the store routinely hosts local makers and artisans to stage repair and mending classes and upcycling lessons.

The store also offers retail space to upcyclers at a reduced rate so they can sell items on consignment, and is placing a stronger emphasis on the positive environmental impact of shopping secondhand to win over the Gen Z cohort. “It’s something that’s always been part of our DNA, but we are trying to promote it more now,” Abel says.

Screengrab of website with a photo collage depicting sprigs of lavender, a man wearing a black parka, and a pair of women on a sidewalk.
Double Take’s online aesthetic is geared toward a younger shopper than those who tend to frequent the store, says Isabel Alves, online sales and digital marketing specialist for Double Take. Photo: doubletakeysm.ca

Since Abel joined Double Take in August 2020, she’s been committed to reducing the organization’s waste. The massive piles of donations the store receives are a microcosm of what’s happening with textile waste on a larger scale, she says.

Abel instituted an upcycling section, which stocks garments with fabric in relatively good condition but that would be tossed at other secondhand stores — such as those requiring extensive repairs or those with stains in certain spots.

For any pieces that can’t be sold on the floor or in the upcycling studio, Double Take works with a textile recycling company to ensure every last scrap is disposed of appropriately.

Help for the community

While the majority of Double Take’s inventory is priced affordably for the local community, the organization also offers free clothing to people in need through gift certificates issued by YSM. The store also sends bulk clothing donations to YSM’s food bank as well as its Evergreen Centre for Street-Involved Youth.

Abel says Double Take will continue to supply clothing to existing YSM programs during the temporary closure, though they’re still working out the details as to how the garments will be distributed.

“It’s really important to us that we make sure that the community can still get access to the free clothing,” she says.

Shop Double Take’s website.

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