The Toronto Star - April 17, 2013

Vintage curiosity shop exceeds expectations

Blackbird Vintage Finds

Address: 11 Trinity St.

Intimidation factor: Nominal. There is a strong, retro industrial vibe which blends in with the aesthetic of the reclaimed Distillery District.

Number of salespeople on floor: One, owner Paula DiRenzo.

Response time: Immediate. DiRenzo senses a kindred spirit as I zero in on a faded blue and black wooden cemetery cross from Paris circa 1902. She has headstones in her living room.

Vibe: Tim Burton’s fantasy house meets Crate & Barrel.

Price range: From $1.99 for a gift tag to $995 for a vintage chest of industrial steel drawers.

Rating: Four stuffed pheasants out of four.

CBC duffel bags from Red Canoe outside Blackbird Vintage Finds lure me into the store, which totally exceeds my expectations of a purveyor of gifts and lifestyle goodies.

It is all that — but is also a curio shop with a Victorian steampunk aesthetic which includes taxidermy (a stuffed pheasant is for sale, for $275) and black, ruffled, oversized umbrellas straight out of Mary Poppins ($59).

You expect the shop would be in Europe or Louisiana, not Toronto.

Where else would you find an old Remington typewriter and very cool typewriter-key bracelets ($90) and cufflinks ($65)?

There’s bathroom humour: A soap dish inscribed with “modesty is the best policy” ($22.95), and a vintage “Ladies Bathroom” sign for $95.

Exotically-scented candles with skull, owl, whale and top-hat motifs are $39.95; wax candles that run on batteries are priced from $36 to $46 — perfect for use in a $595 antique French iron floor lantern. Owner Paula DiRenzo gravitates to things with an industrial bent.

Remarkably, DiRenzo doesn’t have a design background. She is an English literature grad who always dreamt of living in a castle. I assume with Count Dracula, Vincent Price and Edgar Allan Poe as roomies.

She has an antique Romanian iron church cross ($225), which is helpful in warding off vampires. Her selection of jewelry includes a cross to wear ($65) and even the wool blankets ($145) have a cross on them.

But the shop is not scary. It’s more like being in the attic of an eccentric aunt who was a hoarder. Exhibit A: Her mid-century dress form priced at $375.

Vintage collectibles include boxing gloves ($125); bowling pins ($45); a pair of cast-iron hand weights ($125); an old Eastman Kodak camera ($195); an industrial glass lamp with a single bulb on a wire ($159); and a glass pharmacy bottle for $95, perfect as a liquor dispenser.

A vintage men’s beaver top hat is $185 but lots of shops have them. Somehow DiRenzo has managed to source such rarities as two vintage clothing brushes with porcelain women’s torsos on the handles from the ’20s ($65 and $95). I have never seen them before in my years of prowling flea markets.

But a major percentage of the goods are reproductions, like toast-shaped coasters made of cork and bottle green cut-glass goblets. Bookplate reproductions are reconfigured into dandy wall hangings with illustrations like a mad scientist who looks like Benjamin Franklin contemplating the skeleton of a large bird for $345.

She carries an eclectic selection of greeting cards in addition to contemporary goodies that make for great gift items, like a calligraphy starter kit; bon voyage stickers for your luggage; and a travel journal.

And just when I thought I’d seen it all, I spot a vintage, army green Patient’s Effects bag. It’s not a body bag. It’s for holding the personal items of hospital patients and is old government-issue stock.

Priced at $19.95, it’s great for a lunch or disco bag.