Back in 1989, when I started selling real estate in Hillcrest Village, Vaughan Road was stigmatized and it was an uphill battle convincing buyers to live close to Vaughan Road. Articles like this one in the Toronto Star explain the misconceptions affixed to this winding road sprouting popular streets like Rushton Road and Wychwood Avenue. The sketchy perception of Vaughan Road came to be only in modern times but is rapidly being lifted by delightful stores like Italy at Home.
Anna Sottile, owner of Italy at Home, reveals the true and hidden meaning of spirited Vaughan Road. Because my heritage and upbringing is similar to Anna's, blended with my love for Hillcrest Village, her story touched me deeply. Her tale can be one of yours, with your parents or grandparents moving from Grace Street to Forest Hill or Shaw Street to Woodbridge. This is Anna’s story:
The question I get asked most often is not “what made you start Italy at Home”’ but “what are you doing on Vaughan Road”? The answer is “I’ve always been here and I love it here”.
In the fall of 1965, my family opened a neighbourhood grocery store, Sottile Bros. Grocery, right here at 421 Vaughan Road and we lived in the apartment above the store with my uncle and his family – 8 people squished in a 900 square foot apartment. And still the memories were all good!
For 20 years, residents from across this neighbourhood would come through our store each and every week, filling their carts with groceries for their families and, at the end of the day, our orange delivery van (with an image of a little boy holding a gigantic mortadella) wound its way through the streets making door-to-door deliveries. As a child, I recall this store was always full of moms and kids and men talking animatedly about work, war and some guy named Mussolini.
This was a bustling neighbourhood where everybody knew your name and where everything you needed was a short walk from home. Walkscore wasn’t even in our consciousness. The grocery store eventually closed but my childhood memories of life on Vaughan Road remain. My family still remembers all our customers, speaking of them often and fondly.
After spending some time working in Italy, I moved back in 2000 and refurbished the store front to create Italy at Home bringing the beauty, warmth and flavours of that enchanting, sun-drenched country to Toronto. What began as a business-to-business importing company has evolved into a go-to neighbourhood gift shop. Now and then, many of Sottile Grocery’s old customers still pop by Italy at Home and in some cases, their children and grandchildren shop here too.
Today, with so many people and families from many different backgrounds in the neighbourhood, there is always a reason to celebrate! From corporate gifting to birthdays, milestones to Christmas, Easter, Passover, Purim and other religious holidays, teacher gifts, weddings and new babies - we offer a selection of ready-made customized gifts, beautifully packaged making your special occasions memorable.
Italy at Home is a gourmet gift shop offering the very finest chocolates, cookies, cakes, handmade pastas, sauces, premium olive oils, balsamic vinegars and more from across Italy, wrapped into smart, elegant arrangements for corporate and personal gift-giving.
In 2010, NonnaCookies was born: a line of handmade Italian cookies that are baked on the premises and I hope and dream of opening a small café in the front of the shop someday soon.
My original plan was to start Italy at Home here and then move on to another location in the city. Although as time went by I realized how great it is to be in a neighbourhood where everybody knows your name and how great it is that everything I need is a short walk from home. I guess that’s why I still live in the neighbourhood and never left.
Come visit me at 421 Vaughan Road and let’s create a new generation of memories together.
In the meantime look us up on our website Italy at Home.