By Afua Mfodwo
Walking down College Street on a cold grey winter day, people notice vibrant colours reflecting off scarfs, books, and cards in one of the storefront windows.
Garlands made from repurposed wrapping paper hang at the top of both windows. Above them, rusted metal letters on the wall, spell out “Red Pegasus.” The letters, like the accompanying small metal welded Pegasus , are handcrafted by a local artist.
Inside, owner Rachel Chester greets visitors simultaneously with Charlotte, a dark brown miniature pinscher mix breed with light brown eyes,
Chester uses this gift store to promote community, environmental sustainability and conscious living through its wide range of products.
“I often will move towards anything that has animals with them, or around them or environmental sort of pictures. Whether it’s in the children’s books, even in home-wares I like to present animals and oceans”says Chester.
Fall 2020 marks exactly 25 years since the store opened in Little Italy.
“When I opened in ‘95, this area was emerging as an area where a lot of the people from the film world were coming to,” Chester says, sitting in her office.
“There was a place called Bar Italia, and they had a very much arts-associated crowd… Many people gathered there. And I saw that as a note. So I went, this area looks promising, no one else was in the area. So I thought I would move in.” said Chester.
Four plaques from Now Toronto lean against the wall, all for the magazine’s Best Unique Gift Store award from 2000-2004.
The store’s name was inspired by Chester’s love of horses. “Pegasus,” suggested by a former roommate, was changed to Red Pegasus in honour of a copper-red mare Chester rode when she registered the business. Although she no longer rides, Chester’s passion for horses led her into natural horsemanship.
Gift cards highlight the work of local artists like Gotamago and foreign art like cards with illustrations from The New Yorker Magazine. In the celebrations section, there are no pictures of balloons; nor are any garbage cans visible in the store. These are conscious decisions made to avoid messages that damage the environment and encourage waste.
Chester sees the store as a place for locals to build community. “I wanted to get a sense of being a person in the community and a kind of a hub for people to come gather, you know, buy their gifts, but also meet people,” Chester said.
This was the case for a regular customer who walked into the store to buy jewellery for his wife’s birthday. Whilst Chester offered him advice, the two bonded over a memorable event they witnessed almost exactly a year ago.
Chester was finalizing a purchase for this customer and his wife when a man walked into the store sweating profusely. “ He was very nervous, out of breath…We were all a little startled.” Chester said.
The man asked to use the store phone to call a cab, for what Chester and the customers assumed was an emergency health situation. “Turns out it was an emergency bank-robber reason because he needed to get away,” said Chester.
Seconds later, the police arrived and the man started running. “The gentleman proceeded to push the back door but the snow stopped it, so he did not get a clean break. He then proceeded to slip and slide all over the ice and snow and the police caught up to him,” said Chester.
According to police who spoke to Chester and the couple later that day, the man had been released for charges related to bank robbery the day before.
On days where Chester isn’t in the store her longest working associate, Danielle Macdonald greets customers. During her time at Red Pegasus, she got into jewellery making and sold a few of her pieces in the store. She also added her creative touch to the storefront windows by making the garlands.
“I learned how to cut metal and solder and do stone settings… I then invested in tools and started making stuff,” Macdonald said. “I did some basic jewellery and I sold it here in the store. It was great to get feedback directly from the customers.” As she speaks, she polishes a pair of silver triangle hoop earrings, with a red and white polishing cloth.
One harsh winter’s day, a woman entered the store to warm up while waiting for the streetcar. “Rachel, without hesitation, ran to the back, got a big scarf,” said Macdonald. It was on sale, and not for cheap, but Chester just wrapped it around the woman’s neck, “and sent her on her way.”Macdonald recalled.
Light shines directly onto a wall display of gift bags and wrapping paper sheets, illuminating teal wrapping paper with bright gold illustrations of foxes, squirrels and leaves on it. Below it, pink wrapping paper with peacock feathers, and gold details complement the first. The iridescent green and blue centre of the feather is somewhat connected to the teal above it. The touches of gold around the edges of the feather are a similar shade of gold to the first.
The sun has set and it’s snowing. The grey clouds match the small snowflakes that fall and melt onto the concrete.
Standing behind the glass counter, with Charlotte curled up in her bed sleeping peacefully, Chester describes what she hopes people experience at Red Pegasus.
“I just hope it inspires them. I hope it makes them look into areas they might not have been thinking about on a natural scale. Potentially they might feel inspired by the cards to send a note or a message to someone they love. Or have an inspiration to maybe beautify their home a little bit ….and also that the quality and the timelessness of it gives them a good feeling.
“So they are buying something more than just a product.”