The new Hells Angels retail store in Leslieville is friendly, expensive, and feels...a little like a clubhouse.
If you’re unaccustomed to entering unmarked storefronts, the Hells Angels retail store, now open in Leslieville, at 98 Carlaw Avenue, is unsettling. The closed plastic blinds make it impossible to see what’s going on inside. From the outside, the only indication of activity is a glowing neon “open” sign and the number “81” (the numerical equivalent of the letters “H” and “A”) displayed in a window. Open up the doors and there’s a cute dog named Chanel following around tweens shopping for tank tops.
The Hells Angels store has the charm of a punk-show merch kiosk and smells like one, too. Two staff members quickly emerged from a back room to straighten up T-shirt hangers and ask questions. They were cagey at first, but they opened up after a little conversation.
There are racks and racks of branded shirts and sweaters. Everything is black, red, and white. A glass case at the front displays lighters, ashtrays, keychains, and panties, all declaring support for “BRM Downtown”—short for “Big Red Machine,” which is a nickname for the Hells Angels.
You won’t find any bargains at the store. They’re charging $5 for a calendar from 2005. Its pages contain two pairs of naked breasts and dates that will be relevant again in 2022. The most popular item is a black hoodie with flames on it.
Without question, the style needs an update, but that hasn’t stopped brands from ripping off the club’s insignia. In 2010, the Hells Angels won a lawsuit against Alexander McQueen, who had unwisely used winged skulls on some handbags and jewelry. The club also sued Toys “R” Us over some “Death’s Head” yo-yos, and Wildfox over shirts that read, “My Boyfriend Is a Hells Angel.”
Only members are allowed to wear the club’s title on their clothing, which is why none of the apparel explicitly says “Hells Angels.” All the merchandise uses code words and metonyms.
The relationship between crime and fashion was addressed during last year’s Ontario Supreme Court case against the Toronto Hells Angels. During an April 2007 raid of the group’s Eastern Avenue clubhouse, trademarked clothing and accessories were seized as “offence-related property.”
In December of 2012, the court ruled that belt buckles, leather vests, and jewellery should be returned to their owners because the symbolism of membership didn’t warrant forfeiture. Toronto’s Hells Angels did, however, lose their clubhouse, because it harboured criminal activity. Now, they’ve opened the store, which invites a question: what’s the difference between a clubhouse and a store with a back room?
The Hells Angels run several successful storefronts across Canada, including ones in Moncton and Charlottetown. It’s surprising that they didn’t open up a retail store in Parkdale. It would have made a killing.
If you’re too scared to shop in person, you can always buy online. Just remember where your money’s going.