Shelley Town missed standing behind a counter.
She had previously run two stores on the Danforth, Pulp and Butterfield 8, but she wanted to open another one.
Since she lives in Toronto’s east end, Ms. Town looked on the Danforth first, but discovered it had become much too expensive. Ms. Town, who had just worked four years as a retail consultant, found much the same in the west end on Roncesvalles, Dundas and College, and in Leslieville, as well as everywhere else she looked: All the storefront spaces were either too expensive or required too much work. Landlords wanted as much as $4,000 a month.
But at a party in June, 2012, Ms. Town was told by two separate people that she should scope out Bloordale, the stretch of Bloor Street West between Lansdowne Avenue and Dufferin Street. She started at Lansdowne, where there is a crowded Coffee Time, and walked east along Bloor Street past a discount mattress store, a pawn shop, a tattoo parlour and a store that sold used work clothes – perhaps for people from the factories north and south of the intersection.
“It was a bit scruffy, which I liked,” Ms. Town said.
When she opened her card and design store, Town, in late October, 2012, people stopped by to thank her for helping change the neighbourhood. The neighbourhood almost didn’t need the help. The Bloordale strip, over the past year, has quickly gentrified – and attracted the art galleries, bluegrass nights, house-flipping and store renovations that tend to come with that.
The place she chose had “bars on the window [and] smelly carpeting,” she said, but the renovations weren’t going to cost that much, and the place was roughly half the price as others she had looked at.
Now, next door to the Coffee Time nearby, there is a trendy restaurant called the Whippoorwill, with a line-up-worthy brunch and cocktails named after local businesses (such as “the Caribbean Queen”). There is a Nordic smokehouse café and a store called Zeebu that sells blankets made by former Brazilian prisoners. There is also a retro vintage store selling used clothing and other items quite ironically: One item for sale is a small piece of old looking wood that has two hand written labels on it; one, which reads “Early telephone ?!?”, offers a vague sense of a narrative, while the other simply says “Sexy block of wood. $15.”
“In this neighbourhood, people like stuff with a story behind it,” said Craig Williamson, co-owner of Zebuu.
Mr. Williamson, whose store also sells Gandhian blankets from India made from home-spun cotton, is referring to the new people coming by, the people who stroll by after brunch at the Whippoorwill, or after dinner or lunch at the Emerson or Keralia or Brock Sandwich. He is not referring to the people who gave the neighbourhood its previous reputation for addiction and crime, or the folks who swing by the House of Lancaster strip club.
The 2011 census lists the area’s main non-English, non-French mother tongues as Portuguese, Spanish, Italian and Cantonese. The census of 2006 lists the area’s median income at just $22,582, but even though there is no comparable data for 2011, anecdotally, people who work in the area say that the makeup of the neighbourhood has changed markedly.
“You see more family people around,” says Georgia Hamilton, the chef, owner and “everything else” of a Bloordale roti shop, as she serves up some cashew brittle. “No hustling. No hustlers. No drug dealers. No more hustlers coming in. More shops. More bakeries.”
But not more factories. Todd Gariepy has worked for 25 years in a plant just north of Bloor Street near Lansdowne Avenue. He has watched the neighbourhood change: the women working the corner slowly move on, the syringes on the ground and the drug dealers disappear. But even though he can still eat at Pepper’s, a restaurant nearby that has survived all the changes, he has also watched as multiple factories close up and then be transformed into lofts or replaced by townhouses. Mr. Gariepy was almost forced out of the neighbourhood himself, when the Canada Packers factory he worked in shut down in 1990. His job was saved when the factory was quickly bought up by a Japanese firm, Nitta Gelatin NA Inc.
“Some things don’t change, they’ve stood the test of time – like us, we’re still here,” Mr. Gariepy said, though he was unsure of how long the factory would remain. “It’s good, I guess. You know, there’s people who want to live in the area.”
One semi-detached in the neighbourhood that sold for $460,000 in 2010 just recently sold for $652,000. “It just seems to be that classic gentrification story,” said Ryan Barnes, a Re/Max salesperson who sells properties in Bloordale.
Recently, next door to Ms. Town’s store, a building was gutted and renovated – both the street-level store space and the apartments above it. After inquiring, Ms. Town discovered the space was going for roughly $4,000, precisely the type of gentrification-inflated sum she fled west to escape.
“That kind of rent is the first kind of [that] rent on the street,” Ms. Town said. “I don’t think the neighbourhood is ready for that yet. Every other store is a cash for gold or a laundromat or a pawn shop.”
Intersections is an occasional series on corners of the GTA that are in transition.