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When it comes to customer expectations, the sky is pretty much the limit inside the tasteful shops at Scrivener Square, distastefully known as the Five Thieves.

The little strip of specialty food markets along Yonge Street, near the LCBO's large Summerhill store, has long been a favourite stop for those who have it all but still want more -- such as unpasteurized cheese from a single herd of cattle that roams the Magdalen Islands, or Minus 8 icewine vinegar, $35.95 for 100 millilitres.

If keeping the clients happy means, say, hand-whipping a batch of cream and sending it, by taxi, to a woman baking a chocolate cake late on a Friday, Jane Rodmell is only too happy to oblige.

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"The whole thing that we do has to be over the top, in product and service," says Ms. Rodmell, majority owner of All The Best Fine Foods.

Aiming high might be the Rosedale way, but even here, tolerance of others' lofty ambitions has its limits. Just ask Paul Oberman, by night a Rosedale Road resident and, by day, the promoter of a 38-storey condo project practically in his own nest, just behind the Five Thieves.

"I think it's fair to say we were quite taken aback by the response," says Mr. Oberman, president of Woodcliffe Corp., referring to a public meeting the city held last week on the development company's proposal.

It was, by most accounts, more like a public roasting, with opponent after opponent lining up to slam the project while shouting down the few who dared support it.

Resistance to high-rise projects is nothing new, least of all in Toronto, where increasing pressure to intensify land use in the core has led to increasingly organized efforts to stop them by angry neighbours, whose concerns typically involve traffic, parking and the shadows cast by tall buildings.

The shadow is on the mind of Phyllis Sutton, a nine-year resident of Chestnut Park Road.

"It's going to really overshadow the club," says Ms. Sutton, fresh from a stop at Pisces Gourmet Seafood Specialty Shop. She's referring to the Toronto Lawn Tennis Club, where it is feared the Woodcliffe tower will interfere with the sun during afternoon matches, and shade the swimming pool.

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A more grave concern, perhaps, is also a somewhat nebulous one -- the tower's potential impact on the character of the area, which Ms. Sutton described as "a real community neighbourhood. It's like a little village here."

It's a village that includes names like Atom Egoyan and Eugene Levy, along with a who's who of the city's business elite. It was this class of resident, with its discriminating tastes, that gave rise to the Five Thieves (there were seven initially) about 30 years ago.

"We love our overpriced bread, we love our $10 pineapples and our $20 grapes," says Jennifer Ayres, president of the 200-member Summerhill Residents Association. "We'll pay for them."

To some, Mr. Oberman's proposal will be "a finger up in the air" or a phallic symbol in the midst of an otherwise good thing, Ms. Ayres says. Most offensive to her group is that they worked with city officials for years, on a volunteer basis, to come up with local guidelines to keep new construction in line with the surroundings. Now, they face a proposal that falls outside those guidelines, not to mention the city's official plan and the zoning on the site.

"If the plan is not adhered to, then what's the point of having a plan?" she asks.

Some also worry that the project -- which envisions the Five Thieves in the historic building they occupy now, but in expanded, renovated and pricier space -- will tear the shops asunder and put much-dreaded chain stores in their place. One long-time tenant, Robert Sidi of Patachou Patisserie, has already moved across the street to avoid a three-fold rent increase he says Mr. Oberman requested.

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"What he was asking us to do, really, was to pay for our success," Mr. Sidi says.

Mr. Oberman refuses to discuss the rent increases, and insists all the current merchants are enthusiastically on board. But there are notes of uncertainty in some of their voices.

"It's really hard to tell until we get there," says Danny Di Marco, manager of Harvest Wagon, a produce market that carries, among other things, more than 20 varieties of tomatoes in summer.

Mr. Di Marco has been dealing with nervous clients ever since Mr. Oberman revealed early details of his plans last fall.

"They're worried we're going to all leave," he says, adding that customers rely on him to bring in the goods they've grown used to. "We're here for the people, right? If it's a chain store, it's totally different."

Ms. Rodmell credits Mr. Oberman with being "very open" to feedback from the merchants and "seemingly very sincere in his expression that he wants us to stay here." She also has nothing but praise for his company's stellar renovation of the adjacent former North Toronto railway station into the Summerhill LCBO.

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While the tower is far from a fait accompli -- city planning staff will make a recommendation to politicians, pro or con, later this year -- Ms. Rodmell sounds positive, but cautious, about the coming change.

"We have to be able to run a business we can be proud of; we don't want to cut corners," she says. "At the moment, we're just waiting."

areinhart@globeandmail.com

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