3 min

A hotdog here, a hotdog there

Same businesses feel unloved by Pride

WHERE DID SHE BUY THAT WATER? Church St businesses feel snubbed by Pride's vendor choices. Credit: Jan Becker

Pride Week has rolled into town, drawing swarms of partygoing queers, a miniature economic boom and complaints about who should be benefitting.

Some Church St business owners say that event organizers have lost touch with businesses that operate in the gay village year-round and in doing so, have created a headache out of what should be a celebration.

The controversy springs from the placement of temporary vendors during the street closures on Saturday and Sunday. In previous years, food and drink stands were placed in front of the now closed Booster Juice, Second Cup and Timothy’s. In each case, the temporary vendor bore an eerie resemblance to the permanent business it blocked.

“There were mistakes made and we know that,” says Ayse Turak, co-chair of Pride Toronto. “We’ve taken some steps to move forward.”

Church St is packed with restaurants; stores selling Pride gear are everywhere. Why have competing vendors anyway?

“We want to give a variety,” says Turak. “We want to give a large range of food options to people… at various price points.”

A Pride weekend vendor pays up to $1,600 for a prime location. But business owners say they pay for their prime locations with property taxes that rival Yorkville’s.

“I pay excruciatingly high rent to be on Church St,” says Kristyn Wong-Tam, owner of Timothy’s. “When Pride shoots in a vendor in front of my store, I take offence to it, absolutely.”

Nicole Green, owner of Nicole Auberge, says her sales pick up during Pride Week, but fall off on Sunday, so she closes. Though her business hasn’t been affected by street vendors, she’s worried about their effect on neighbouring stores.

“For all these other [stores] on the street, I don’t think it’s fair to them,” Green says. “Why do you need to buy it off the street? It ends up hurting the people who are here.”

After last year’s complaints, Pride Toronto paid extra attention to the vendor selection process, holding two consultation sessions with business owners and inviting them to make first offers for street vendor locations. None accepted. There will be one-off vendors again this year, but Pride promises to put them in less antagonistic places.

Wong-Tam and Green say there’s no question they value the work of Pride Toronto and the dedication of its volunteers. They just have difficulties communicating with the sometimes bureaucratic organization. With 13 committees, four full-time staff and eight board members, it’s tricky to figure out who to talk to.

This year there’s been a new staff member focussing on community relations, but this doesn’t mean individuals feel more connected to organizers.

“I haven’t had any experience with them,” says Green, aside from receiving requests for donations. She’s been on the street for almost seven years.

Wong-Tam says that the key to reinvigorating support from businesses is rediscovering the week’s political roots.

“I challenge the Pride committee that we have not lived up to our lineage as a strong and proud community. Now it’s more [about] acceptance and partying,” she says. “I believe in good socializing and beer drinking… but it doesn’t mean that our battle is over.”

Wong-Tam imagines a theme around same-sex marriage, with a million participants. She also imagines less corporate focus, as does Green.

“If you allow all the corporate interests in, it destroys the eco-balance of the whole equation and it’s no longer something that’s going to support the community,” says Green. “They’re not going to run a profit in goodwill with the community.” Pride is predicting a deficit this year.

Turak says organizers try to facilitate a space for queers to express themselves and have used political themes like “Uncensored” in the past. She and other Pride Toronto leaders try to take comments from the community and use them to build a stronger event in future years.

“It’s always a learning experience… and the organization learns and moves forward,” Turak says. “I think where we’ve come to from where we were is incredible.”

As next year marks Pride’s25th anniversary and the second anniversary of the community relations staff position, it will serve as a barometer of that learning and Pride’s connection to its constituents.

“This year we really took some great efforts to prevent what happened and the proof will be in the pudding at Pride,” says Turak.

* For noncommercial street activity check out the women’s community fair from noon-6pm on Sat, Jun 26 and the community fair on Wellesley St, west of Church on Sun, Jun 27.