3 min

Church St merchants axe Fetish Fair

'Fetish Fair as we know it ended last year': BIA

In protest against the Church and Wellesley BIA's decision to rebrand Fetish Fair, members of the leather community held a flashmob march up the street in 2011. Credit: Andrea Houston

Summer in the Church and Wellesley Village is about to get a little less kinky now that members of the local business association have decided they will no longer host the Church St Fetish Fair.

David Wootton, manager of the Church Wellesley Village Business Improvement Area (BIA), said the board has unanimously decided to instead host several family-friendly “partnership” events throughout the summer that will attract a wider range of people to the Village. If there are to be any street closures, it will be for events involving the area merchants, he says, like a sidewalk sale or patio extensions. The Fetish Fair, which ran for seven years, stopped drawing the crowds it used to, he says.

“Fetish Fair as we know it ended last year,” Wootton tells Xtra. “Our concern this year is keeping doors open because, as you know, more and more businesses are leaving the street. We don’t want to see the Village die. We figure our job here is to ensure that we do as much as we can to bring in traffic and return traffic into the area . . . Man can not live on queer dollars alone.”

The BIA is making tough decisions because merchants are treading water financially. “Yes, Loblaws has been a huge disruption . . . It’s a challenge with this BIA, working with its members, whether they are LGBT-positive or not. There is an assumption that we just serve to the LGBT community, but we have an obligation to ensure we remain a destination for queer people. So we have to play that balance really well.”

Wootton is not closing the door to future partnerships with Toronto Leather Pride or other community organizations that may decide to pick up the torch and host a similar fetish event on Church St.

Jack Pearce, president of Toronto Leather Pride, has seen the writing on the wall for a while, and the confirmation of Fetish Fair’s cancellation was not at all surprising. He says his goal is to eventually take the reins and add a street-fair element to Toronto Leather Pride Weekend at Zipperz, which takes place Aug 9 to 11.

“Fetish Fair died two years ago,” he says. “In a way, we have already replaced Fetish Fair. What we saw last year was not Fetish Fair.”

In 2011, the BIA decided to rebrand the Fetish Fair into the Church St Village Fair: Leather to Lace. Not every business owner approved of the change. At the BIA’s annual general meeting in November, Stephen Roy, of Flash, took issue with the BIA’s attempt to entice families to the fair. As part of its changes, the BIA rented “adult toys,” including a Ferris wheel, a mechanical bull and large inflatable games. At the time, the BIA told Xtra it wanted the event to be “all-inclusive, all ages and all walks of life.”

“If families are so important, do a separate event for families,” Roy says. “Families are a huge minority in our community. Those inflatable things they rented were ridiculous. The bottom line is fetish is part of our culture. Give us one day. It’s our community.”

To protest the BIA’s sanitization of Fetish Fair, Pearce led a protest march along Church St that afternoon.

This year, Pearce says, all fetish events will be kept strictly on the patio at Zipperz. “That’s just a cost-effective decision for us. Down the road, maybe even next year, we may expand things.”

The Fetish Fair cost the BIA $53,000, a quarter of its budget, Wootton says. Other BIA events throughout the year, such as Halloweek, will continue.

Wootton rejects any idea that the cancellation of Fetish Fair is further evidence of the gentrification of the Village, once Toronto’s mecca of sexual freedom and queer liberation.

“This is about getting people back into the Village,” he says. “We need the LGBTQ community, which lives all over the city, to come back to the Village and support our businesses. You like the aesthetic of the gay community? We need you to come back and support the businesses.”

Toronto’s gaybourhood is not alone, he says. Queer villages around the world are changing. “As queer people branch out into the straight community with more and more acceptance, gay, lesbian and queer people in general can live wherever they want. So we are watching to see how that develops organically over the next couple years, especially as we prepare the Village for WorldPride 2014.”

Wootton says the BIA has put the focus on neighbourhood beautification, business development and local programming. “We need people to come back. The queer community is simply not utilizing the Village the way they were 10 to 15 years ago, and that’s natural because things change.”

“It’s just not the same Village it was 20 years ago, with a gay man flocking down to the ghetto because it was the only place he could have dinner with his date or hold hands or buy a dildo or hit a bathhouse.”