Independent food stores in Toronto's gay village have taken a hit since Loblaws moved into the area two years ago.
But Loblaws doesn't worry the owners of All the Best Fine Foods, which opened at 483 Church St Oct 3 in the former home of About Cheese. They're the first in the grocery store business to take a chance in the Church-Wellesley Village’s competitive market since the big-box store moved in.
Co-owner Sue Merry says she's banking on customers appreciating the personal touch an independent store provides.
“We gave it quite a bit of thought,” she says. “What we do is not what Loblaws does. We are not a grocery store in the traditional sense . . . They are mass market. We are much more specialty.”
Merry and co-owner Jane Rodmell pride themselves on keeping their stock — and all ingredients in their prepared food — about 80 percent local.
“You can taste the freshness,” Rodmell says. “We use real butter, real eggs. You can see the quality of everything we do. We can also respond very quickly to what our customers want, rather than go through a big corporation.”
Merry says she has been looking into the possibility of opening a store in the neighbourhood for quite some time. “This area is loaded with foodies, people who really like to eat well, sophisticated people, urban people.”
Merry says 80 percent of the store is prepared food, such as cakes, pastries, breads, sandwiches and salads. This is All the Best Food's second location — it has been a fixture at 1101 Yonge St for 30 years.
“Everyone in the neighbourhood is so excited,” she says. “I have been chatting with locals by name and hired all my staff from the neighbourhood. We hope to be very involved in the community.”
About Cheese closed its doors in August. It was latest in a string of grocers to close in the neighbourhood since the arrival of Loblaws at Church and Carlton streets nearly two years ago.
Reither’s Fine Foods closed last March and Super Freshmart downsized its location earlier this year. In addition, the Sobeys on Yonge Street shut its doors a few months ago and the Sherbourne Street No Frills closed July 20.
Other Church Street food stores, such as Cumbrae’s, Pusateri, Hasty Market and Super Freshmart are holding on, for now.
Loblaws has had a mixed reception from other business owners in the neighbourhood. On the one hand, it’s become a huge competitor for many smaller Church Street businesses. On the other, some business owners say the store has increased foot traffic through the Village.