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Rainbow gateway markers to arrive in January

More Church Street business closures; Halloween party planning

The swirling rainbow gateway markers for Church Street will be installed in January. Credit: File photo

The Church Wellesley Village Business Improvement Area (BIA) has once again delayed installation of two swirling rainbow gateway markers that will bookend the Church Street gaybourhood. 

BIA manager David Woottton says the 22-foot signposts, which each cost $87,500, will now be unveiled in January. 

Wootton provided the update at a BIA meet-and-greet event at Big Johnson’s Sept 24.

Wootton says the markers are part of a cost-share project with the City of Toronto. Money for the rainbow markers was set aside in the BIA’s 2012 budget summary. “Essentially, the city is purchasing one and we are purchasing one,” he says. “Anything that is permanently installed into the ground can be cost shared.

BIA co-chair Liz Devine previously told Xtra that the BIA saved money over three years in order to purchase the markers, which were designed by architect Claudio Santon and will feature swirling rainbows.

“We are planning to do a large celebratory reveal when they are installed,” Wootton says.

More business closures

Church Street restaurant Sweet Lulu recently closed its doors. No one from Sweet Lulu was available for comment.

Meanwhile, two new businesses will move into the former home of Reither’s Fine Foods.

A new wall divides the space in two. Wootton says one side will soon be home to David’s Tea, and the other will be the new Stag Shop, which is currently situated across the street. The Stag Shop will open in the new loation by Oct 27, he says.

The soon-to-be-vacant Stag Shop has not yet been listed on the rental market.

Bradley Grill, public relations for David’s Tea, says the Church Street location will open in mid-November. “It’s a great area. We’re a Canadian-based company. We love tea and love educating people about tea,” he says.

Reither’s closed abruptly in March after 23 years.

The changing face of Church Street had many business owners
concerned, and several noted that increasing rents are making it difficult to stay afloat.

Tony Cerminara, co-owner of Pusateri, says he struggles each month to make rent. 

“It’s getting harder,” he says. “We are trying to be creative and offer customers something different, but we’re struggling.”

Wootton empathizes. He says he keeps trying to sell the gay village to prospective new businesses, beyond bars and restaurants, but the escalating rents make it increasingly more challenging.

“What we need is retail, like retro clothing stores and little leather shops and antique stores,” he says. “It’s hard to do that here, because who can afford that? Who can pay, like, 9,000 bucks for rent?”

It’s a constant concern for the BIA, he says. “That’s never going to change. The rents are never going to come down. All we can do is work around it. Yes, we will have some chain businesses on the street, but we have to keep the queerness going and get small businesses engaged with the community.”

Cerminara says he understands that, but if his business is forced to close, he will put the blame squarely on Loblaws.

And here’s the rub: Devine says Loblaws is not interested in taking part in the community. She says board members have tried numerous times to reach out to Loblaws but have had no response.

“We have tried our best,” she told the group. “We’ve invited them to meetings, planning sessions. We’ve sent letters, but they have chosen not to engage. They have consistently said they’re not interested.”

Wootton says he hopes Loblaws’ management will reconsider. “We’re going to go back and try again. We have to work with them. This is Toronto’s premiere LGBTQ community, and they are a part of this community now. They’d be crazy not to engage with us, as we would be crazy not to engage with them.”

Wootton is hoping a Loblaws representative will attend the BIA annual general meeting on Nov 12.

Halloween planning

The BIA is also gearing up for Halloween, the association’s “marquee” street party of the year.

Wootton says that in order to ensure its success the board is pumping more money into the festival this year, but unfortunately, it’s coming at the expense of another event.

A street party that had been planned for Sept 15 was cancelled at the last minute, Wootton says. 

The BIA had planned to partner with the 519 Church Street Community Centre and the Lesbian and Gay Chamber of Commerce for a Village Fair.

“The 519 got really busy, so we postponed that,” he says. “The board decided that the street closure in July was not very successful. So they decided to can it.”

The Village Fair was meant to be a reincarnation of the Fetish Fair, which the BIA cancelled in March.

The controversial move was seen by some as an attempt to sanitize Church Street in an effort to appeal to families.

The unsuccessful July 15 street closure was supposed to be a fundraiser with Steamworks to raise money for the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation.

Wootton says the board decided instead to put the money from the Sept 15 event into the upcoming Halloween street party. The board saved about $10,000, he says.

The money will be used to invest in “a light show,” which will be projected onto the side of the building across from Café California, he says.

“We will project a light show onto the building that will soon house the medical centre,” he says. “We will advertise local shops, business logos and Halloween images.”

As 2014 WorldPride inches closer, Wootton warns that the community will likely see fewer events and street parties in the Village.

“We are really trying to invest in beautification,” he says.