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Village businesses bracing for change

Business owners divided on competing with Loblaws, Fetish Fair and WorldPride 2014

Ward 27 Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam answers questions at the Church and Wellesley Village BIA annual general meeting. Credit: Andrea Houston

The owners of several Church and Wellesley Village businesses say they will lose out when the new Loblaws superstore and LCBO open in the former Maple Leaf Gardens at the corner of Carlton and Church streets at the end of November.

The building will also house a new athletic centre for Ryerson University that is set to open in April. 

Some nearby businesses are predicting losses that may put them out of business.

Tony Cerminara, of Pusateri’s, says the grocery store, which still makes deliveries and prides itself on carrying local products, is one of the longest-standing businesses on the strip. Cerminara says the store is thinking of ways to stand out and continue to compete.  

“To say we’re scared about Loblaws opening is an understatement,” he says. 

Gillian Muir, manager of the Wine Rack at Church and Wellesley, says she’s bracing for the worst when the LCBO opens. “They dictate our hours; they dictate our price. They have us by the balls.”

Church and Wellesley Village Business Improvement Area (CWVBIA) co-chair Liz Devine says businesses will have to get creative and give customers something different. She says Church St shops have a head start with an established connection with the community, often knowing customers on a first-name basis. “That’s something big-box stores can’t offer,” she says. “This community takes care of one another.

“Maple Leaf Gardens was an anchor to this community. When it left we were lost. We now have a tremendous opportunity with Loblaws.”

Business owners’ AGM

The issue was one of several raised at the CWVBIA annual general meeting on Nov 7, which included about 30 business owners.

While some expressed fear, others took a different view.

Karen Halliday, of Slack’s, says any new business that decides to invest in the Village stands to benefit the neighbourhood. “Everyone needs to succeed. I don’t see competition here. I see other businesses that anchor each other and drive more customers to the area and produce more business.”

WorldPride

The BIA is also looking ahead to WorldPride in 2014, eyeing possibilities to give the gaybourhood some freshening up. Ward 27 Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam says businesses need to get started now. “Before you throw a party, you have to tidy up your house.

“We’ve got just over two years to get this city ready. Then, the eyes of the world will be on Church St.”

Wong-Tam is urging business owners to give beautification projects, renovations and expansions the green light now. “If you are waiting on capital projects or renewal of your lease or whether or not to do renovations, do all these things.”

To ensure the makeover is completed in time, BIA co-chair Avery Pitcher says developing a strategic plan is the first order of business.

Led by consultant Glen Brown, the former interim executive director of Pride Toronto, the plan will examine what the next three to five years may bring, including a look at possible threats on the economic front and the effect of new condo developments.

Brown will lead a community consultation planned for Nov 21 from 10am to 5pm at the Holiday Inn on Carlton St. The consultation period runs until February, at which time a report will be produced and released to the public, says BIA executive director David Wootton.

Wong-Tam says the neighbourhood is growing due to new condo developments, so the BIA should examine the possibility of expanding its borders south to Carlton and north to Charles St. The BIA currently stretches along Church St between Gloucester and Wood streets.

Fetish Fair vs Village Fair

Looking back at 2011 festivals hosted by the BIA, Pitcher applauded the board’s decision to rebrand the Fetish Fair into the Church St Village Fair: Leather to Lace. She says there may have been a spike in attendance as a result.

But not every business owner approved of the change.

Jerry White, of George’s Play, questions Pitcher’s crowd estimates.

“That was not our experience,” he says. “There was far less business. We even had an extended patio . . . Our patio was empty by 7pm. We even brought in extra staff.”

Pitcher says part of the problem may have been too many extended patios, creating more competition. 

She says the BIA couldn’t justify spending $48,000 on a fetish event “that doesn’t benefit the BIA” and points out that some businesses even close on the day of the event. 

“It was a more diverse crowd this year,” she clarifies. “We wanted to create diversity. The leather community is very important, but a third of our budget catered to the Fetish Fair. There were more people there than just the leather community [this year]. People came because it wasn’t restricted to the leather community.”

However, Stephen Roy, of Flash, takes particular issue with the BIA’s trying 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, Pitcher told Xtra the BIA 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.”

Money matters

The group’s 2012 budget summary includes money set aside for new 22-foot signpost markers to welcome visitors to the Village. The cost for both markers is $87,500.

Devine says the BIA saved up money over three years to purchase the markers, which will be displayed at either end of Church St, marking the borders of the Village. The markers were designed by architect Claudio Santon and will feature swirling rainbows.

“This has been a five-year project, and we’ve been saving more each year,” Devine says. “Now it’s finally happening and it’s pretty darn spectacular.”

The BIA’s proposed budget for 2012 is $368,198, up from $337,133 in 2011. The board also has $125,000 in accumulated annual surplus.

Xtra has attached a copy of the 2012 budget summary, handed out at the AGM. The BIA did not want the document made public until it had been approved by the board, which happens on Thursday, Nov 10. When we receive an updated copy of the financials, we will update the attached documents with any changes. Wootton notes one correction: on page three in the 2012 proposed budget, “benches” at $4,500, should be listed as the amount for “technical drawings,” one line below. “Just a mistake,” he says.

Wootton says the city will decide whether to approve the budget in January or February.
  2012 CWVBIA budget summary 2012 proposed budget summary and 2010 past financials