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Village grocers struggle nearly two years after Loblaws opens

About Cheese is the latest Church Street business to disappear

About Cheese has been closed for several weeks. Credit: Michael Lyons

Yet another Village food shop seems to have closed its doors: About Cheese at 483 Church St has not been open for more than three weeks.

It’s the latest in a string of grocery store closures to hit 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.

While About Cheese, which had been supplying the Village with artisanal cheese since 2008, has not been open for weeks, there is no sign on the shop door indicating that the store is permanently closed. The store’s goods remain on shelves inside, leading some neighbouring business owners to speculate that the owner is trying to sell off the business and inventory.

Phone numbers associated with About Cheese’s Church Street and North York locations appeared to be disconnected, and the owners could not be reached for comment as of this writing.

Meanwhile, the city has approved applications to demolish part of the building that contained the Sherbourne No Frills and replace it with a 43-storey condo with 369 residential and rental units and retail at the ground level.

The city’s approval included a guarantee from the developer that a grocery store could remain open at the ground level through the construction phase, but No Frills decided to vacate its lease before construction began. According to a spokesperson for local councillor Pam McConnell, the developer has reached a deal with FreshCo to open a grocery in the vacant space, but Fresh Co has decided to wait until the construction is complete to open the store.

Given the nature of Loblaws, it’s not just grocers who are feeling the pinch. Ladybug Florist owner Claire Rose McLeod says that walk-in sales are down since she’s had to compete with Loblaws’ flower selection. “Luckily we’ve been having a growing online business,” McLeod says.

But despite the grocery store losses in the Village, the neighbourhood is not in danger of becoming a food desert even if residents must walk a little farther to shop. In addition to Loblaws, there is a Metro at College Park and a Sobeys at College and Bay. At the north end of the village, there is a Longo’s at Bloor and Park Road. And discount grocers include Bulk Barn at Carlton and Yonge, Food Basics at Wellesley and Parliament, and No Frills at Parliament and Carlton.

And Cumbrae’s, Pusateri’s, Hasty Market, and Super Freshmart are holding down the fort on Church Street itself, for now.

But the arrival of the big-box grocery stores may have a complicated effect on the neighbourhood. On the one hand, it’s become a huge competitor for Church Street businesses. On the other, some business owners say it’s noticeably increased foot traffic through the southern part of the Village.

Also, Loblaws and Metro are both union shops offering employees decent wages, benefits, and job security.

And while years ago mainstream media cited every new store and bar closure in the Village as growing evidence of “the death of the Village,” few shuttered storefronts remain on the main drag of Church Street. The space that Reither’s formerly occupied is now home to a larger Stag Shop location and a Davids Tea.

Frank Mangione, owner of Pusateri’s Fruit Market says the arrival of Loblaws made business difficult at first, but his selection of fine local produce is what keeps his customers coming back. He says the grocery store will remain on Church Street for a long time.

“Over the past five or six months, business has picked up now that people have compared what we have to offer with Loblaws’ selection,” Mangione says.