I wrote this story a year ago, but tonight, it was up for the Best Business & Finance Story category at the Ontario Community Newspaper Association awards ceremony. I didn’t win. I came third out of the 67 or 68 entries in that category. But it was a fun night with some Town Crier colleagues and a chance to catch up with my two favourite Humber College journalism professors Terri Arnott and Carey French.
Now here’s the story I wrote…
By Kris Scheuer
By the time you read this Clifford Wong will have closed up his Yonge St. clothing shop Basique Attitude.
He’s not alone. A visit on Yonge between Eglinton and Lawrence Aves. on April 22 reveals about dozen vacant shops along this busy North Toronto strip.
“I’ve been here 16 months. It’s hard to survive,” says Wong just days before his shop was to close for good on April 25. “I love this area, but it’s very difficult to survive.”
He’s had three stores in Richmond Hill for 15 years, but says it costs $7,000 monthly for commercial rent and property taxes in Toronto for his store at 2581 Yonge St. He also mentions street parking enforcement that acts as a deterrent for shoppers.
“People are scared to park here,” he says.
The Uptown Yonge Business Improvement Area’s members have noticed the same problems.
“We used to have a problem with a (parking enforcement) man,” says Daly McCarten, the BIA’s coordinator. “He’d ticket delivery trucks sometimes three times a day. He killed a lot of business.”
While that parking officer no longer works this area, customers and delivery people are still ticketed aggressively when they run in to pick up goods or are fined the moment the allotted parking time has expired.
“If you want to park on Yonge where you aren’t supposed to, you will get ticketed,” McCarten says.
She suggests people use one of the paid parking lots, free commercial lots or metered parking on residential side streets.
But parking aside, there are other woes facing Yonge St. businesses, namely construction.
Over the past two years, the street and sidewalks were dug up and patched up to make up for new watermains and gas lines. Now the street and sidewalks will be completely reconstructed and repaved this year from May 25 to Nov. 1.
The good news is the BIA knew this was coming and has planned cost-sharing streetscape enhancements including more trees, decorative sidewalk brickwork and new poles and banners.
But on the whole, street front businesses don’t like construction that impedes customers from easily frequenting their establishments especially during a global economic downturn.
“It couldn’t have come at a worse time,” says McCarten. “We have merchants fighting for every customer.”
Eglinton-Lawrence Councillor Karen Stintz anticipated concerns, so she suggested the Town Crier tag along as she informed retailers and asked what the city can do to support businesses.
There are no shortage of responses from shop and restaurant owners asking for lower property taxes, less aggressive parking enforcement, beautification of the area and minimal construction disruptions during patio season.
Mary Pascale owner of food shop Gastronomia Gourmet, has been on the Yonge strip 17 years.
“It’s hard. People aren’t spending as much,” she says. “Sales are down a little, but everyone needs to eat.”
She says new condos at Yonge St. and Eglinton Ave. have helped bring in more customers but revenue is still down about five percent over the past few months.
Irit Harmon, manager of Pistachio eco gift shop, says sales were down but are picking up.
The store, owned by Heather Reisman, CEO of Indigo Books and Music, is doing promotions to increase foot traffic.
For an Earth Day celebration Pistachio offered up cupcakes from the Cupcake Shoppe and sandwiches from Pascale’s gourmet store, both a few doors away.
Heather Fain, who works at Pistachio’s and has lived in the area for 20 years, has some thoughts on what kind of services she’d like to see in the vacant stores on Yonge.
“A phenomenal bakery is missing. Like a French bakery,” says Fain. She’d also love to see an ice cream and cake store.
Others suggest a fish shop is needed.
Stintz also lives in the ’hood and would be pleased to see a local grocery store.
She is hopeful that when the construction and streetscape beautification will enhance the area.
“It will create a destination at Yonge and Eglinton,” she says.
Stintz suggests merchants contact her office or the BIA if any problems arise during the construction season.
“We want to minimize the impact.”
The BIA’s McCarten has one simple message: “Now more than ever, it’s important to shop local.”